Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Looking At Palm Sunday

As I did the last few weeks, as I come across items that speak to me about the text, I'll post snippets and links here.

We could all wish this were easier. The fact is that this is desperately hard. Individually and collectively we always fall short of being the kind of people and community God desires. It's not easy to follow Jesus, not on Palm Sunday and not on Fig Tree Monday.

Come to think of it, following Jesus in the week ahead will finally wind us up at a place called Skull Hill where a cross will be sunk into the flesh of the earth like a dagger through God's heart; like a dagger through all our hearts. That will be Jesus' ultimate solution to helping bring you, me, and as many people as possible to God.

So we follow this week. We follow. We watch. We weep. We repent. And when it's all over and the worst has happened, we sit quietly for a couple days fearing that maybe death is the end only to find out come Easter that Jesus is not finished yet. He'll arise. He'll keep going. And he'll call us to keep following, dragging the world behind us and praying we'll find room for them to pray, too.
From Here

This one would have fit right in with last week's text as well. Powerful insight. I've highlighted what struck me the most.

Here was a man who could raise the dead! This is what completely frees us from the addiction to wealth and power. The reason we strive for these things is we think that with them we can prevent the loss of our dreams, health, relationships, jobs, and all the things that make up a life. But the message of Jesus Christ is that the way you get over your fear of losing your life is not by collecting more money and power, but by going ahead and dying to this life. Die to having the life you expected. Only then will you be able to receive life as a grace.I know, I have mentioned this thing about grace once or twice before. Some have wondered if I do not need to speak more about sin as well as grace. But the thing that prevents us from receiving grace is not our sins, but our insistence on achieving life on our own. The Pharisees were great at avoiding sin...but they had already determined to kill Jesus and Lazarus, again, because Jesus viewed their self-righteousness as one thing to collect like power and wealth. Thinking that we have cleaned up our lives and are now avoiding sin is just one more way to delude ourselves that we have secured the future.

Cheap grace, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is grace that does not bid you to die. Costly grace asks for everything: your money, power, dreams, family. Everything, and especially your ability to be moral and religious. Give it all up. Give it to Jesus so that you can discover a whole new life, that is finally free to use everything you are holding for stewardship. Otherwise you are going to waste life worrying if you will lose things that you certainly will lose. Trust me on this: one hundred percent of all people eventually lose their jobs. One hundred percent lose their marriages. One hundred percent lose their loved ones, their health, and their lives. One hundred percent of our bodies will eventually return to dust. You are not going to beat those odds, no matter how much wealth, power, or righteousness you collect. Whatever it is that you are afraid of losing, you will lose. So why do you want to waste your fleeting days worrying about when it will happen? Get it over with! Choose today to die with Christ, that you may spend the rest of life receiving his sacred mystery day after day.
From Here

This week's text - Palm Sunday

Mark's account of Jesus' entry to Jerusalem has Him coming in with fanfare, but leaving the city pretty quickly.

Interesting that the NLT 2.0 chooses to use "garments" here.

Oh if we could only learn "When Love Comes To Town" in time to do it Sunday. :)

1 As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the towns of Bethphage and Bethany on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead.2 “Go into that village over there,” he told them. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a young donkey tied there that no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.3 If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ just say, ‘The Lord needs it and will return it soon.’”
4 The two disciples left and found the colt standing in the street, tied outside the front door.5 As they were untying it, some bystanders demanded, “What are you doing, untying that colt?”6 They said what Jesus had told them to say, and they were permitted to take it.7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their garments over it, and he sat on it.
8 Many in the crowd spread their garments on the road ahead of him, and others spread leafy branches they had cut in the fields.9 Jesus was in the center of the procession, and the people all around him were shouting,

“Praise God!

Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessings on the coming Kingdom of our ancestor David!

Praise God in highest heaven!”

11 So Jesus came to Jerusalem and went into the Temple. After looking around carefully at everything, he left because it was late in the afternoon. Then he returned to Bethany with the twelve disciples. Mark 11:1-11 (NLT)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Liveblogging from the movie

Enjoying hanging out with a few old friends and some new ones watching the movie in the fellowship hall. Free popcorn, snocones, a movie screen bigger than the biggest flat panel and FUN occurs.

Oh and I want a dog like that.

We need to do this one Sunday night every month.

New Hope@Worship 29 Mar 2009

Yes,it's Tuesday and I'm finally getting around to Sunday's recap. :)

The fifth Sunday of the 40 day preparation for Easter (AKA Lent) continued this week. An incredibly challenging passage of Scripture combined with a strong sense of urgency on my part and came together to bring us to the presence of God. I used a video before and after the message (Christ Daughtry - "What About Now?" and Steven Curtis Chapman "What Now?"), so there shouldn't have been any question where I felt the Holy Spirit was guiding us.

It really helped me to immerse myself in that passage each and every day. Added a lot of time, but was so worth it.

The musical part of our worship was:

Your Grace Is Enough
How Great Is Our God
Amazed (Lord I'm Amazed) (with a very sweet and special solo by Celeste)

Come Just As You Are

Some of the comments I received and the chatter I heard after were very encouraging. If a group of people seriously pursued God's heart-work... wow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What About Now?

I've read the text for tomorrow again and again and again. I've tried to imagine the scene John describes. Tried to put myself there. As one of the disciples, one of the Pharisees, one of the Greeks, one of the crowd.

Only one man there understood what was really happening that day.

The Pharisees thought they had lost. "Look, the whole world is going to him."

The disciples, as usual, were clueless.

The Greeks, confused.

The crowd, flush with the emotion of the entry, but beginning to realize that their "Hosanna" cries didn't produce the king they wanted, waited.

Jesus knew it was His time - NOW.

Lord, I pray tomorrow morning is one of those "thin places" my Celtic brothers experienced,when heaven and earth draw nearest. I pray that the same focused attention you paid to God's timing is spread to our church family. I pray that the same heart for "whatever it takes" that you showed that day would flood our hearts.

And that we leave, not following your teachings as interested students would, but following you, as committed disciples. Wherever that might lead.

How Do You Explain Christianity's Impact?

Ray Steadman on the passage for tomorrow:

"If he had not died we probably would not know any more about him than we know of any other great religious leader, like Buddha, Mohammed, or Confucius. We may not have heard of him at all, so meager were the results of his teaching.

Only a relative handful stood with him to the end. Because of the cross he was able to do something he could never have done otherwise: He was able to share his life with millions of people.

How do we explain men like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli and others who changed the entire Western world during their lifetime? How do we explain the impact of men like the Wesley brothers? In our own day, how do we explain the change in the hatchet-man of the Nixon administration, Charles Colson, who is now changing the prison system of this country in the name of Jesus? How do we explain Solzenityn, Mother Teresa, and millions who daily evidence an altered life, a changed outlook?

All has come about because of the cross of Christ.

God is saying to us in this account that the only way to true glory is to die."

Planting the Seed

We all have a life that we’re rather attached to, with people, places, things, and activities that we are comfortable with. My life may not be perfect, but it is familiar. And it’s mine. The Lord invites me not just to give up dessert for a few weeks, but to give up myself. He asks me to die to my own plans, my own will, and put my destiny entirely in his hands. Incidentally, that is what baptism is supposed to mean–that it is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me (Gal 2:19b-20). That I’m no longer in the driver’s seat, but I’ve put Jesus there. That all that is dearest to me, I’ve put on the altar, and will only take it back if the Lord gives it back.

Why would we do such a radical thing? Only if we truly believe that planting the seed of our lives and dreams in the fertile soil of the Lord’s vineyard will produce much fruit. That we, like the apostles, will grow to be more than we’d ever hoped we’d be. That he would do through us, as through them, more than we’d ever dreamt possible. From Here

Thursday, March 26, 2009


From Dr. A. W. Tozer, the great preacher of a few decades ago:

The cross is the symbol of death.

It stands for the abrupt, violent end of the human being.

The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life redirected. He was going out to have it ended.

The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck swift and hard and when it had finished its work the man was no more.

That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of man is false to the Bible and cruel to the soul of the hearers.

The faith of Christ does not parallel the world. It intersects it.

In coming to Christ we do not bring our life up on to a higher plane.

We leave it at a cross.

The grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die. That is the beginning of the gospel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thinking Toward Sunday's Message

In any given week, I'll read hundreds of pages concerning the text or topic. I'll begin with the text itself - looking at the original languages and word study, ferreting out any culture specific phrases, reading different versions and the Message. Making some notes on things that need further work, and sketching out what might be the thrust of the passage, I'll go on to reading about the passage. What has the Body of Christ - my fellow brothers and sisters in faith, heard from the Holy Spirit through it down through the centuries.

I thought I'd share some of these with you this week so you can see the richness of the Spirit's voice and how His instruction can come so differently and yet so truly to each of us.

Every believer, every minister and congregation, is tempted to realize the kingdom of God apart from the cross of Christ. Although the gospel is the "power of God unto salvation" we are constantly tempted to win the world by evangelistic methodologies, group dynamics, management systems, institutional agendas and the like, as if there is a better way, a more effective way than the cross. The message of the cross, by itself, seems ineffective, weak and foolish, and so needs our marketing initiatives. Yet, it is not the dynamic welcoming congregation that draws people into the kingdom, but rather the Son of Man lifted up. From Here

This Gospel is so gentle, we might miss its absoluteness.

This quiet, simple appreciation of seed stirs memories in me of my Uncle Oscar, filtering the heavy, satin kernels with his strong weathered hands. I'll never forget the spring South Dakota suffered one of its worst droughts. As dust blew across the farmyard I heard my cousin ask, "Dad, are you even going to put the crop in?" Oscar didn't hesitate and with an inflection all his own replied, "ABSOLUTELY! It won't grow in the granary." My uncle loved the wheat and so gave it up every year to the miracle of its fruitfulness: the Gospel's picture of dying and rising.
From Here

It is often through family and friendships that we learn the gift of
sacrificial giving, of generously offering ourselves to others. We witness parents making forfeiting some of their own pleasures or desires so that their children might reach their full potential. Some have given the gift of an organ so that others might live. Others have shared their homes with the homeless. Some have spent their vacations on mission trips expressing the love of Christ.

It is in this kind of service that we experience the rising of something new within ourselves. We cannot force growth or produce it by the strength of our own will. We can only expose ourselves to opportunities which become the impetus for our transformation. Those opportunities are usually found in giving up our own comfort and extending ourselves in the service of others.From here

Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “When Jesus died, this power was made manifest. By absorbing into himself the worst that the world could do to a child of God and by refusing to do any of it back, he made sure it was put to death with him. By suffering every kind of hurt and shame without ever once letting them deflect him from his purpose, he broke their hold on humankind. In him, sin met its match. He showed us what is possible. These are just some of the fruits of Christ’s death, things that could never have happened if he had not been willing to fall to the ground.”

This is just amazing writing from the pages of a Quebec literary journal. Click on the link to read the whole thing. It's worth your time.:

"How do seeds work?"

Dad thought for a moment. Then, struggling to conceal a grin he replied, "Magic."

"No, really. How do they work?"

"Magic. Just like a said." Dad laughed and then proceeded in a more serious tone, "And don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

I thought for a moment about whether or not to take Dad seriously. He loved to pull a person's leg, but the last comment had been stated so seriously that I couldn't decide what to make of it. He gave me a moment to dwell on this and then, sensing my confusion, offered a further explanation.

"Everyone knows what a seed needs to grow: soil, water, air and sunlight. But no one I know can explain why a seed grows. It's dead when you put it in the ground, but add the right ingredients and it shoots right up. Your science teacher wouldn't be happy with that answer, but I'm not a scientist and I'm also not afraid of a little mystery now and again. I guess I just choose to view at least a portion of it as a miracle—or magic if you like."

I smiled and laughed. I liked this explanation from my father. It was so unlike him and yet now as I look back, it explains so much. Silence ensued once more, but just as our planting was about to converge in the middle of a row a thought occurred to me.

"Is Howie like a seed? Is that why we put him in the ground?"

Dad sat back on his haunches and contemplated the dark soil at his knees. His right hand shook up and down methodically as he rattled a group of seeds within his closed calloused hand. Then, with invisible tears welling behind squinting eyes, he looked at me and stated firmly and with great resolve, "Yes, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise."

I remember the look of our hands that day. They were filthy and yet at that moment and in that place it was the most natural thing on the planet. -Mark Bowers From Here

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Invisible Church

We're not here.

Oh,I know that physically we occupy a corner off the highway, across from the elementary school and Little League field, just down the road from city hall.

But ask most of the town's population where New Hope Baptist Church is, and they won't have a clue.

We're invisible in the same way a liquor store is invisible to a teetotaler. Or a dry cleaner is to a bricklayer.

You have absolutely no need or interaction with a business or concern, so your eye just sends it to the background.

Doesn't help that our buildings have been here for decades without change. When I was in the grocery business, we knew that end of aisle displays had to be rotated, otherwise shoppers stopped noticing them. They became part of the fixtures in as little as two weeks.

They became invisible.

We become visible only when the people who make up New Hope touch other people's lives. While we are engaged in that, we come into view. As soon as we stop, we fade away.

For years we thought that a lit steeple, or outdoor signs would do the trick.


We are the steeple.We are the signs.

How can we become more visible?

I'll talk about that tomorrow.

Wow... This Coming Sunday'sText

Fifth Sunday in Lent: March 29, 2009
Text: John 12:20-33
20 Some Greeks who had come to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration21 paid a visit to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee. They said, “Sir, we want to meet Jesus.”22 Philip told Andrew about it, and they went together to ask Jesus.
23 Jesus replied, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory.24 I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But its death will produce many new kernels—a plentiful harvest of new lives.25 Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity.26 Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me.
27 “Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came!28 Father, bring glory to your name.”

Then a voice spoke from heaven, saying, “I have already brought glory to my name, and I will do so again.”29 When the crowd heard the voice, some thought it was thunder, while others declared an angel had spoken to him.
30 Then Jesus told them, “The voice was for your benefit, not mine.31 The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out.32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”33 He said this to indicate how he was going to die.
John 12:20-33 (NLT)

Pray with me,that we are working as He is.

Sunday Reflections

It was awesome just to be back at New Hope after a week of grief and sickness. Driving up into the parking lot, seeing cars of people we love so much - then getting the welcoming hugs, was great.

Then smiling as the newer office computer actually made producing a worship guide easy? Sell my clothes I'm gone to heaven!

The text came from John 3 and Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus.

Turned out the music fit well, but frankly I chose it because we could do it well, and because everyone seems to love the songs.

O Praise Him
How Can I Keep From Singing
Our God Saves

Amazing Grace

In "Our God Saves",there's a line where mourning turns to praise, and that's what yesterday was for me.

I used a Bluefish clip lead in about a man caught in a pit and the various ways each religion's founder would have dealt with him to begin the message. Liked it.

My hope was to use the "signs" thread through John's gospel to lead people to a point where they realized that Jesus was God's sign to them that it was time to turn to the Light. Ended quite unexpectedly sharing my conversion story.

We were blessed with one person coming forward who wanted the assurance of Jesus' love in her heart always. Praise God.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Tomorrow's Text

14 And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,15 so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.
16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.
18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.19 And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.20 All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.21 But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants. ”
John 3:14-21 (NLT)

Been sick all week long, also helping Bunny through the loss of her precious Mama, trying to help her get well, and frankly actually tried to get someone else to come in and lead the music and preach tomorrow. I just haven't had the energy, the emotional strength,or the time to even look at Sunday's music or message. All the hours I normally put into study, and the "walking around with it" time that really matters to me, aren't available now.

I'll be fine.

When I pulled up the text, my heart raced and I thanked God, again, for His love for those like me. Sinners. Skeptics. Self-made gods.

If I can't preach that text, then I need to become a Buddhist.

There's More To The Story

We're trying to move on down here. It's been an exceptionally trying week, and it isn't over. And we're not the only one's hurting. Our neighbors saw their son's birthday come and go without him for the first time since his tragic death. He'd have been sixteen. Everybody hurts.

We've been blessed by an enormous outpouring of love and support from both our loved ones here in Valparaiso and our friends and loved ones in Macon. The church my mother and father in law belonged to was awesome in their warmth.

The musicians and soloist at the funeral were outstanding, even though they played a song my mother loved that was played at her funeral too that I've almost banned here because of how heart wrenching it is. There's never enough time though for the pastors to say everything they could. So let me tell you some of the rest of the story.

The life that Dot Clinard lived spanned over eight decades. She saw America change in ways that would have been unbelievable to her mother. Growing up in Albany GA, she came of age as America won the second World War. Pictures from that time show a beautiful young woman with a winning smile. She married a young man named Curtis Clinard, and was a faithful wife, loving companion, and supporter for the next 62 years. That's 62 years,or about 12.2 marriages in today's average. So it's clear that Dot understood love, marriage, and commitment - and lived it as her husband progressed in his sales career.

I've been a salesman. It's critical that you have confidence in yourself to succeed. There will be days when you don't close the sale when you know you needed to in order to provide better for your family. When you go home and your wife treats you like a winner regardless, you'll receive what you need to go back out and do it again. You'll do it better - for her. You want to make her proud. Trust me, it's a powerful motivator.

In Curtis' case, he wasn't just a salesman, he was a traveling salesman. Being on the road is a hard life anyway you slice it. Hard for the salesperson and hard for the ones you leave behind. It is extremely difficult.

It is impossible without an exceptional partner.

Dot was all that.

She gave birth to four children. Three boys, and despite her doctors objections that she shouldn't have any more children, a girl. They lived a life with Mom five days a week and a life with dad on the weekend. Always sounded overwhelming to me. I've been a boy, and helped raise two, and even being home - it was a challenge. One that she mastered. All four have grown up to raise families of their own, and were equipped to face the challenges life can throw at you. Each of them has known times when they were tested, and each has responded as they were taught.

It was news to me when I heard that Dot was baptized as an adult. Her faith was so much a part of who she was. Look, as a pastor I know that there are people who come because they are supposed to and people who come because they can't imagine anywhere else they'd rather be. And it is especially telling if people show up with their family when there's ever reason not to - like having four kids to get ready. And Dot had the kids there every time the doors were open and was a servant while she was there.

You heard people say "she makes everyone feel so comfortable, so welcome" or "she was so friendly" and granted, those are traits anyone can have. Occasionally. But you can't keep it up for decades unless there's more behind it than good intentions. It takes a heart tuned to the compassion of Jesus. That's that servant thing again.

That same heart that was turned to compassion had to be turned against sin and toward obedience. I don't mean forced obedience. I mean obedience by decision after decision as you lay your life down for Christ, for your husband, and for your family.

Dot was a beautiful woman. She had options. She chose Christ. She chose a life of sacrifice, a beautiful offering for her Savior lived through countless decisions to deny herself. It was costly, and she would have told you on any day - it was worth it all.

Yeah we miss her. Who wouldn't?

We'll see her again.

And the best way to live until we do is following Jesus in the everyday.

We've been pointed in the right direction.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Just don't have anything to say. Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Art of Deck Chair Management

This is a modern version of the Titanic's deck chairs. Looks very functional, doesn't it. I'll bet on a sunny afternoon up on the lido deck a person might find real contentment on one of these. The trick in weather like that would be to find which side of the ship was facing toward the sun.

As long as the weather held up, and the ship was in good shape, the chair would really provide a benefit. Just keep them placed where they need to be, and maybe rub a little oil in every so often.

Those skills you'd have used to keep the deck chairs managed were awesome until they weren't.

When Titanic struck an iceberg, any time spent looking after the deck chairs was wasted. Deck chairs are a luxury item.

What brought my mind to the Titanic and deckchairs?

Our local Southern Baptist Association - oh scratch that - "fellowship of churches" has reorganized for the second time since I have been here and changed its name.

Because that's what was making it ineffective.


What's Left

There in one picture are two of the most beautiful women I have ever known. One I had the incredible blessing of marrying (yes, a little later after this was taken), and the other, the absolute greatest mother in love anyone could ever have.

Actually met the future mother in love many years before I met my wife. She was working at Greene's propane in Macon during the period when my daddy would take his boys into town to get the tanks refilled. We were living in a submarine - okay a trailer - 10 ft wide by 55 feet long - as my father chased a dream of having his own bit of land. For a sharecropper's son, that was a big dream. But it put a financial strain on us, so I can't imagine Dot's initial impression of what would become part of the family was favorable. I do know she was kind. In fact that's all I remember about those trips to Greene's- the mystery of propane tank filling, and that lady in the office who my father thought was real pretty and who I just knew as kind to little boys.

Roll forward a few years to a night that would begin a life change for me as I meet her again in her home. Was invited there to play some board games. She welcomed me warmly and pointed me in the right direction. That wouldn't be the last time she did either of those.

I enjoyed 35 years of her company on the journey of love called marriage I have been blessed to have with her daughter. She loved her family and lived a life of faith. Being the wife of a traveling salesman meant that she did more than her share most of the time. She did it well, as a wonderful mom raising three boys and a girl and being an awesome grandmother and great grandmother.

All along the way she touched people's lives with her kindness, compassion, femininity, and grace. Beautiful inside and out. I've never heard anyone talk about Dot with anything other than love and admiration. Think about that for a minute, will you? Live 83 years and see if you can be remembered as she will be.

And now she is gone from this life and alive in the next. To say she is missed is obviously an understatement. It hurts that she is gone from us, even though we know she lives - whole and full of joy in heaven.

So what's left?

An incredible legacy.

A life invested in her family.

A life example of faith lived out through the everyday.

A reason to thank God for the privilege of knowing her, of loving and being loved by her.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday night debrief

It felt a little like the sign this morning. Bunny was sick most of the week and then we got the call we'd been dreading this morning - Bunny's Mom had passed away. A thunderstorm of grief blew into our home. Bunny stayed in bed until the late afternoon. She sent me to church.

Sean and I got to church and went over the music. Lots of people were out sick - very thin praise team. When word got out about Bunny's Mom, the mood seemed more subdued. This is a group of people who love fiercely. They hurt when you hurt. I was hoping not to tell until after the service, but naturally the first person I saw this morning asked "how's Bunny's Mom?"

So I prayed that God would be glorified no matter what was happening.

We did -
Your Grace Is Enough
Here I Am To Worship
Nothing But the Blood
and Jesus Paid It All

The text this week centered on Jesus' clearing of the temple. Great text, lots of insight into just what Jesus came to do and who He proclaimed that He was.

I never felt comfortable the whole message. It was as if I was reciting a lot of facts to an audience that never connected. I was emotionally flat. It was mercifully short at least. Maybe I shouldn't have tried. But smaller church means I and my family wear many hats. So I went and gave everything I had to give. Mea Culpa

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Times, They Are A Changing

Written about the demise of newspapers, but in light of this week's ARIS report on churches and the faith of the average American, seems to cross apply. Just replace "newspapers" with "church as we know it today."

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.
The times, they are a changing. Incredible opportunity for a community living out their faith in love of God and love of and service to their neighbors. Personally, I think the average sized church is nimble enough to take advantage of the shifts in culture to do a lot of good.

Most won't.

Subtle as a sledge hammer - more insight into tomorrow's text

Subtle as a Sledge Hammer: Jesus "Cleanses" the Temple: Lent 3B - Essay posted 13 March 2006 - The Journey with Jesus
I read the cleansing of the temple as a stark warning against any and every false sense of security. Misplaced allegiances, religious presumption, pathetic excuses, smug self-satisfaction, spiritual complacency, nationalist zeal, political idolatry, and economic greed in the name of God are only some of the tables that Jesus would overturn in his own day and in ours. Church is more than a place to enjoy a night of bingo or to reinforce my many prejudices and illusions. Thank God, then, for the Psalm for this week which concludes with a prayer that is wonderfully appropriate this Lenten season: "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant from willful sins; may they not rule over me...May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psalm 19:12–14).

So, About the Mega Church

As the pastor of an average sized church, I feel the effects of the mega church on a pretty regular basis. The immediate temptation is to push back. And that's wrong. We need every functional community of faith we can find. Well actually we need a bunch more. Go plant one. Or two.

But I'd be lying if I didn't acknowledge a tendency to try and find fault with things the local mega does. As a marketing professional for many years, it is easy to see how well they use the tools of that trade. And as an amateur student of culture, it is apparent that they do seem to replicate along homogenous lines. Lots of programs, lots of buildings, lots of lots of things.

Personal preference, and personal belief in what a church should look like runs in the opposite direction for me.

But I am open to instruction from all.

And in the clip below, Erwin McManus, "futurist" (his term) at Mosaic in LA works through the mega church issue. It starts about the 8:15 mark. He gets a wee bit aggravated, is a bit disingenuous concerning what a mega is, but makes some good points. But then at the end, "he shoots... He scores!"

He says that if you disagree with what the megas are about, then render them irrelevant by creating communities of beauty and authenticity.

My take-away - Don't spend any time thinking about what they are doing, spend your time listening to what God wants you to do. Then do it.

I'm all over that.

The Idea Camp - Erwin McManus and Eric Bryant from The Idea Camp on Vimeo.

Friday, March 13, 2009

No Church People - EVER

There were a LOT of pictures I could have chosen to illustrate what I'm about to write, but somehow getting ranked below trespassers, trespassing mushroom hunters, and trespassing deer hunters just seemed to fit. What does it say about the message we "church people" have been sending to those outside that we get not only listed as worthy to be shot, but with an emphasis suggesting that he might just enjoy shooting us?

Church people.

There was a time when that delineated those who were the backbone of society. They held down jobs at every level all over America. Some owned plants, some worked in them. They were doctors and lawyers, teachers and engineers. Still are. But instead of being the people who brought to life the foundational values that provide a bedrock for any society, we morphed over time to people who are known chiefly for pointing out the sins of others while ignoring our own.

We have sent untold millions of dollars, and invested thousands of lives into places and people overseas while completely ignoring our neighbors lying in the ditch on the side of the road, or worse, deciding that the ditch doesn't look too bad and checking to see if there's room. (see our divorce rate, etc.)

At the beginning of the church age, the requirements of admission were to deny yourself and your selfish ways, believe in Jesus - the Son of God and salvation of mankind, and take up your part of the work by following Jesus with everything you had or ever hoped to have. This was not missions by proxy, where you pay people to do the work for you. You were Plan "A" and there was no Plan "B". But that was just too HARD. So we created organizations and told ourselves that these structures would help us do more. And they did in some ways, but were devastatingly ineffective in others.

The SBC is one of those organizations.

When it works right, it's very effective at mobilizing individuals and churches for direct mission activities - disaster relief being the best example.

When it works poorly, and it often does, it usually makes front page news in the media and gives rise to signs like our example above. Disney boycott anyone? Tied at the hip to the GOP - perhaps? Pulling away from the local church and demanding loyalty to the denomination? Uh huh.

So many congregations are pulling away from the SBC.

Churches are deciding not to label themselves as SBC churches even if they continue to remain a part. Others are seeking and finding viable missions work outside the SBC and making real the "every member a missionary" blurb so many adopted as an aspiration rather than a lifestyle.

Was reading today about one state convention's efforts.

In 2008 the Partnership Missions office in our Kentucky Baptist Convention made a bold move to re-think local church involvement in international, cross-cultural missions. In previous years that office entered into partnerships with various Baptist conventions or countries, then organized short-term trips into those countries.

Now, however, they have shifted their focus to local churches, and have restructured their office into that of the role of partnership facilitator. Their desire is to help local Kentucky Baptist churches engage in deeper and deeper levels of missions commitment and involvement. Their current strategy involves four designated levels of engagement:

* Level one (Exploring Missions) churches have had limited experience but understand the importance of missions.
* Level two (Increasing Involvement) churches have been exposed to overseas missions and are seeking God’s direction for a greater commitment to missions.
* Level three (Partnering Strategically) churches are ready to commit for a specific time to work with an IMB missionary in a specific region.
* Level four (Fully Committed) churches desire to take full responsibility for an unreached people group or area without direct missionary assistance.

They are headed in the right direction.

New Hope is headed that way too, regardless of what the local association, state convention, or national organization do. We are realigning with people who want to be Jesus to their neighbor across the street or across the ocean. We are redirecting monies and other resources from supporting missions by proxy to doing missions ourselves.

Frankly, as pastor I don't want the label "church people" applied to us.

I like neighbor or friend a lot better.

So stay tuned fans.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You Are There - Jerusalem - the Temple - Jesus Clears the Courtyard

14 In the temple complex He found people selling oxen, sheep, and doves, and ⌊He also found⌋ the money changers sitting there. 15 After making a whip out of cords, He drove everyone out of the temple complex with their sheep and oxen. He also poured out the money changers’ coins and overturned the tables. 16 He told those who were selling doves, “Get these things out of here! Stop turning My Father’s house into a marketplace!”
John 2:14-16 (HCSB)

Just trying to get a sense of the scene.

Had to have been noisy - the crush of people at Passover, and the animals.
Was probably aggravating to most everyone there. The pilgrims knew they were being ripped off by the merchants. Had to be at least one saying "What? These doves are 5 shekels on the other side of that wall, and you want 50?" And a merchant shouting back "You can't use those in here. You'll offend God."

Jesus taking it all in. Starting to make a whip out of cords. Maybe the first time macrame was used as a weapon.:)

It took some time to do that.

What was he doing? Continuing to watch? Praying to the Father? Was there a point where He had enough and went to work setting things right?

And that "He drove EVERYONE out..."

Does that mean the pilgrims as well? Did He see them as complicit in what was going on there? Through their acceptance of wrong they were aiding and abetting it?

If everyone's getting out of there, it looks to me like it happened in stages as He made His way around the large courtyard. Might have been that there was no one there at the moneychangers table so He flipped it up and spilled the coins. But apparently the dove sellers were still at work.

So then, did the temple authorities have the guts to approach Him in a now empty courtyard? (The term "Jews" there signifies those in opposition to Jesus and in authority.)

18 So the Jews replied to Him, “What sign ⌊of authority⌋ will You show us for doing these things?”

19 Jesus answered, “Destroy this sanctuary, and I will raise it up in three days.”

20 Therefore the Jews said, “This sanctuary took 46 years to build, and will You raise it up in three days?”
John 2:18-20 (HCSB)

Still mulling this part over.

Loving J Vernon McGee's quip.

I tell you, the Lord was rough. There is no question about that. I don't like the pictures we have of an anemic-looking Christ. The artists don't seem to realize who He was.—J. Vernon McGee's Thru The Bible

Wesley writes: both the sheep and the oxen - Though it does not appear that he struck even them; and much less, any of the men. But a terror from God, it is evident, fell upon them.
—Wesley's Commentary

Yep. You can have your Jack Bauer or Chuck Norris. For putting the fear of God into people, I go with... God.

Oh and don't miss this.

Jesus did not upset the cages of the pigeons. This would have trapped the hapless birds and caused them injury. Rather, He instructed the merchants to remove the doves.—Easy-To-Read Commentary Series, The

The same God whose heart is aflame with anger because of what men have done, is gentle and kind enough to care about pigeons.


"In every genuine revival in history, two major thrusts have always appeared. First, there has been proclamation of the Bible, God's Word; second, there has always been the responsive mobilization of the believers, God's people.

Strange as it may sound, a revival does not relate directly to the unsaved. You cannot revive the lost. You can revive the saved. Revival occurs as God ignites the fire of His Word and mobilizes His people to go and win the lost."
- Charles Swindoll, Hand Me Another Brick, pg125

This is why, after all the calamities proclaimed in the articles I linked to yesterday, I am not afraid for the future of the Church.

The future of the Church is not dependent or locked in a cause and effect relationship with the culture.

The future of the Church is completely dependent on the power of God. And He is able. Exceedingly abundantly able. To do. To do more. To do more than we could ask.To do more than we could ask or imagine.

However many of God's people are counted as "evangelicals" by Barna, Gallup, or Zogsby, is irrelevant. What is relevant is whether the people who follow Jesus are continually feeding on the Bread of His Word, and constantly seeking to tell those around them about the Great Story of how their lives fit into God's great plan to bring the world into a loving relationship with Him.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

American Christianity Has A Bad Day

Well, it seems that every media outlet is reporting the results of the latest survey of Americans on their religious activity and beliefs. And those that aren't are running commentary on it.

Not a surprise to me at all.

The way church has been done stopped working a good while back when it ceased being propped up by the culture. So having people notice that and rip into the American construct of church...

welcome aboard.

But make no mistake, I believe to my core that the Church is the chosen instrument to bring the Kingdom of God near.

But not every church is part of the Church I'm speaking of.

And many of the tools that worked before don't now.

Then they remembered, then they believed

Looking ahead to Sunday's text

Third Sunday in Lent: March 15, 2009
Text: John 2:13-22
13 It was nearly time for the Jewish Passover celebration, so Jesus went to Jerusalem.14 In the Temple area he saw merchants selling cattle, sheep, and doves for sacrifices; he also saw dealers at tables exchanging foreign money.15 Jesus made a whip from some ropes and chased them all out of the Temple. He drove out the sheep and cattle, scattered the money changers’ coins over the floor, and turned over their tables.16 Then, going over to the people who sold doves, he told them, “Get these things out of here. Stop turning my Father’s house into a marketplace!”
17 Then his disciples remembered this prophecy from the Scriptures: “Passion for God’s house will consume me.”
18 But the Jewish leaders demanded, “What are you doing? If God gave you authority to do this, show us a miraculous sign to prove it.”
19 “All right,” Jesus replied. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
20 “What!” they exclaimed. “It has taken forty-six years to build this Temple, and you can rebuild it in three days?”21 But when Jesus said “this temple,” he meant his own body.22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered he had said this, and they believed both the Scriptures and what Jesus had said.
John 2:13-22 (NLT)

So human.

Once we experience, then we change our previous beliefs and hopefully form our convictions.

The disciples moved past this immature stage in the process of forming their faith. Unfortunately, not everyone does.

How can we work to help people mature quicker?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Steve Brown: Three Free Sins

Steve Brown Etc. » Blog Archive » Three Free Sins!
Do you know why most Christians don't get any better or why you don't get any better? It's because you're doing it wrong, dummy! You are obsessed with sin and your faith has become another "system of laws" whereby you feel guilty and try and try and try to do better. It doesn't work, never has worked, and never will work. Only really shallow people keep doing the same thing over and over again with the same result, thinking that the next time the result will be different.

So stop it.

You're just making a mess out of it. People get better by obsessing on Jesus and his love…not by obsessing on their own sin and disobedience. That's what the cross is about, to wit, a covering for sin. So that's not the issue anymore. Not only that, the imputation of Christ's righteousness to our account is a gift beyond measure assuring that God's anger will never be directed at us again.

Inspiring Thought for Today

With God, there is no nothing, for even “nothing” is filled with Intention. And Intention…Assents. And Assent…brings forth. It Creates. And in every assent we utter, every stitch we knit, every empty bowl we fill, every lonely life we consent to touch, every hateful remark we respond to with love, we create something where there was nothing. With our every “yes,” we assist in creation, with the continuation of the world. We work with the Creator, for whom no need is too small, for whom love knows no limits.

It is the great secret.

From The Anchoress

Some people write. And some people can write. Some people who can write are used to inspire others to greater faith in God and in practice of their faith in Him. This sister is the latter.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Sunday Night Reflections

If it's daylight savings time then why do you lose an hour?

Still, we had an awesome turnout and a great Spirit of love for God and each other today that seemed to me to permeate the whole service. Whether it was Harriet Standifer's heartfelt comments about her church family, the kid's skit, Bethany and Sarah or Lia's piano specials, or maybe just starting with a rousing New Hope version of "Gotta Serve Somebody", it was special.

The worship music lineup went:

Gotta Serve Somebody - by someone named Bob Dylan
O Praise Him - by David Crowder
O Worship the King - Christ Tomlin
Made Me Glad - Hillsong
and I Surrender All.

I struggled with the text all week. How do you bring across the force and scope of what Jesus was calling His followers to be and do - really? It's been so long since He stated what He expected and we've watered it down so.

Was reading some just last night and it jumped off the page (Thanks Len Sweet) - Christians are NOT NORMAL.

So I tried to lay it all out there and challenge each of us to live out the crazy love Jesus gave us.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

In Sacred Spaces

For someone who enjoys the church of today, I have to confess a real yearning for the sacred spaces that were constructed - purpose built if you will - to be sanctuaries where men and women meet with God.

I have friends who pastor churches that meet in movie theaters and love it.

Place though, reaches out to me. Sacred space.

A few years ago I officiated at a wedding in the chapel of FUMC Albany GA. It was glorious. Carved wood panels with stations of the cross. Stained glass streaming rays of sunlight. Light fixtures adorned with crosses. Walnut pews with kneelers. Two pulpits, an altar, and vestments.

As I watched the rehearsal start, I wandered upstairs and sat at the organ. Dedicated in 1919 "To the glory of God", there were notes on it dated 1944 instructing the organist to remember to play for God's pleasure alone.

In this day of multipurpose facilities, or places repurposed (like theaters), such spaces speak to me about what the people who built it believed about the role of spaces and worship - spaces and life.

We're up in Macon for a couple of days. Bunny's Mom is under hospice care, and everyone is taking part in her care. We do everything we can do, as often as we can do it. Being 5 hours away makes it a challenge, but it is one we can meet.

And being here is like being back in one of those sacred spaces.

I know that God is at work here.

Prayers are being received in heaven from people all over the world who know what's happening in this home. God's grace is being applied to those inside.

Sacred space. Yes it is.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Sunday's Text - What Does "Deny Yourself" Mean?

James and John still do not understand the requirements of the school of Jesus. In any other context it might be perfectly reasonable for students to expect special honor; and since Mark presents Jesus and his school as connected with the end time, academic honor and political honor are not easy to separate. In this case Jesus’ reply does not urge the students to outdo one another in martyrdom but, rather, makes it clear that martyrdom is the outcome of discipleship, not royal honors.

Jesus’ students, on the other hand, are to deny themselves the honors of the academy and of political prestige. Denial of self (a)parnhsa/sqw e(auto\n) involves loss of life, loss of social/academic standing and suffering. If one would “follow Jesus,” be a disciple, then the cost of that matriculation will be one’s life, one’s position, and one’s well being.

- From http://www.wfu.edu/~horton/r327/Chapter%204.pdf

From the same source:

The purpose of instruction, the goal of study, is always action. On this point there was general agreement among the Rabbis who, ironically, decided that study was greater than action because study led to action:
R. Tarfon and the Elders were reclining on the upper level of the house of Nithza in Lydda. The following question arose among them: “Is study greater, or action?” R. Tarfon gave answer and said: “Action is greater.” R. Akiba gave answer and said: “Study is greater.” Then they all gave answer and said: “Study is greater, for it leads to action.” (t. b. Kiddushin 40b)

The action to which Jesus invites his students now is the same action he himself takes, much to their amazement and distress. The action is not martyrdom for a moral or legal principle. Instead, it is a loss of life that is consistent with Jesus’ reckless disregard of his own safety in the Gospel, his reckless disregard for the rulings of the Pharisees and Sadducees, his reckless lack of concern for the workings of the Temple cultus, and his reckless willingness to face certain death.

More Insight on Sunday's Text

Bible.org: A Follower’s Fee - Mark 8:27 – 9:29
The closest opposite of the notion of “self-denial” is “self-allegiance”—concerned ultimately for one’s own good, looking out for number one. Discipleship, Jesus informs us, costs everything. Jesus had challenged many of his disciples to follow him prior to this (see chapter one), but they were evidently not clear on what was required.

Are you aware of the personal cost of discipleship? What has it cost you personally? Are you willing to pay such high tuition? Is there an area of your life that you are refusing to submit to Him? Then you are delinquent on payment. What are you holding back from God? Write it down, put it in an envelope, and give it over to Him. Does it hurt? Absolutely. But there is comfort on the other side, and peace because you know you’ve done the right thing. What are you holding on to in allegiance to yourself? Jim Eliot spoke some famous words that continue to challenge us today: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Good words on Sunday's text from Ray Steadman

The Way of the Cross
This is what Christianity is all about. The Christian life is following Jesus, doing what he says -- like, "Love your enemy," {Matt 5:44}. "Pray for those who hurt you," {cf, Matt 5:44}. "Forgive those who offend you," {cf, Matt 6:14-15}. Those are not merely wise and helpful words; they represent a way of life our Lord is setting out before us, to which we are expected to conform in the moment when we least feel like it.

So Wonder Why Our Teens Have A Twisted View of Sex?

Look at the some of the lyrics from music nominees for Nickelodeon’s 2009 Kids’ Choice Awards:

  • Beyonce
    “Now take it off while I watch you perform.” (Suga Mama)
  • Chris Brown
    “Let’s get and make love on Venus.” (Gimme Whatcha Got)
  • Alicia Keys
    “So maybe we can go to first base because I feel you.” (Teenage Love Affair)
  • Jesse McCartney
    “Spend the night with me and I’ll rock you.” (Rock You)
  • Katy Perry
    “I kissed a girl just to try it. I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” (I Kissed a Girl)
  • Pussycat Dolls
    “I can get off when you ain’t around.” (I Don’t Need a Man)
  • Rihanna
    “What you got up in them jeans? Put it on me, or get lonely.” (Lemme Get That)
Cause and effect, people. Cause and effect. Nick's audience is 10-14 year old kids.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Looking back a bit today

Sometimes I catch myself remembering the past. For the most part, I am a forward looking kind of guy. I'm always looking ahead and anticipating what tomorrow might bring. But there are times when for some reason I flash back to years ago and the people who inhabited my life then. I miss them. I miss being a kid growing up with very little in the way of worldly treasures, but oh so rich in the people God placed around me - to love and care for me.

Yesterday I got to thinking about my aunt Geneva. Her full name was Thelma Geneva Bowden Benson. And she was one of the most colorful people I have ever known. When she loved, it was with everything she had. When you got on her bad side, well let's just say you didn't really want to get on that side. :)

She passed away almost two years ago, closing the book on all of my aunts and uncles. She lives on in her sons, and especially in Rick, my always favorite cousin, who if he ever reads that I wrote that might place me on HIS bad side. :)

The following is the working draft I used when I had the honor of preaching Aunt Geneva's funeral -by her request. It's not a transcript, since I don't use notes, but it will give you the essence of what I said.

It’s 1924. Calvin Coolidge is in the white house, and he decides to use a newer invention to talk to the people of America – a radio address. In New York, a company named IBM is incorporated. In Washington, D.C. a young man named J Edgar Hoover takes the reins at the FBI. Lucky Lindy makes it across the Atlantic.

And in Macon, another baby is born to Henry and Bertie Bowden. Thelma Geneva. Born into a family that would see its share of both heartache and joys. During Geneva’s life, she would see plenty of both.

Life in a mill village wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t hard either. And really the only way I can say that it wasn’t hard was because it was a shared life. Politicians can talk all they want to about family values, but back then, they just lived them. Everybody helped everyone else because that’s just what you did. So families like the Bowden’s and Foster’s and Tucker’s and later the Wilson’s grew up in a time of rapid change with fierce determination to get through it together.

Living literally on the wrong side of the tracks didn’t mean a thing. It was just where you lived when you worked at Mr Willingham’s Cotton Mill. Geneva, like her mother and father had done and her brothers and sisters did, worked there too. Long hot days filled with boring, monotonous and sometimes dangerous work if you didn’t pay attention, paid the bills – most of the time.

Geneva saw a lot in her life. The death of her father who was struck by a car outside the mill in Forsyth by a cat driven by the daughter of a state senator. No harm no foul – he got up, shaken and bruised, and went home. He died three days later. Geneva saw another sister, Hattie die tragically when she caught on fire stoking the wood stove and rushed outside in flames. They got the flames out, but she died. Her brother Cecil died when a train hit the car he was riding across the tracks down the street. The train carried the car almost home – with his body in it.

The little church in the mill village was a place the family would go to find some comfort and peace. They sat as you do today, and looked at their loved one’s bodies. They saw what we see today, that death comes for us all. And at the close of the service, they got up and went on living, just as we will do today.

Geneva saw the second World War, with the heartaches of people she knew who didn’t come back, and seeing family go without knowing whether they would. She married Ben Benson who came back with some of the horror of war still clinging to him. They started a family, had two boys and tried to make a living, but life for the mills here was running out.

Those two boys grew up in the house on Roff Ave. Oh the memories of that house with its sacred space – the living room holy of holies that no one must enter – the bomb shelter under the house – the front porch you could sit on and watch the trains go by, smell the creosote, and hear the sounds of life. Houses jammed impossibly together - and families jammed together too.

It was the time of Lanier High School - the Poets. The Macon Peaches baseball team. Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Ernest Tubbs. Aunt Geneva might have changed some as she grew older, but the things she saw back then and loved, she loved to the end of her days.

What was it like to live her life? The burdens she carried were many, friends. You know that. Her health wasn’t the best – really ever. She had TB once, had to go to the sanitarium for a cure. She worried about her boys, like every mother did, when the polio epidemic roared through. She wondered how she’d hold a family together, with Ben who would suffer from his problems with alcohol not being there sometimes when she needed him to be. How did she do it? She didn’t, alone. It was faith, and it was family, and you needed both back then just to survive.

I wonder sometimes how a person who saw what Geneva saw, and experienced what she went through holds on to either faith or family. I mean I have to believe that word some Christians run from – Why? Crossed her mind. Let’s fess up folks, it crosses our minds. We’ve buried a lot of people together now, haven’t we? Some of you more than me. But I can remember Henry’s thrill at getting that Shriner hat, and the crushing blow it was to you (much more than me, I was just a kid) to find him that morning laying there asleep and never again to wake up.

I can remember little Henry’s wreck on that scooter, of Rick’s wreck heading back to Ft Campbell, of times when many of the people in this room faced heartache, pain, and loss. So let’s just admit that “why” is where we live.

It’s been a long time since Henry passed away now, and we’ve buried mama, and Lodie, and Buddy, and you can think of others. Geneva and Ben finally moved from Roff Ave., to Thomaston and swapped one mill for another. We all grew up and they grew older (we didn’t of course). Geneva swapped outings to Ida Caisson’s gardens, and the man made beaches, for outings at the bluff, where she’d enjoy her tent and her bed, and her family.

If you think back with me, it wasn’t all heartache, was it? There was joy in the journey too. She had a laugh that was as distinctive as she was, and a twinkle in her eyes, usually when she was about to skewer you with her sharp tongue, that was filled with joy. Now she might have gotten too much joy at times at our expense, but you have to remember she did have golden days along with the rain.

Some of you were telling me last night and this morning about the things that brought her joy. I had forgotten about the Easter egg hunting and trick or treating, but through the fog of memory I can remember coming over here with Bruce to go treating at the rich people’s houses on Hillcrest. Better candy there, if mother and aunt Geneva didn’t eat it. And once we moved out to Raley Road – even before on Roff avenue, I can remember the hunt for the “golden egg”. You probably remember even more.

For me, I remember the bonds that existed between you all. My daddy was kind of a guy who didn’t like big gatherings or much fuss, but the Bowdens never met a holiday they didn’t celebrate and throw a get together for. So I grew up in the heaven that was pecan pies and caramel cakes with 15 layers, the world’s greatest cornbread, sweet tea, and turnips you could actually eat that never came out of a can.

There’d be a radio on, and Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubbs, Jim Reeves or someone would be singing. But I just remember growing up around people in this family who loved one another fiercely, from the heart. I have heard my mother on many occasions tell my daddy “don’t talk about my people.” And I’m really fortunate to have been born among you. And I'm talking as one of you today.

The latter years for Aunt Geneva were maybe the relief she had needed for years. I mean if you are designing a place for her, I know I’d make sure it had a TV hooked to cable, a current TV Guide, and plenty of snacks. Jelly rolls, chocolate cake, crunch and munch – even just ice. Something to keep her busy while she watched Jerry Springer, Judge Judy, or her soaps. I guess you could add pets to that from demon possessed dogs to insane birds. Talking about that this morning, I think we have determined that all the animals were normal when they went in the house… but...

Oh, and you’d have to make sure, if you are designing a place for Aunt Geneva, that you laid in some tomato cans, or later Styrofoam cups, and plenty of Devoe snuff.

She was one of a kind. And we loved her, and we are going to miss her. She really lived a full life, and saw this society change. She saw a family shake off the depression, deal with deaths, fight and win a few wars, marry and have kids, and their kids have kids. And earlier this week, suddenly really, she went to sleep and she was gone.

It’s the way many of us would like to go. But you know sleep is just temporary. There’s a lot of times that the Bible describes death as “sleep”. In Mark, Jesus is asked to go to the home of a little girl. Her father is frantic, the mourners are already wailing outside. But when Jesus gets there, he says something that must have seemed kind of strange. He said “why are you crying, the child is not dead, she has just fallen asleep.” Then he went up to her bedside and asked her to get up and she did.

When Geneva fell asleep this week, when she woke up, it was to the sound of that same voice. She had seen a lot of things in her life, and had come to the time of her departure from it. She had “fought the good fight, kept the faith” and when she woke up, she saw Jesus.

The Bible tells us in John's gospel that Jesus has been preparing a place for those who love Him for thousands of years. Geneva is there today. Along with a lot of other people we love – and some surprisingly, we didn’t care too much for while they were here. But because God loves the unlovely – that would be you and me folks, he made a way for us to be with Him. Maybe for Aunt Geneva, she first understood that in Willingham Church, or Rebecca Baptist. Or maybe it was a private thing she and God worked out between the “why’s and the joys”. But I believe she accepted His offer.

If the standard was that you had to be good all the time, then Aunt Geneva would not have made it. But it isn’t. Only God is good, and we are given His grace through Jesus.

Aunt Geneva is in heaven with Him. Yes, we miss her. But if we follow Jesus as she did, we will see her again.

Too hard

Just talked to my father in law on the phone. So hard.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
He rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:18 (NLT)

Pray for the Clinard family as they go through this valley of shadows.

Lord Jesus,

You who came to bind wounds and heal hearts.

Hear my prayer.

Pour out your mercy on Curtis and Dot Clinard.

Immerse them in Your Love.

For they are Your cherished possessions.

And need You.


Hmmm... if they only knew Jesus

Gmail - Stephen King, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie: What unbelievers...
We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths. We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke. Steve King? Broke. Not a crying dime.

All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade—all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. It’s still going to be a quarter-past getting late whether you tell the time on a Timex or a Rolex. No matter how large your bank account, no matter how many credit cards you have, sooner or later things will begin to go wrong with the only three things you have that you can really call your own: your body, your spirit and your mind.

So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on. ...

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

This Sunday's Text

27 Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, "Who do the people say I am?"
28 "Some say 'John the Baptizer,' " they said. "Others say 'Elijah.' Still others say 'one of the prophets.' "
29 He then asked, "And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?"
Peter gave the answer: "You are the Christ, the Messiah."
30 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. 31 He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." 32 He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest. 33 Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works."
34 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. 35 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. 36 What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? 37 What could you ever trade your soul for?
38 "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."
Mark 8:27-38 (MSG)

Couple of things that jump out at first glance.

- Why the call to secrecy?
- Peter actually laid hands on Jesus?
- Jesus really knows how to get people to focus
- And He's very confrontational at times.
- "You're not in the driver's seat - I am."
- "Self help is no help at all." (Don't tell Oprah and Dr. Phil)
- Where's the passive "I just believe" Christianity I hear about all the time?
- "Fickle and unfocused" as opposed to rooted and driven by love for Christ

I'll keep dropping more here as I run across it.

A Gathering Storm

One of the things I most value is peace.

For me that equates to time to pray, to think, to dream, to imagine - to listen.

It is looking like God has other plans this week.

So I stop now and pray.

Abba. Father.

I come as a child today.

I have precious little to offer you

But what I have, I give to you completely.

Help me to rely on Your strength and wisdom.

Give me Your heart, Your eyes.

Let me be found today in total reliance on You.

Let me find refuge and strength in You.

My rock. My Redeemer.

My Lord.


Monday, March 02, 2009


A really fascinating study for me, and a passage that seemed to open itself to application more and more as the time I studied it went on. Lots of theological insights into how God relates within the Trinity and how the believer is shaped through experiences to be better fitted for God's purposes.

1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil.2 For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.
3 During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.”
4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say,

‘People do not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple,6 and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect you.

And they will hold you up with their hands

so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’ ”

7 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’ ”
8 Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him the kingdoms of the world and all their glory.9 “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.”
10 “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

and serve only him.’ ”

11 Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus.
Matt 4:1-11 (NLT)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Sunday night mind dump

- It was cold! Cold! Cold!
- But a great crowd came out to gather in worship today
- The "Gotta Serve Somebody" opener really worked! Fit so well with the Scripture I just had to do it.
- Rest of the music... could have been better. I personally messed up "In Christ Alone" when I couldn't remember when to come in and then played catch up.
- Emily and Sean's "How Deep the Father's Love" over the Neil Young "Down By the River" was just AWESOME!

The message needed to be 10 minutes shorter.

My goal was to get people to take the wilderness experience seriously and learn from it. I had lived and breathed it for a week and a half and literally had 150 pages of notes, a dozen web sites, and more information than I could have delivered in two hours straight. I learned so much about the passage(s) in the three gospels, but more importantly about Jesus and how he wants His followers to live. It changed me. And I wanted to bring that to everyone else.

So I went overboard.

Wish I hadn't, because I felt rushed a bit leading into the offering and communion.

I'll work harder on condensing in the audio and might add some way for people who want to go deeper on their own time.

We'll add more elements next week, hopefully do some more great music and enjoy God's grace.

Awesome that the kids raised $175.60 for other kids in Haiti to have stainless steel bowls and spoons to eat out of.

Awesome that someone gave $700 to purchase a new copier/printer/scanner for the church so that we could reduce expenses $140 a month.

Awesome that Bethany gave out of her heart to play and sing Amazing Grace.

Great Sunday!

Kindred Spirits

Evotional.com - Originality, Authenticity, Creativity
If I had to summarize my approach to preaching right now it'd be: let it rip. I feel like I'm speaking out of the overflow of what God is doing in my heart. That is when ministry is pure joy. I feel like part of maturing as a preacher is becoming less theoretical and more experiential. You're not preaching points. You're preaching convictions. Why? Because you haven't just studied it. You've experienced it.

Totally in sync with what Mark Batterson wrote above.

My goal now is to bring the meaning of the message straight from the Spirit using the Scriptures and the experiences I have.