Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Times, They Are A Changin'

The world's changes rush in and by us so fast. The "latest and greatest" comes in and falls out of fashion that you can easily find yourself paralyzed in indecision. Nothing lasts. Everything is on it's way to being replaced by something else. That phone you craved? The replacement's replacement will be here before your contract allows you to upgrade. That laptop that was the real deal may not even be able to run next year's operating system.

So what lasts?

8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."

Isaiah 40:8 (NIV)

Friday, August 28, 2009

It's 3 AM

That line started one of the more notable commercials of the last election primary campaign. Then Senator Hillary Clinton used the prospect of a phone ringing in the White House while a family slept in their home to claim an advantage in experience over her rival, Sen Obama. We all know how well that worked in convincing the Democratic voters.

But phones do ring at 3 AM, and they often do signal a crisis.

Perhaps it is a sign of experience as a pastor that when the phone rings in the middle of the night, you immediately think that something has gone dreadfully wrong. There have to be calls being made to let family know that someone got home safe, pulled through, or entered this world to a joyous reception. But when the phone rings in the home of a pastor chances are someone needs help. Of all the skills I have been taught in two seminary programs, numerous conferences, and through literally thousands of books over the years, not one has addressed what to do when that phone rings.

Here's the most important thing you can do:

Start praying while it is ringing for clarity, wisdom, and for God to act on behalf of the one in need.

No, you don't know what's about to transpire. But God does, and I'm a firm believer in getting the attention of the Omnipotent God that His servant and the one he is about to talk to - need HELP!

You'll want to do some other things too, like getting a pen and paper and asking for names, locations, phone numbers, and what the military calls a "SitRep" - a situation report of how everyone is doing right now - but pray. Pray. Pray.

A pastor who has prayed and thrown himself on the grace of God as one who can only minister out of His grace, His mercy, and His wisdom is a far more effective instrument for God to use for His glory and for the comfort and direction those he will care for.

It might be 3 AM, but we serve the One Who never slumbers or sleeps.

Thank God.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wednesday Nights Are Like This

Wednesday Night...

It's where the slippery areas show up, and where the reality of how many servants you have hits the road of how many needs you have.

It's a tug-o-war almost every week.

Last night it began in worship team practice for me and cruised right on through. We don't have a worship leader and operate with a team. But on the first Wed after school started, I knew going in it might be rough and it was. There are some songs in our set list that you can ease into, and some that you can't. I wanted to start Sunday's worship with a big sound - "All Hail the Power" - which is one of the hymns that even though the language is archaic in spots, has real power in the words and the music.

The team just wasn't up to it. Don't know why, maybe everyone was tired.

But it was weak.

The next two songs were hardly better.

Maybe there are times when we need to spend the whole time in prayer instead of practice. If we cannot sing the songs with joyful abandon in worship then how can we expect a congregation to? I'm going to be praying about how to prepare the worship team for worship practice not just from a skills standpoint but from a heart standpoint. Good enough is not good enough.

To do nothing means we've slid a little ways toward irrelevance without correction. Just like a tug-o-war, you lose when that happens too many times. So we'll pray and work preparing for next week.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Life

Very intense week last week. Thought it would slack off, but not so far. Still, I wouldn't trade this job for any other in the world. Found this just now...

Brother let me be your servant.

Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and share the load.

I will hold the Christ light for you.
In the nighttime of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
‘Til we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven
We will find such harmony
Born of all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony.

— Richard Gillard

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Well Done"

"A man makes a living out of what he gets, he makes a life out of what he gives away." - Winston Churchill

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:13 (NLT) - Jesus Christ

We laid the body that had contained the immortal soul of Tommy Williams to rest yesterday. While living his life enjoying the love of his bride Amelia, his daughters Amy and Blythe, his grandson Ian, and that of his friends, he was overtaken by cancer and succumbed to death.

I knew Tommy mostly from the impact he had on his family. We had met several times when he would bring Ian (or pick him up from) to his piano lessons, and when he'd come to New Hope to watch Ian do something special in the service. Thinking back, I never saw Tommy Williams when he wasn't focused on someone else.

At the viewing, the family had provided dozens of pictures of Tommy and family throughout his life. They showed a couple in love, the family as it began and grew, and as they experienced one of the sweetest of God's gifts - joy. I peeked into those vignettes and found Tommy was many times sitting next to someone laughing. In others where he was the sole subject, he appeared at rest and in contentment. So few people are.

Yesterday more windows into Tommy's life opened as we heard from people who had known him for many many years tell of how he had lived a consistent life of service, compassion, and faithfulness throughout his adult life. His pastor pointed out that it was the presence of Jesus within Tommy that was behind it all. This pastor can tell you that though many people have been given new life through Jesus Christ, far fewer live one.

Tommy did.

To the very end.

Tommy's already heard this from Jesus, but I want to say it too.

"Well done."

He will be missed, but not forgotten.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Here's My Question - Does Anyone Ever Graduate From Sunday School?

The folks in the picture gathered in 1915. Wonder how many are still in that class?

Seriously. Does anyone ever reach the point that Sunday School doesn't add anything to their walk with Christ? People sit in the same room on the same chairs for decades. Shouldn't we expect more?

If it was public school they'd finally promote them out. Maybe we should too.

"Congratulations! You have been promoted to nursery worker!"

"We're so proud of what you have learned! Now come and help with children's church."

"Hey, saw you finished Sunday School. Now you can help with the shut-ins!"

Doesn't sound crazy to me.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Have To Keep Reminding Myself

The biblical fact is that there are no successful churches.

There are, instead, communities of sinners, gathered before God week after week in towns and villages all over the world.

The Holy Spirit gathers them and does his work in them.

In these communities of sinners, one of the sinners is called pastor and given a designated responsibility in the community.

The pastor’s responsibility is to keep the community attentive to God.

- Eugene Peterson from the introduction to Working the Angles

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Your God Is Too Safe

Yeah, it's a book by Mark Buchanan, but it's also a truism.

If your God never leads you to risk, to dare, to sacrifice - I don't know who you are following but it isn't Jesus.

"They left it all and followed Him" wasn't a one time event. It was covered in the bold print of "take up your cross daily..."

That same Jesus who called people to "let the dead bury the dead" is the same One we follow today. What are you holding onto that is holding you back from following Jesus?

That same Jesus Who kept taking men's twisted interpretations of the Law and straightening them to point to God's love and mercy - you know, the One who said "You have heard it said, but I say..." Listen to Him, not some TV preacher or Oprah.

He is the same One who takes our hypocritical ideas about who is "in" and who is "out" and flings them back at us. "Who is my neighbor?" didn't work for the Pharisees and it won't work for us.

Watch out New Hope. I am praying today that we become know as a "dangerous" group of people. That we gain the reputation of the best friends of anyone working for the Kingdom of God that anyone could ever find - and the worst enemies of evil, injustice, and poverty known to mankind.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hard pressed

"We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."

It's been a hard week so far for several of the people Bunny and I know and love.

For some, it's dealing with past heartaches. For others, what the future will hold threatens to crush their spirits. And for too many, right now is just way too hard.

Perspective is key, but sometimes we have to fight our feelings to be able to grasp just where we really are.

16 So we're not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. 17 These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. 18 There's far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can't see now will last forever.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (MSG)

Amen. Thank you Jesus.

What exactly is courage?

We live in a military community where men and women leave here to go in harms way to "protect and defend." They do so leaving behind their families and loved ones.

When Erin Harrington (pictured below with Bunny) came to piano Monday afternoon, she came holding a tiny American flag that the Red Cross had given her. Erin, her mom Karen, and big brother Jonathan had just come back from seeing dad, Major Sean Harrington off as he left for a deployment to Afghanistan.

Don't be fooled by that sweet smile (either of them :) )

Courage. She has it.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Beach Baptism Details

Beach Baptism Service. Florida weather. Henderson Beach State Park,+Destin,+FL&sll=30.511189,-86.497046&sspn=0.00843,0.013797&ie=UTF8&ll=30.395014,-86.440945&spn=0.033759,0.055189&z=14&iwloc=B

Well, right now the chance of scattered thunderstorms for tomorrow afternoon is at 50-60% depending on who you look at. Which is the pretty standard summer forecast. In fact it doesn't change until Wednesday when some dry air comes through. So, barring any unforeseen circumstances we are going ahead. Should that change we will contact as quickly as possible.

It is at Henderson Beach State Park and will begin at 3:00 p.m.

Here’s the plan.

First we’ll have a brief worship service, to include praise, scripture, and teaching. Second, we’ll baptize some folks. Finally, we fellowship while we eat a nice beach meal.

For the baptism, please tell me (just hit reply) or Kevin Hickman ( if you plan to be baptized. We’ll baptize all who understand what this step of faith means and want to take it, but would like to have an idea of whom to expect. Dad's - if your son or daughter is being baptized, I'd love to have you be a helper when it is done. It will take two in the surf, and you both will treasure the memory of this step in following Jesus.

Everyone: Bring beach towels if you plan on getting wet - extras if you have them and are not. Wet and cold people just don't seem to be as friendly. :)

For the meal, the church will provide hot grills, some hamburgers and hotdogs. To make it a nice meal, please bring any other meat you’d like to grill and a side dish or dessert to share.

For the fellowship after. If everyone could remember that we are going as the church and dress appropriately that would be great. That means long T-shirts over bikinis if that's what you normally wear to the beach, and nothing outrageous or out of character. Also, the wind may be over 10mph so be prepared for that and also for sun should it choose to favor us. Sunscreen is your friend.

Hope to see you there so we can worship and fellowship together,

God bless,


Thursday, August 13, 2009

So David, What Have You Been Reading?

Glad you asked.

The Reason for God - Tim Keller - Still reading in it off and on. Good stuff.

The Great Game - Peter Hopkirk - Outstanding look at the history of Afghanistan and the region

Labyrinth - Kate Mosse - Kind of Dan Brown-ish. Pretty decent over all, good in spots.

How Long?

For many years, the period every day when I stopped and read Scripture and listened and prayed was ordered by a method first popularized by Billy Graham. He supposedly has used this for many years for his own devotional time. It is very simple. Whatever day of the month it is, read that Psalm and Proverbs. You can vary it with the day x2 etc. for the variations to keep it from being rote, but it puts your mind and spirit under the authority of some great Scripture every day.

Today's Psalm 13 is one of those that I remember and echo at times in my prayers.

13 For the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

How long will you look the other way?

2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,

with sorrow in my heart every day?

How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

3 Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!

Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.

4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”

Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

5 But I trust in your unfailing love.

I will rejoice because you have rescued me.

6 I will sing to the Lord

because he is good to me.

And here is U2. I love it when believers bring their faith to work. :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

20 minutes, 4 times a day

Got off the phone with my Father in Law a little while ago. It had been a while since I had talked with him. He'll be 83 in November, and has suffered much the last few years with physical problems. The biggest struggle of all though has been the loss of fellowship with his sweetheart, Dot. I don't think any of us can believe she is gone. But Curtis is coping as best he can with being alone.

We talked about a wide range of subjects - from how horrible Vista is to him, all the way through his latest doctor visit (which was a good one!) and to what he eats and how he breaks his meals up into 4 a day so he can take his medicine and be able to go to bed and get up on his schedule.

He said that each time he does sits down to eat, he spends the time that he would have spent talking with Dot - talking with God in prayer. He told me this tonight - "I have 20 minutes worth of prayer, four times a day now. My list just keeps getting longer, but I believe in the power of God and prayer."

I told him I was glad I was on his list, and that he was on mine.

For me to know that my father in law, with all the needs he has, and all the struggles he goes through daily - to know that he is praying for me and for New Hope...

Touches my heart and makes me praise God for the blessings He has given through the life of Curtis Clinard.

I'd appreciate your prayers too.

Grace and peace,


Friday, August 07, 2009

Ten Things I've Learned In Ten Years

Realizing that there's no way I could condense ten years into anything coherent, I'm going to share ten things that I have learned in the last ten years as a pastor.

1. Calling matters.

There will be times when God's call on your life and to that place of ministry is the thread that holds everything together. There is no doubt in my mind I was called here to New Hope, and that I was God's choice to lead it. Have there been times when I wondered what God was doing? Sure. But I never have had a doubt about the call to New Hope. I've talked with other churches occasionally during the time I have been here, but God has never given me a clear "Go to a place I will show you..." I do not know how some pastors move so often. Growing to love a community and a group of people is an awesome experience. Seeing God at work - is so rewarding, especially over time.

But that conviction of being placed here by Almighty God is a bedrock of faith. Not every day is a great day. The cliche of a pastor's "Blue Mondays" has more than one grain of truth in it. So during times when things aren't going all that well you need the courage of conviction. "Here I stand, I can do no other" isn't just for that Luther guy. It's for every one of us on the line.

2. Context is key.

There are things you will be able to accomplish in some places easily that would be incredibly difficult if not impossible in others. Mistakes on gauging context WILL bite you. I definitely underestimated the extent of the traditional reversal at New Hope from what it started out to be and even the appeal of traditional forms and structure. I relied too much on what the search team told me and had too little information outside that.

Speaking of context - It's a military culture here. Took a while to understand it and operate with harmony within it for change. Now I wish I had become a chaplain when I had the chance so I could have ministered to the great people and their families who serve this country so well. New Hope sits within earshot of the loudspeakers on base. I can hear the "Star Spangled Banner" played on them every afternoon if I step outside my office at the right time. So there is and will always be a large group of younger people, and younger families with children who came here from somewhere else, and will most likely leave. There is also a large group of retirees who still are involved as employees of contractors on base. And then there is a group of older people who have stayed here after their service. The city of Valparaiso is home to more of the latter two groups than the former.

Yet when we drove up the first time and saw a little league field and elementary school across the street, I knew that children's ministry would have to be a big part of what we did, and that community involvement would be a key to advancing the Kingdom here. We've really gotten some chances to do that in the last year that we never had before and I can see more in the future.

3. Music = Worship = My Church- for many people

You can preach well, love deeply, teach with passion and lead with clear direction, but for some people what the music choices are is what the church is. Change that in any way shape or form and fight's on. Very few people can find happiness in blended worship. But my calling is not to make people happy, but to lead them to the cross. So it is not so unexpected when I hear the occasional gripe. From time to time we do need to stop and explain why a new song is worthy of considering as a hymn in the same breath as "It is well with my soul" and other great songs of the faith.

4. If your staff isn't sold out to the vision you are in trouble

One of the biggest shocks to me was a staff member early on who would say all the right things in meetings with me, would say that he understood perfectly what I was trying to accomplish in following what I believed to be God's direction, and then do everything he could behind the scenes to sabotage it. His deliberate misstatements to others, use of his cronies, and frequent use of "some people are saying..." should have been an indication that I needed to work to find a way to hold him accountable or find an exit strategy. But I came in believing that if there were disagreements, we would talk them out and then support each other as we ministered in our giftings.

While I could never see prior to this why a pastor would come in and change the entire staff (and still couldn't imagine ever doing it myself), I understand what would drive a person to that decision. I'm much more upfront now that I ever would have been at the beginning. That's important. Don't assume people understand what you want if you haven't told them.

5. Some of the same people who wanted you to come will later want you to go

This was a hard lesson to learn. Some people are like rivers - easy to navigate going with them, but life threatening if you head upstream. Within three years, it was apparent that I was seeing the context and direction we needed to head very differently than some of the leadership that brought me there. Working fairly slowly, I tried to bring them along. Working fairly quickly, they tried to toss me overboard. Once that happened, I sought godly counsel about the issues and about the people involved. On the issues, the insight was that I was right on target. On the people, the background was that this was not the first time they had done this. In other churches they had raised protests when pastors didn't happen to share their opinions on how the church should be. Still, it was difficult to have the same people who were so sold out for my calling here to turn so dramatically.

6. Small Church is hard

Years ago I was asked to go and talk to the pastor of a church in Mobile AL about planting a church with them there. We all piled into the car and drove over and spent the day looking, talking, and praying. He was an awesome pastor who is still at that church. Obviously I did not feel called to that opportunity, but the trip was rewarding anyway. I'll never forget what he shared about the context of New Hope and what I would face. "Small church is hard, David. It can be the most rewarding thing you will ever do with your life, but the highs are balanced by many lows as well. Unless you can find a way to deal with both and stay focused on Jesus, a bigger church would be much easier on you and your family."

Well, he was right. I LOVE New Hope. Bunny and I absolutely love the people God has given us. We'd do anything we could for them anytime they needed us to. We've shared great joys and great sorrows together over the years, and as a result relationships have grown deeper. Much deeper.

But every week here is a challenge. So many times we both are called on to do things that we aren't gifted in. Too many times Sunday morning will reveal a hole where a teacher didn't show up, or equipment died. There's very little margin. It is small church. You are constantly reminded of what you cannot accomplish. So you have to decide what you can and do it.

7. Do not try to please people

This was a lesson that took a while to sink in. Most people, pastor's included, want to be liked. That desire can, if you let it, have you second guessing everything. If you find yourself thinking "I wonder if ______ will like this?" then you have fallen into that trap. This is different than building consensus. There are times when you have to get input to gauge what is possible and what the cost of change might be. But personalizing it? No.

Over the years, as relationships develop, you do gain the ability to predict what people will think initially about ministry initiatives and decisions you might have to make. But again, if it is God's will as you understand it, you'll work knowing that to present the idea/concept/activity/whatever in the best way for them to prayerfully consider it.

8. There's a big difference between meekness and weakness

Meekness, as all of us who struggled through the King James years knows, means "strength under control." Weakness means you are a wimp. I have been weak when I should have been meek. Some people will take full advantage of any tendency by the leader toward weakness. I've apologized for nothing far too often, and even for things that I didn't do wrong. I learned quickly though that such actions did not advance the Kingdom nor teach people how to act in respect even while disagreeing.

Confidence, born out of your relationship with God, will enable you to follow Him no matter whether or not the path you are walking is going to be received with approval or not. An understanding of the Holy Spirit's role in not just your life, but the life of those you serve will mean that you will consider carefully the implications of every decision. Love for the people God has placed you with combined with those two will provide the basis for the loving harmony that makes real progress possible.

9. You can never get enough joy in your life

This is an emotionally draining job - if you put your heart into it. Bearing other's burdens is not light work. Many times the ups and downs can take their toll. So you have to seek out, find, and immerse yourself in those things that give you joy as often as you can. The kids Bunny and I have watched grow up over the years will never know how much their smiles and laughter have given us. Those times with the grown ups where we shared a meal, swapped stories, laughed until we cried, have mattered. The school plays, band concerts, chorales, etc that we attended with the parents of our New Hope kids - awesome.

Oh, and those days off where Bunny and I headed out to Henderson beach for an hour or so with the sound of the surf, the smell of the ocean, and the freedom of no worries - priceless. My wife has brought me joy from the very first time I had an inkling of her interest in me. Sharing our life together is awesome.

10. Own your failures, give away your successes

Remember, I'm not saying go weeping down the aisle in contrition when your ideas flop. But don't run away either or try to blame someone or something else. It's okay to fail as long as you learn from failure (fail forward as John Maxwell would say). I'd agree with several others that if you are seeing no failures in what you are attempting, then you are playing it too safe.

When something works great, find the people who contributed and make sure they get the credit they deserve. It is an awesome thing to see people grow spiritually right before your eyes as they take responsibility and see their efforts prove fruitful for God. It's a pastor's dream moment.

There they are. Ten things I have learned in ten years.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Way to Go Child2Child!!!

Still reeling from the weekend trip, but I wanted to let everyone know how proud I am of the girls in Child2Child and of the people @ New Hope for passing the $500 mark in support of the Clean Water Project. Last Sunday, the girls were going around putting labels like the one above on everyone. I got 4 stuck on me.

The story behind it?

Each $10 equals clean water for one person for TEN YEARS.

So $500 means 50 people will have the simple blessing of clean water for the next decade.

Guys, I'll say it again. We cannot do everything, but each one of us can DO SOMETHING to follow Jesus in love of our neighbors.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

See You Guys Later

Ironically, I am writing this as I approach an extremely rare event in the lives of Bunny and David Wilson. We are on vacation until Monday afternoon.

It's been ten years since we took a leap of faith and answered the call to New Hope, and the church has rewarded us with a couple of days away. We are going to do our best the next couple of days to slow down and enjoy the break. If we do well away, plans are to actually take at least a week off later. I think this will make a total of 21 days of off/vacation time in ten years, so obviously I haven't proved any mastery of the vacation idea before this. :)

We leave New Hope in good hands, on course for a great weekend of worship and fellowship. Child2Child should pass the $500 mark in their efforts to raise money for the Clean Water Project after Sunday's offerings. Brother Jack Anderson and his daughter Cathy Flores will lead New Hope in worship and praise tomorrow. Neither is a stranger to New Hope. Jack is an anointed preacher who just happens to be the father of John Anderson, and Cathy is a gifted worship leader who has blessed us previously.

Preparations will begin this week for our first Beach Baptism Celebration on the 16th, and Sunday Night At the Movies on the 30th. August is going to ROCK!

I look forward to hearing what God did among His people. But for now, see you guys later.