Tuesday, November 30, 2010


He was just 16 in a time when children were seen and not heard. Only a little while ago he had been an unbeliever. But he came to know Jesus as Savior, as Friend. His heart was changed so radically that he decided he had to write a song and sing what his heart was feeling. It was the only song anyone ever knew he wrote. It was first published anonymously and only after his untimely death 11 years later did anyone know that William Ralph Featherston had written this heart song.

Are we living and loving "because He first loved?"

I love this simple song.

My Jesus, I love Thee, I know Thou art mine;
For Thee all the follies of sin I resign.
My gracious Redeemer, my Savior art Thou;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I love Thee because Thou has first loved me,
And purchased my pardon on Calvary’s tree.
I love Thee for wearing the thorns on Thy brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

I’ll love Thee in life, I will love Thee in death,
And praise Thee as long as Thou lendest me breath;
And say when the death dew lies cold on my brow,
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

In mansions of glory and endless delight,
I’ll ever adore Thee in heaven so bright;
I’ll sing with the glittering crown on my brow;
If ever I loved Thee, my Jesus, ’tis now.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Now and Not Yet

When I asked the youth yesterday in Sunday School what the best gift they had ever gotten for Christmas was, my friend Kira had a problem. See she knows what she's getting for Christmas this year, a new state of the art iPod touch ("with two cameras!"). It's already been purchased. But she doesn't have it yet.

Still, it's what she wanted to claim as her best Christmas present ever.

I can feel her pain. As I read the Scripture opening the season of Advent yesterday from Isaiah chapter 2, there was so much there that I wanted NOW.

2 There's a day coming when the mountain of God's House Will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it. 3 They'll say, "Come, let's climb God's Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He'll show us the way he works so we can live the way we're made." Zion's the source of the revelation. God's Message comes from Jerusalem. 4 He'll settle things fairly between nations. He'll make things right between many peoples. They'll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won't play war anymore. 5 Come, family of Jacob, let's live in the light of God.

Isaiah 2:2-5 (MSG)

Almost every day of my life opens with a prayer for God to come and put things right - for people to come to know Jesus as Savior - for peace. And though God has given me so much - so many blessings - even though I know that Jesus will come and do everything this passage says, chances are that I'll awaken tomorrow with the same hopes to pray.

It's life living in the now and not yet.

So what should we do - today?

"Come, family of Jacob, let's live in the light of God."

We face life together as the people of God - as family bound by blood.

We LIVE! Not fearfully or anxiously - we know the outcome - we win!

We follow Jesus as the Spirit leads "in the light of God."

I'm looking forward to seeing Kira's face after Christmas as she proudly shows me her new toy. But as cool as that might seem now, what Kira's going to receive one day from her God (what we all will receive as believers) is so much better it boggles the mind and warms my heart.

Come join us as we live out Advent at New Hope in the "now and not yet."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I Wonder

Had a friend I worked with years ago named Ray Cagle. I was a bivocational pastor at the time, and Ray was a member of a nondenominational church and seemed to me to try and live out his faith. We stopped by his house on the way back from lunch one day and I when I went to flip a light switch I noticed a bible verse was taped to it. Looking around, I saw other verses taped on things like the TV set.

I had to know - so I asked Ray about it. He said that as a family they were trying to get as much Scripture in as many ways as possible into their hearts. So they chose Scriptures and printed out slips that would cause them to think about their devotion to God.

After all these years, I'm still impressed by the sincere desire Ray expressed that day to follow Jesus and lead his family to do the same.

Haven't thought about it for years.

But it's Christmas season.

So I wonder... if we printed out slips of paper with "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:21 and taped them to our checkbook, to our credit and debit cards - would it cause us to consider whether what we were about to spend was the best God honoring use of the money God has blessed us with.

I wonder.

Might make a difference this Christmas...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

An Advent Conspiracy Begins

Something is wrong with Christmas in America.

We work ourselves into a frenzy during the season of hope, peace, joy,and love - rushing around buying presents with money we don't have for people who don't need what we are giving them. By doing that, we are robbing ourselves of an unforgettable Christmas experience.

Well at New Hope, we've decided to step off the Consumerist merry-go-round and give more presence and less presents. During the next four weeks we will focus on worshiping fully, loving deeply, spending less, and giving more of ourselves to God and to our friends and family.

Our worship gatherings will point us in that direction and our efforts on behalf of Shelter House, local needy families. Haitian orphans, women in Malawi, and to drill a well in the Sudan will cause us to focusing on giving, not getting and play our part in God's plan to love the world with the love of Jesus.

We're joining thousands of other Christ followers in forming an Advent Conspiracy Come join us - Christmas can still change the world.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more

"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more" begins Henry V as he rallies the English at Agincourt. It's Monday - I can relate to that.

There are days when being a pastor is a consuming joy. It's a job you enjoy because it's making a real difference and you're operating out of passion and conviction. That's why I love it.

I've had other jobs I liked a lot because of the challenges inherent in them and the rewards gained through your effort. And I was good at them. Because I worked hard, kept learning and growing in my craft, and operated out of personal integrity and trust. Do that, and you succeeded.

But this one, this job, places you at a completely opposite place.

You can do your best in every way - in prayer, preparation, execution and follow through - but the efforts aren't guaranteed. The outcome is out of your control.

I struggle with that.

Anyone who observes how I work quickly sees I'll do whatever is necessary to help New Hope be everything that it can be. There's not a job I haven't done except keeping the nursery during the years I've been here (I'm kind of busy during the services). Yard work - check. Maintenance - check. Cooking supper - check. Office work - check. That's over and above the "normal" pastoral duties.

Not a big deal as far as I'm concerned. There are certain standards we have to maintain or exceed and if I need to pitch in or step in to help, I'm going to do it. Loving the mission, loving the people, loving my job - it's just what I do.

It's not a sacrifice on my part at all- It's simply a response to love, in love.

But having done that, emotionally there are times when I'm expecting God to reward the effort - not just my effort, but the efforts of my New Hope family.

And I want them pretty quickly.

In a way I can see.

When He doesn't - and after all, my efforts - our efforts together - don't mean God HAS to do anything at all except His will - I sometimes struggle with that. I was reading an article by another pastor, who is in a very successful church, and was confronted with this.

From: 5 Prices A Leader Must Be Willing To Pay by Perry Noble
#2 -There Is An Emotional Cost – Leading in the church is one of the most emotionally draining things you will EVER do. You will discover that you can go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows with one email or phone call. On most days you will feel overwhelmed and unworthy of your calling…and all of this requires that we be willing to pay the price emotionally.


And that's about all I'm going to say about that.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let's Skip Christmas

1 The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:

2 There's a day coming

when the mountain of God's House

Will be The Mountain—

solid, towering over all mountains.

All nations will river toward it,

people from all over set out for it.

3 They'll say, "Come,

let's climb God's Mountain,

go to the House of the God of Jacob.

He'll show us the way he works

so we can live the way we're made."

Zion's the source of the revelation.

God's Message comes from Jerusalem.

4 He'll settle things fairly between nations.

He'll make things right between many peoples.

They'll turn their swords into shovels,

their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;

they won't play war anymore.

5 Come, family of Jacob,

let's live in the light of God.
Isaiah 2:1-5 (MSG)

Come quickly Lord Jesus.

What I'm Reading - Shadows In The Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines In World War II

Shadows In The Jungle: The Alamo Scouts Behind Japanese Lines In World War II

Currently reading this book that I bought off Books-A-Million's markdown table.

There's so much of even our recent History that we don't ever learn in the classroom. I took a WW2 course at Mercer with 8 people in it - all except me were military. The professor pushed us hard and we did several papers on obscure battles and campaigns. But even though my father fought in this area - New Guinea, Biak Island, Mindanao - I knew very little about this campaign and nothing about the group in this book.

It's well written and well researched and as easy to read as anything Clancy or Griffin has written. The accounts of action are raw and real. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to fill in the blanks between Bataan and "I have returned."

Christmas Can Change the World - Again

It starts with Jesus. It ends with Jesus.

This is the season we should stop and realize just what God did - and is doing.

This is the season we should move closer to God and to each other in love.

For the next four Sundays at New Hope we'll be looking at how hope is reborn, love wins, peace breaks through and lives are changed - forever!

So love well this Christmas. Give a well this Christmas.

No one wants a Christmas worth forgetting.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sowing Seeds, Reaping A Harvest

I attended a webinar Tuesday that was probably the most helpful one I've ever participated in. I'm sharing the video of it below and here's the link to the page as long as it stays up. New Hope folks, lots of ideas in here as well as positive identification on what we aren't doing that we need to be doing. Very, very, helpful. Take a minute and check it out.

4 Areas for Churches to "Sow the Seed" of the Gospel from Chris Walker on Vimeo.

Blessing Upon Blessing - Thanksgiving 2010

Collard greens, pecan pies, cornbread cooked in a black skillet. Kids playing football in the yard, women laughing and cooking in the kitchen, men huddled around a black and white TV. When I think about Thanksgiving's spent growing up in Macon that's what I remember. Food, fun, laughter - it was a blessed childhood.

To be a part of that family came with a history of struggles. We met in my Aunt Geneva's house most years, on the fringe of the mill village where most everyone worked or had worked. But you'd never know it on Thanksgiving.

I've never known a more thankful group of people.

They didn't have much - but they shared it.

And they loved each other deeply, from the heart.

I am so thankful to have been able to experience that. And to know them.

Then I got married to the most wonderful woman I have ever known. A whole other world opened to me. Another family filled with love. Our years seeing all our kids come into the world and sharing the joys of life and sharing the sorrows together added another level of joy. To say that my wife's parents were just "in-laws" is to trivialize the sacred. They were gifts from God, just as their daughter is a gift from God. Through those relationships I was led to faith in God, became a husband and a father. Blessings followed blessings.

Eleven years ago we left all of that to follow God's call to a small church in a place we'd never heard of. We left a lot behind even though we were able to keep in touch by phone, through email, and infrequent visits. But as the years rolled on, we realized we gained another family. We've been through a lot together - great joys and deep sorrows. Yet we have seen God at work in incredible ways. We've cried and laughed together. They are family too.

Heaven's Thanksgiving table is going to be amazing when all these people get together.

And I am so thankful to God for everything He has given.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"I Know What It's Like To Be Poor"

Katie and her kids

We were gathered around the table Wednesday night after our fellowship meal, preparing to pray for the needs of friends, family, and others. As we got started, in walked Evelyn Brown and Jimmie Hill, two of our "senior saints." Taking their places at the table, we continued request time. When I asked people to pray for our efforts during "Rice and Beans" week to focus on the poor, Miss Evelyn spoke up.

"I know what that feels like."

She then told us about her life as a child (she's 80+), and how what we ate this week was not all that unfamiliar to her then if you substituted potatoes for rice. As she looked back, she told us of those rare Fridays that her Mother would buy a small piece of pork (streak o lean - which said another way is stripes of fat) and cook the greens or beans with that, and then carefully cut it into small chunks to put on her children's plates. She spoke about a Christian neighbor of theirs who would share her meager food with the kids when their mom was working late. After she painted the picture for us, she finished with "I know what it's like to be poor."

I should mention to you that even though Evelyn has medical issues that prevent her from eating beans, she ate a rice dish every night for supper this week.

Out of all the people around the table that night, Evelyn had first hand knowledge of what we were trying to experience. We hoped to better understand what it meant to eat what the poor eat everyday.

Evelyn already knew.

And she did it again anyway.

Would you? If you had grown up with the crushing weight of poverty? Most people who break free swear they will never go back there again.

I think Evelyn heard her Savior's call to come and follow Him - and she did.

Awesome faith. What a great heart for God and for the poor. I LOVE NEW HOPE!

Tonight we'll meet and share our stories and give an offering that will go directly to care for orphans and those in critical need through Amazima Ministries

We're investing in God's work. Join us. Tonight at 7PM.

33 "Be generous. Give to the poor. Get yourselves a bank that can't go bankrupt, a bank in heaven far from bankrobbers, safe from embezzlers, a bank you can bank on. 34 It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

Luke 12:33-34 (MSG)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

But We Want To Come

On Wednesday night, our smaller church shares a fellowship meal with each other and with the kids of our neighborhood. Nothing fancy, here's how you'd know - I cook. But it gives the kids a good meal, their parents a break, and leads in to our missions organizations for boys and girls. We've been doing it for years.

Last night we had black-eyed peas and rice, along with cornbread and some other dishes brought in by our folks. I had to cut and run to worship practice so I didn't get to hear how the kids fared. Did get to taste the peas later, and you could tell Bunny supervises all my cooking because they were good.

In prayer group they told me that we had over 30 children here last night. To put that in perspective for you, only 4 or 5 of those are from families of kids whose parents or grandparents go here. The vast majority are kids from the neighborhood. They outnumbered the adults by plenty too. It was awesome.

God must really love us, to trust us with telling those kids about Jesus.

This coming Wednesday night is the night before Thanksgiving, and we have learned over the years that turnout from adults is low and so since many of our volunteers are gone, we don't meet that night.

But last night, when our RA leader Joe Stoy told the kids that, they said, "why?" Joe explained and they looked at him and said "But we WANT to come here." He told them that if they were here, he'd be here too.

I am so thankful for the people God has placed here at New Hope. This is often a tough place that demands a lot of our volunteers. Lost people, kids or not, have a disturbing tendency to act, well, lost.

But love wins, friends. Love wins.

And as long as we have people like Joe loving lost kids like that, we're going to see God smile on a place called New Hope

He's Speaking

As a pastor, over the years I have received different responses from people about the Harry Potter series when they found out I had read them all. And at times I've had questions from parents about whether their children should read them - those questions coming not because of what they knew personally from reading them, but what they had heard.

Well after I finished the last of the Harry Potter series, I'm not sure that as time goes by we might see theologians treating the books and their author much more kindly. For in this book I found words I have always treasured in the most uncommon places.

When Harry ventures back home to where his parents are buried, he comes across the gravestone of his mentor Dumbledore's mother and sister. The Mother was killed trying to protect the daughter from herself, and later the daughter died too. On the gravestone were these words.

Where your treasure is, there your hearts will be also.

This of course comes from Christ's words in Matthew "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matt 6:19-21 (NIV)

Then Harry finds himself at the graves of his parents, who both died trying to protect him from an evil wizard, and the reader sees these words on their monument.

The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

Coming again from Scripture - 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

1 Cor 15:24-26 (ESV)

The themes of "the Greater Good", of sacrifice, of selflessness, of laying down your life for your friends run all through this last book. If you cannot see that, it's not that you have read too much fiction.

It's that you have read too little Scripture.

Reading for information isn't enough. You have to read the Bible with a sense of anticipation and wonder, relief and amazement that God - this God - the One and Only God - would sacrifice His One and Only Son - for you. And that through your love for Him, you would lay down your life for your friends - no matter what. You know you are flawed, but that He is able to use you to change lives for eternity. And you have to be convinced in your very soul that your life matters to God - that what you do matters. You have a part in the Big Story of God's reconciling the world to Himself.

If you can see that connection with your own life's walk, then it will be easy to spot it wherever it appears in any variation whether explicitly Christian or not - even in fictional books like the Harry Potter series. God is speaking through His people through many different works - art, books, film, music. A heart tuned to Him will hear Him there.

I'm grateful for J.K. Rowling's work, and the treasures I found in The Deathly Hallows. But I'm immeasurably more grateful to the God who through the sacrifice of His sinless Son, gave me freedom from guilt and shame, a purpose for living, and the hope of eternal life with Him, when death will be destroyed and love will triumph over all.



Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Will we eat?

I've never gone hungry.


For my entire life I've been taken care of by parents or had the wherewithal to buy food for me and my family.

That's not to say there weren't times when I ate something other than what I wanted to. But I've never been hungry, or had to eat something I would rather not for more than a meal or two.

One of the things this week is causing me to come to grips with is the grinding nature of eating pretty much the same thing day, after day, after day.

We live in a place where we ask each other "what do you feel like eating?"

In lots of places, they ask "will we eat?"

day three of rice and beans week and already I'm amazed at the strength of the poor, who given so little, have so much to teach us

For He satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry He fills with good things.
Psalm 107:9

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You Are More

It's been an interesting day.

-Beans and rice day 2 and I'm just overwhelmed with how blessed we are here and how little we get that.
-Wound up praying in Food World for a man who suffered a seizure.
- Finished "The Jesus Manifesto"- one of the best books I have read this year.
- Fended off a telesales person who really, really, really wanted us to try - just try - a $187 Max Lucado small group study on his upcoming book. "It's really moving," she said.
- No, what's moving is sitting here thinking about the people who are in some way attached to New Hope and what they struggle with everyday.
- Or about the families of the kids who come here on Wednesday. How those families could be radically changed if they'd only hear and respond to the gospel.

-Was praying for them, and then checked my email and saw a link to this band. Normally wouldn't check them out but "10th Ave North" is the exit to two things I love - The Varsity, and Georgia Tech.

-Awesome song and you can download it free here by letting others know.

Tenth Avenue North - You Are More from Provident Label Group on Vimeo.

Friends, it's Jesus who believes in you, even when you don't believe in yourself. he didn't die for perfect, straightened out, flawless specimens of humanity.

"While we were still sinners, Jesus Christ died for us..."

You are MORE.

Come see us at the church of second chances - New Hope

Monday, November 15, 2010

Love Is Patient - A Year With the Airedales

This is me and Stevie, one of the two Airedales we adopted last year from rescue. After the passing of our dearest dog-friend Henley the Great Dane, we were heartbroken. We cried every day, at things no one else would have even noticed. He and his routine were such a part of our lives that every day, many times a day, we'd mark the loss of his fellowship with tears. This went on for weeks and had almost reached two months when we got a call from Airedale rescue that two Airedales were in need of a new home.

They were brother and sister, and had started life in Florida but went into rescue and were moved with the rescue person to just outside Cordele, Georgia. They had been living on a farm initially, and were living in the country then. The first pictures we got of them were of two wild looking dogs running inside a pen fenced with what we always called "hog wire."

Stevie had even been bitten by a snake while in Florida and the feeling from the rescue folks was that they needed to be kept together, and that they need to go to a good home. We went up just to look, were talking all the way that we'd probably only want to take one, and then wound up taking them both home that evening. We were prepared for their personality being different than our Great Dane. Since we had previously had mini schnauzers, and Bunny had spent a lot of time in the last couple of years with a friend who had an awesome Airedale, we thought we were ready.

Sure they were different, but there was more than that going on. Mick, the male Airedale, was extremely stand-offish and hesitant to let anyone really have close contact with him. There was to be no holding that guy, or sitting with him on the couch. He freaked out whenever anyone tried to hold him for any reason, and would run away. It about broke our hearts again to think that this big strong Airedale had apparently been mistreated.

So we worked at letting him know he was safe and that he was loved. It was aggravatingly slow work. But here they are sleeping together on the bed. I'm asleep on the other side - Bunny took the picture.

There are times now when Mick is a loving dog. He's still nervous sometimes. But he's so lovable. Stevie is one of the sweetest dogs we have ever known and will sit with you for hours and cuddle as long as you want. We're so glad we got them both, and know that we'll be loving them both for many years to come.

Love is patient.

We'll Hold the Ropes - A Week eating rice and beans

"I will venture to go down, but remember that you — you who remain at home — must hold the ropes." -William Carey, father of modern missions

I can remember the first time I heard about what God was doing in Uganda through Katie Davis. Admiration and amazement came to me in equal amounts. How this young woman would see caring for orphaned children in Africa as better than life here in the USA and then how in the world was she able to do it?

Once I spent some time reading her blog and hearing her stories, it was obvious that God was using this woman to teach a lot of others about living for Him. Amazima Ministries is the organization that grew out of her desire to love and care for these children. One Sunday School class at New Hope, led by John and Amy Anderson, started supporting the work there and last year all of New Hope joined in a week long focus on it. Many of us decided to forgo our regular meals for 5 days in favor of eating rice and beans. For most of the world, that's their staple diet. The idea was to identify with them,and then take the money we would have spent on our normal food and eating out and give it to Amazima.

We're doing it again. Bunny and I ate rice for breakfast and lunch today and we'll eat rice and beans for supper tonight. Is it a HUGE sacrifice? No.

But is it one of those decisions you make that can cause you to focus on Jesus, His work, and the "least of these"? Yes, I believe it can.

What you can do. Pray for us. And if you are moved to support the work of Amazima, great.

Not many of us will ever be able to care for orphans in Africa in person.

But we can hope the ropes for those who are.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wag More. Bark Less.

Think about it.

The tendency of so many of us is to think about and dwell on what's wrong. We gripe and complain. We bark.

If we'd just look around and see how blessed we really are.

When I saw the sticker I had just left a Publix store where I had access to foodstuffs from across the world. Whatever I wanted was laid out for me there, from Polish Ham, to Chilean Sea Bass. There were pastries, sushi, and it all was fresh and organized. Walking to the front, I saw a little girl, maybe 9 years old, playing a game on her iPod. She was so into it, holding the iPod out front of her and turning it this way and that, and grinning all the while. Her joy was infectious.

When I checked out, I simply swiped a piece of plastic and signed my name. We left and entered the beautiful Florida sunshine, passing a man with a whippet wearing a polka dot sweater on a leash. Then we put the groceries in the trunk and drove away.

The vast, vast majority of the people inhabiting this planet right now would have seen what we did as incredible. Were they allowed to experience it, they would have seen it as the most blessed day of their life. It would have been surreal.

And you know what?

It was just an ordinary day. A ridiculously blessed ordinary day.

What if we were to step back and take a real hard look at what we have and how we take it for granted. What if we were to take moments every now and then and thank God for the blessings we have instead of complaining about what we lack.

What if we wagged more, and barked less?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Can't Get Over It

Last Sunday's message centered on the actions of Jonathan, son of Saul, prince of Israel as he decided that the status quo was not acceptable to God and decided he'd find out if he, Jonathan, might be God's instrument of change.

He had received no clear direction - "Thou shalt go!" from God.

His superiors - his father the king and the religious leaders - were laying low and had not given him permission.

Nothing about the situation had suddenly changed. The Israelites were still outnumbered - 30,000 to 600, and outclassed 2 count 'em 2 swords to thousands of them.

And yet on that day, something stirred in Jonathan.

Now that stirring wasn't even a clear call as far as action goes. Jonathan looks out and lays out a plan that would take into account the very real possibility that his plan and God's will did not coincide. The strongest word Jonathan used to describe the chance that he might be in sync with God's plan was "Perhaps..."

But here's the thing. The thing that keeps beating me brutally about the head, shoulders, and heart. Jonathan knew that doing nothing wasn't an option for him, or for his people, and he was willing to be a test of whether the time was now.

It was.

And you know what?

It is.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Sunday Recap 11/7/10

Well the week is picking up steam so I'd better get the recap of last Sunday down before I have to do a duplicate post. It's officially fall here now and with the daylight savings time expiration and the weather I knew it'd be interesting. It was.

Bunny helped out with the elementary kids (Kidmo) and I took the youth filling in for Brenda and Pam. I think we both came away with the impression that we have a golden opportunity to reach these kids with the gospel. But you knew that already.

Our worship set Sunday was:
Mighty To Save
Blessed Be Your Name
Consuming Fire
I Surrender All

Of all of them I'd have to say that "Mighty To Save" seemed to pull people into worship. As much as I want "Consuming Fire" to touch the congregation's hearts as it does mine, it may be that it's more of a praise band song. Still, the words helped with the message in the morning as well as in small group Sunday night.

The premise behind the message was for us to look at the actions of someone who placed his confidence in God and was sensitive to the Spirit. Jonathan was convinced that God wanted the Israelites to triumph over the enemies of his people and he was tired of seeing Saul's men cower in fear. So he and his armor bearer deliberately picked a fight with the Philistines. The only way they possibly could have won is for God to have enabled it - He did - and it sparked a rout of the whole Philistine Army!

For us here at New Hope, (and for you) it's important to realize that if God calls us to do something He will provide what we lack to do it. Notice I did not say "what we need" because it may be that part of what we need is already here - just not being used. Could be a person who isn't serving. Could be money we haven't given. Could be a relationship we haven't formed. But God can be trusted.

After all didn't we read..."...for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!” Sam 14:6 (NLT)

The battle, my friend, is the Lord's.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

It's Percolating

percolatingpresent participle of per·co·late (Verb)
1. (of a liquid or gas) Filter gradually through a porous surface or substance.
2. (of information or an idea or feeling) Spread gradually through an area or group of people.

So it's Saturday morning, and we're slowly easing into the day. There are things to do later, and lots to do tomorrow. Right now though, in the background, the message for tomorrow's worship gathering is percolating. Earlier in the week I read the texts I'll use - several times from several sources. I spend some time reacquainting myself with their context. After jotting some notes down about my impressions of what they reveal and what they might say to people today, I move on.

What did others who have walked down the same road see? In their eyes, what was God doing?

What did He want us to know and to do?

While the Spirit speaks to me just as He did to them, I want to hear from their context - from their heart - too. Most of the time, they provide me with nuances of understanding, glimpses of another perspective that because my experiences and training differs from theirs in some way, I might not have seen. If I can find these across ages - even better. To read from the early church fathers, or rabbinical writings and then up through the years to today is to hear the Voice across the ages as God tells His Story and each person, in his time, repeats it.

By the end of the week, I often will have read hundreds of pages in that effort.

All the while I'm making notes, mental or otherwise, of those thoughts that tug at me, at my heart, or that open my mind to what is there from God. They come at odd times. I've had sermons open up while shopping with Bunny in fabric stores. I've had whole passages reveal themselves at the beach. I've heard from God while doing lots of things unrelated to my study or my office at home.

It's as if the whole idea of what the message is to be is percolating - through my soul.

I'm so very thankful for the honor of sharing what I've heard.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wednesday Recap: Smaller Church - HUGE HEART

Wednesday recap from New Hope -

-This afternoon we had 15 - I counted - kids from the neighborhood waiting outside in the rain when I got back from the Post Office. It was over an hour before our fellowship meal and I didn't have the heart to leave them in the rain. It was like herding cats. Pray with me about what we could do to build relationships not just with these kids, but with their families. Is there something we could do before supper with them to help that happen?

-We had two developmentally disabled adults with us for supper tonight. Sometimes they can go overboard with the volume of their interaction and persistent pursuit of it. And yet they teach us so much about how we are to relate to people with the love of Jesus. So we love them as they are. And in the doing of it, we change to be more loving.

-It was potluck night and cuisine from all over the world covered the table. People brought their best to share with their family of faith. Some set up, others cleaned up. We celebrated a birthday together (Happy Birthday Kira!) We celebrated BEING together. We partied like it was AD 34. (Insider joke - Christians shared everything back in the day - everyday)

-Once dinner was over, we spent some time around the tables talking about the needs in our community agonizing over the number of families we could help get through the Christmas season. There's more of a need than ever. We're going to do everything we can. A lot of times in church people get mad because in their view the church is doing too much. Well, the quickest way to start a fight last night would have been to try and do too little.

-And then we prayed.

There's no telling how many prayers I have heard over the years - thousands, no doubt. But the sound of multiple people praying - hearing the same names repeated over and over and petitions lifted -never gets old.

Tonight there were several times as I prayed silently and listened to others praying that I quietly said "amen". From our lips to God's ears as they say. Let it be so Lord. Hear our prayers.

But then Diane prayed for our niece Abby - and her mom, and broke down in asking God to bless Abby's mom, confessing she didn't know how anyone could handle it. Diane's heart just couldn't contain everything she was feeling. I think it got really quiet in heaven as God heard her and the silent pleas of the rest of us for God to give strength, comfort, and hope to a girl, a Mom, and a family in need of it all. You could feel the Holy Spirit at work - right then - right there.

Prayer... matters.

I thanked God again last night for being placed in the company of the saints at New Hope.

Faith. Hope. Love.

And the greatest of these is love.

So Many Words

"There was a young poet in Japan

Whose poetry no one could scan.
When told it was so,
He replied, "Yes, I know,
But I try to get as many words in the last line as I can."- Quoted by Ray Steadman
Read a study by George Barna yesterday that said that many people could not think of anything that Christianity had done to help society.

The most frequent response, however, was the inability to think of a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years. One out of every four respondents (25%) said they could not recall anything of this nature. Skeptics (34%), unchurched adults (33%), and Independent voters (29%) were more likely than other people to fall into this response category.
That's pretty awful, but even more people were upset at what they remembered that Christians had done.

When asked to identify what they thought were the negative contributions of Christians to American society in recent years, the most frequent response was violence or hatred incited in the name of Jesus Christ. One out of five Americans mentioned such vitriolic attitudes. This was most likely to be mentioned by people associated with non-Christian faiths (35%) and by evangelicals (31%).

Three other responses generated similar levels of support. Thirteen percent said the opposition of Christians to gay marriage was the largest negative contribution. People 25 or younger were twice as likely as other Americans to mention this. Blacks (20%) and Skeptics (20%) also registered above-average levels of concern about that position.

So many words, brothers and sisters. So many words and not enough acts of loving kindness.

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matt 22:37-40 (NLT)

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Matt 25:40 (NLT)

The only way we are going to reverse the attitudes and beliefs of those who do not see the church as beneficial is to live our theology out in bold witness to the new hearts that the Holy Spirit has given us. The gospel is good news to everyone. Let's work to get opportunities to tell it as we serve God through our love for the people He has placed around us.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

No Fence To Sit On

The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars. Johnny Cash

Johnny Cash was one of those things that you take for granted growing up, assuming that they will always be there. Now he's not. Just when the world realized what a treasure we had, he was gone. His video of "Hurt" filmed in the months before he died was the most raw video I have ever seen. Cash was someone who regardless of your taste in music - was heard. Authenticity - he embodied it.

He was a man who had horrendous flaws in his character. And he didn't excuse them away. His understanding led him to turn away from his strength - that frail and fragile strength - to search for something more than fame and success. He turned to faith in Jesus.

Funny thing was, he once had been a regular attender in church. It was easy, he said. "You went every week, put in your time, and went home. But nothing changed. You still lived the same way during the week."

It wasn't until Johnny had almost lost it all, had contemplated taking his own life - that He and God "got back together."

How well I have learned that there is no fence to sit on between heaven and hell. There is a deep, wide gulf, a chasm, and in that chasm is no place for any man. Johnny Cash

Thank God that Johnny was able to have the time he needed to come home - to get off the fence and leave that chasm behind forever. There must be millions though - still stuck there.

A man dressed in black. And yet inside him was the Light.

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

Friends, it's not too late to let God take over.

"Incomparable power" is there if you'll just let go, seek forgiveness, and turn toward God. Change may be impossible for you - but nothing is impossible with God.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Sunday Recap 10/31/10

Another Sunday at New Hope with an opportunity to gather to learn, grow, and praise God. Wound up filling in teaching Kidmo, which was a treat. Sometimes I leave there thinking the best sermon has already been taught.

This was the second week of the "Sun Stand Still" series where I hope to see God moving everyone at New Hope to examine just how much we are living in faith. It's challenging to be sure.

The music:

Consuming Fire - first time at New Hope
How Great Is Our God
Whole World In His Hands

I Have Decided

The idea behind the message was to uncover some of the roadblocks to the growth of risk-taking faith in us.

The audio is available on the church website.