Friday, December 31, 2010

At The End of the Day, Or Year

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

There are great challenges ahead in 2011.

2010 was begun in great anticipation on the heels of the best year we had experienced yet at New Hope. And yet from the very first Sunday as the sermon called on people to be willing to change... change happened.

I wrote:
It (the sermon) seemed to have the potential to challenge people to make some changes to adjust to where God was calling them. That was my hope.  Couple of quick notes about that -
The changes may come, but they might be unexpected and have unwanted effects..
And just repeat that for the second note.
After the sermon a couple called me aside and said they were leaving New Hope because we didn't have enough for their children. It was abrupt. I was gracious. But it shocked me and rippled through the church. No one saw it coming. To go from the core to the door... It hurt personally - hurt Bunny a great deal - but it happens.

And yet, all you can do is to say "God bless you, go in peace." As far as I know the move has given them the church they believed they needed. We did all we could do.

Fast forward through all the roller coaster ups and downs of the year.

At the end of the year, another core family has relocated to Texas. Job related, and probably the best move for the family as it keeps the dad home and not deploying to Afghanistan every 6 months. Another couple we loved, and children we cherished as well. They've left a hole.

Churches lose people. Stats say that the average congregation has about a 10% turnover every year and more in "high velocity" areas like military towns. This year we saw that happen plus some.

For 12 years we have grown at New Hope every year. Some years more than others, but we've always grown. Grown numerically. As we close the books today on 2010, we cannot say that any more. Stinks. We did some great things in 2010, reached out, cared for people, grew closer to God. But...

When a congregation grows like a family does, it enjoys the feeling of seeing it. Everyone wants to know that they're involved in a place God is at work, and numerical growth is easy to spot. "Nickels and noses" are definitely two indicators. But there are others.

I am praying...
I am praying that God sends people to New Hope who need a new life and a new family.
I am praying that God's people at New Hope get their second wind in 2012 and see God be glorified through New Hope.

And I'll pray that I might know the truth of that old hymn and live as one redeemed. Looking back over the year, I cannot say I did not sin. But I can say I tried every day to follow Jesus and love His church and His people. And at the end of the day, or the year..

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.

May your New Year be a blessed one. Come see us at New Hope!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

As We Close A Hard Year

"Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up."
Anne Lamott

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Chew On This A While

Following the Supreme Court's ruling on school desegregation, Clarence Jordan got into serious trouble with racists and members of the Ku Klux Klan when he tried to assist two African-American students in their application to a formerly segregated business college. This led to shooting, bombings, and vandalism against the Koinonia Farm. But Jordan steadfastly refused to leave. He spoke of these adversaries as people "with their personalities twisted and warped by prejudice and hate . . . If there is any balm in Gilead; if there is any healing in God's wings; if there is any hope — shall we go off and leave people without hope? We have too many enemies to leave them. The redemptive love of God must somehow break through. If it costs us our lives, if we must be hung on the cross to redeem our brothers and sisters in the flesh, so let it be. It will be well worth it. To move away would be to deny the redemptive process of God."

What's your initial response to pain and suffering?

It's not what you just read, is it?

When people hurt us, when trials and suffering comes, we tend to turn away - to cut people off.

And yet Jordan's words track with what I've learned over the years - "Hurt people... hurt people."

Was eating lunch with a good friend yesterday who has known me for many years now. He brought up an incident many years ago at New Hope where an acerbic member came to the church one burning hot Saturday afternoon and found me cutting the grass. She then proceeded to tell me I was doing it wrong.

I can laugh at it now, but at the time it was just another sniper's bullet in the war that was raging between me and a group who opposed changes I believed God would have us make as a church to reach more people who were far from God. That was a tough period of time. Some very hurtful actions and words were thrown at me and even my wife.

I confess I didn't practice what Clarence Jordan did. I moved away and minimized my contact with her and those engaged in the war. Forgiveness is something I have learned to give people who hurt me, but opportunities to hurt again?

Not so much.

A work in progress,I am.

What about you? Are you able to stand in the place of pain and be God's person of peace?

Pray with me for grace sufficient to be who Jesus wants us to be.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Best Christmas

Sitting here today thinking about all the blessings of this Christmas. I read today one writer's opinion that everyone's best Christmas happens at the age of 10, and it's downhill from there. I guess that depends on your point of view.

From where I'm sitting, I wish people who thought that could have seen the joy in the eyes of a little girl when Bunny and I (like several other people at New Hope did for others) delivered Christmas dinner and some toys to her house last Sunday. Her mom cried, we cried, and Bunny got a huge hug from the little girl.

There's no way a ten year old would understand what the items Bunny and I delivered to Shelter House Friday would mean to the women and kids served by that group. Some of the Child2Child girls that led us in that collection and made the Christmas stockings that the women raved over might be tickled to realize just how much they helped, but they couldn't grasp what it meant, and that's the real joy in the giving to "the least of these."

I don't think a ten year old would have appreciated how awesome it was after our incredible Christmas Eve worship to go with some other New Hope folks and surprise a young woman who had to work as a waitress on Christmas Eve. We ate, laughed, and loved each other around the diner table.

And I'm not sure a ten year old would have been nearly as excited as our friend Allan was tonight when he showed up at the front door (dripping wet from the rain), and we gave him his Christmas presents - a new Bible (with a cool cover that included a compass) and a Hershey Bar. As I drove Allan home, he kept saying how happy he was to have such good friends.

You know, I cannot remember the Christmas when I was ten. But I'll remember this one.

I'm thinking it has something to do with giving. You know, I hear someone once said that was the more blessed way not just to celebrate, but to live.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Friday, December 24, 2010

What we see that the shepherds couldn't

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen.
We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created.

For everything,
absolutely everything,
above and below,
visible and invisible,
rank after rank after rank of angels
-everything got started in him
finds its purpose in him.
He was there
before any of it came into existence
holds it all together
right up to this moment.

Colossians 1:15-17
The Message

Mary held her son. The shepherds saw it and rejoiced at Messiah's coming.

What they couldn't see is what we know - He holds it all.

And we are held in love, by Him.

Merry Christmas from all the Wilson family.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday Recap 12/19/10 - There's Something About Mary

The Sunday before Christmas and all through the house... okay, couldn't resist it. But there was a great Spirit present at New Hope yesterday. From the initial gathering of people in the fellowship hall for donuts and coffee, through Bible study and into worship, this was a group of people who wanted to spend time together with God and their friends - their family. It's tangible. I LOVE IT!

We keep the worship casual and well known at Christmas, choosing to do carols almost exclusively. One of the things we've learned out of that is that less young people know the carols every year. Pretty sad, really. But without singing them at home or at school, and only singing them a couple times each year at church, it does really constrict our worship. There's nothing like hearing a congregation sing - really sing. So this week we went with:

Joy To the World - awesome opening song to focus us on what we are there for
O Come All Ye Faithful - well known, warm
Away in A Manger - sweet but theologically rich

and Amazing Grace

Taking a look at Mary's amazing act of faith seemed to be exactly what we needed to do during this season. This young woman,when confronted with an angel's message, was understandably afraid and confused. Not about whether God could do this - but about what it might mean. Big difference between her reaction and that of Zechariah the priest who asked "How can I be sure...."

What a faith-filled woman! Loved preaching this because each and every follower of Christ could one day be asked to do something extraordinary for God. Will we be ready? We need to decide now.

I closed the message by reading the Magnificant - Mary's gift to her God. It is pure heart-speak. She praises what God has done for her and for her people, even for things that haven't happened yet, because as far as she's concerned, if God has promised it - it's as good as done.

What are you giving God for Christmas?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Sunday Recap December 12th 2010

Sunday was the third Sunday of Advent and of our Advent Conspiracy attempt to refocus our Christmas on what God did through Jesus Christ.

We flipped the switch and sung all Christmas carols which the congregation really seemed to enjoy even if Sean and I on guitar got dizzy from all the chord changes. The praise team really did well and especially the vocalists on "Silent Night" which they sang without instruments as an intro.

The message was rooted in John Chapter 1 and the idea behind it was to show just what Christmas means to the outsider - like all of us were once.

After the service we had our Christmas fellowship meal. Every time the folks at New Hope get together you hear laughter, see hugs here and there, and see people serving unselfishly. I love being a part of that.

Small group that evening was really helpful, I think. People really seemed to open up and share about what was happening in their lives and what New Hope means to them.

Blessing upon blessing.

We Can Do No Great Things

A small group of us here at New Hope have been going through Francis Chan's "The Forgotten God" book the last few weeks. The group has ebbed and flowed like all groups do nowadays, as people have lives to live. We've had so many we ran out of chairs and we've had a few. But every week those of us who gathered gained insight - into the work of the Holy Spirit, and into the hearts of the others in the room. That's why I love small groups in the home.

The book has caused us to wrestle with some pretty big concepts and I think realize one singular thing - that we as individuals and collectively as a church do not live up to our potential because we do not allow the Holy Spirit to lead and to flow into and through us. We say to God in many different ways "I GOT this." But we DON'T.

This past Sunday we talked about some of our fears regarding the future.

And we talked about what we have together - about what we have seen - about what God is showing us.

Reflecting on that the last two days, and praying for a "what's next, Abba?" revelation, a quote from Mother Teresa popped into my mind.

She said, "We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

As I think about New Hope, certain "small things with great love" came out.
  • One friend, Frank Weech, drops by another's (Ian Anderson) home with some peppers, because Frank and Ian share a love of HEAT.
  • One adult (Bunny) shared how much it meant to her when the girls she works with surrounded her in a hug on Sunday, and how one of them, Kira, told Bunny "I'll be your granddaughter."
  • Last night the phone rings and one of our senior saints, Jewel Hughes calls wanting Laura Marston's cell number. Laura's family is moving this week, and Laura and Jewel have been prayer partners. Jewell wanted Laura to have "a little remembrance."

The brick church on the corner here will never be confused with a mega-church. We can't do the mega-things other churches do.

But we can do small things with mega-love.

And we are.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Praying for Those Who Are Limping

"You will lose someone you can’t live without,and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp."
Anne Lamott

Another reason I love Anne Lamott's writing. That's just real life.

Happened again recently- the hurt flooded back and seized my heart for a second. It passes but the hurt still lives in my soul. This season of joy also comes with reminders of who's not with us anymore. Its not just cold outside - there's a chill inside too as you remember what used to be - who used to be here. Was reading recently about some churches holding a "Blue Christmas" service to help people deal with their grief and loss at Christmas. I hope that's helpful. There are so many people suffering with loss even at Christmas - or especially at Christmas.

For me, the best way forward is to acknowledge that there's more ahead - more love, more grace, more hope, more joy. No doubt it'll be different. No way it could replace what's lost.

And yet, our God is good. Staggeringly, extravagantly good. He gives and gives because He is a giver at heart. Sure life takes its toll, but God is enough to meet every need.

With Him, you come through.

And eventually, you do learn to dance with the limp.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What are you GIVING for Christmas?

Don't race by that question or auto-correct it.

I know that "getting" is what we have been trained and train our kids to think of - but is that really the godly way to approach Christmas?

I don't think so, and from what I gather from the Scriptures, neither does Jesus. He was quoted as saying "It is more blessed to give than to receive" as well as other scandalous statements about giving coats away, going extra miles, and opening your home to strangers.

So if you are really, really committed to keeping the "Christ" in Christmas, my suggestion is start right here.

What are you really excited about GIVING this Christmas?

There are so many opportunities.

Toms Shoes gives a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair you buy.

The Water Project provides clean water to thousands through drilling wells, repairing older ones, and purification. Every item in their store gives someone life giving water.

The Heifer Project gives you a chance to provide a way out of poverty for someone and your giftee gets a card letting them know just what your gift has done in their name.

Christian Flights International is an organization that serves the people of Haiti. New Hope is sponsoring their "Angel Tree" initiative and angel ornaments that were hand painted by the children in Haiti are available for purchase in our lobby.

What are you giving for Christmas?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

You Need To Know This

Love Wins!

You need to know that. I need to know that. LOVE WINS!!!!!

I'm sitting here tonight finishing the power-point for tomorrow's sermon and praying.

I'm praying for people.

A dear friend from church who's headed to Georgia tomorrow to help his family get ready for his father's funeral. My pastor friend in New Hampshire who laid the body of his mother to rest this week and doesn't think he has anything to give to his church tomorrow. Another pastor friend who is supposed to leave his church at year's end but doesn't have anywhere to go. The family of another friend who was touched by grief this week. All of those whose loved ones exist now only in memories - this season is hard for all of them.

So I pray.

The friend still without a job. His wife recovering from open heart surgery. Our niece struggling with cancer. The elderly woman who can't make ends meet. Another with a teenager who tests the limits on a regular basis. Families separated because of a war that seemingly will never end. People trapped beneath a mountain of wrong choices. People dealing with chronic pain, with heartache, with loss.

I pray for them, that God would supply all their needs through Christ Jesus. That the author of all compassion and comfort will surround them with His love. That they will see God and know He loves them.

And I pray for New Hope.

We're the church in the neighborhood, with a heart for anyone who comes through our doors. We've seen many people come to faith here, and others deepen in faith here. But we have many needs. Life in a smaller church has been likened to draining the bathtub with a colander. Sure you seem to be busy, but are you making progress? God is sending us more and more children from broken homes, triple-blended families, and hasn't sent the relief workers yet. And some of our people really could use some relief.

And yet we're realizing there are more needs in our community that we ever knew were here, and God is moving within us to act as His hands and feet right here in Valparaiso and our area. We're getting more opportunities to help with other missions while still trying to take care of basic needs. We're sending out families through PCS moves and other life-changes but we haven't received the replacements for them. I know God is in charge of outcomes and everything comes in His will, in His time, but... now would be nice.

So I'm praying. Earnestly, passionately - praying.

But here's the awesome truth - Love Wins.

No one's ever seen or heard anything like this,
Never so much as imagined anything quite like it-
What God has arranged for those who love him. 1 Cor 2:9 The Message

Friday, December 03, 2010

I stepped back in time today.

Attending a funeral in a Baptist church, I heard a choir sing a Southern Gospel song, a pianist play a medley of several more, sang two songs from the Baptist hymnal, and heard a retired pastor bring an expository message that called upon the hearer to be saved.

I loved it.

Right here I pause to let a few of you clean off the screens of your phone, tablet, or laptop. Sorry, I should have warned you.

But I did. I loved it.

The person the funeral honored would have too.

First, he would have noticed I was wearing a suit. That's kind of a big deal for me.

Then he'd have been crazy about the music. He loved hymns and gospel music. The choir assembled from the base chapel sang "Midnight Cry" like they believed Jesus was coming tonight. The congregation sang "It Is Well With My Soul" like they had inside information. Even the mighty organ was contributing its deep bass voice. He'd have liked that

And the retired former pastor sharing from his heart about what his friend lying in rest was all about in genuine love and humor made me thank God for the job God gave him and gave me. Friend, to be asked to "say a few words" at a funeral is an honor, regardless of for whom. But to be able to stand before a congregation and tell them what your friend's life meant - meant to you, meant to his church, meant to his family, meant to God - well I have heard this pastor preach several times, even shared responsibilities at funerals with him a couple times, and he has never been better. He had a pacemaker installed two days ago and when I went up after to tell him what a great job he did, I asked him if he had that pacemaker set on "11."

The fellow who was honored today didn't like the changes in the church. He never connected to contemporary music, liked his pastors in suits and behind pulpits. And yet, the most moving part of the service was the use of the video projector (which he opposed) to show pictures from his life, and the airing of a recording of him singing. At the end of it, we heard his voice asking us to sing along with him, and weakly at first, but then stronger, the congregation did. I've gotta believe he was smiling as we carried his music forward even after he was gone.

Here's the deal. In that context, with a group of people where the non-gray head was the exception, even though the event was a funeral - the focus was on God. On praising Him, on giving thanks to Him, on examining one man's life and how he lived it and why it mattered. It mattered because he gave it to God without reservation. So when that group today was grabbed by the Holy Spirit the whole congregation responded in praise. When the preacher was grabbed by that same Spirit he preached his heart out. It was one of the best funerals I have ever attended and I get to a few in my line of work.

Yep, I went back in time today and I loved it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

With Arms Wide Open

Was just at our local Dollar General and heard one of the employees laughingly say to another "you'd better get ready, Allan's coming." The other replied, "I've already seen him twice today." Here's what was remarkable about that conversation - it was filled with smiles.

Allan's developmentally disabled, has a profound hearing loss, and cannot speak clearly. He's very persistent, and frequently very animated as he tries to interact with people. He has his routines that he likes to go through in conversation. Ours centers around our dogs, our oldest son Adam, having me tell Sean to "get out of my way", and Scooby-Doo. If you ever walk by my office and hear me doing my "Scooby-Doo, where are you - over here", I haven't gone crazy - Allan is with me.

While I was checking out today, I told the clerk who had been laughing about Allan's impending arrival that - yesterday, in 28mile an hour gusts of wind and rain coming down in buckets, Allan showed up on foot at New Hope to bring Bunny a "Get Well Soon" card.

Allan loves Bunny, and wanted her to know that. He never said one word about the weather, all he wanted to know was "Is Bunny feeling better?"

She smiled and said "That's Allan."

I told her that at New Hope, we think Allan's God's appointed messenger to teach us how to love better.

She smiled again and said "I think he does that for us too."

Friends, God is using everything He has to help us learn to love as He does. Our friend Allan is part of that.

Are we?