Monday, January 31, 2011


From It's Like Herding Cats - A Pastor's Life, you've come to my blog 6 times today. You came 5 times yesterday. You live in Niceville, have a Mac with Safari and a PC running Internet Explorer and Vista and are connected to the internet through Cox communications.

I must be one interesting character. :) Life's kind of busy for me right now so I haven't been able to blog as much as I was, and I really need to get better at letting people know what's going on with my family and with our spiritual family here at New Hope.

New Hope is a unique group of people who are really working sacrificially to make a difference here and around the world. We're small, but we're believing in a large God who can do more than we could ever ask or imagine. We figure that no one would have a problem believing a mega church would do big things, but if we see big things happen - it had to have been God.

If you are interested in walking with a group of people who love God and each other, you should come check us out.

Please feel free to email and ask any questions you might have.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Every now and then...

I posted this yesterday on Facebook: "If I were to write about the burdens of the preacher as I have experienced them and as I know them," declared Martin Luther, "I would scare everybody off."

And it's true. If I hear one more person talk about how preachers need to get a "real job" I may scream. After being with people dying and trying to offer comfort, counseling with people at the end of their rope and on the edge of losing it all, making decisions on how to best reach people in a way to change their eternal destiny, and yes, confronting people with the real consequences of their actions - if that's not real...

But you need to hear about the flip side too, about those moments of surpassing joy that make it all worthwhile.

- Like seeing Gracie on percussion last Sunday morning. Gracie's a wee lassie and is always full of life. She wanted to help the praise team on Wednesday night, so Pam gave her the "egg" which is a small percussion instrument. Well Sunday Gracie was giving it everything she had - on beat most of the time. :)

- Or when I was cooking supper last week and Caleb asked if he could help cook. I said "sure" and he got busy. Soon Devon wanted to know what he could do, and before it was over 5 of the boys from the neighborhood were helping the pastor cook supper.

- Or looking out over the congregation and seeing Robert and his kids there. He's had a tough road back but he's done it with honor and his kids (and his parents) are absolutely loving having their son in worship and serving the church that prayed him through hard times and is rejoicing with him now.

- Or sitting in quiet office and marveling at the enormity of God's grace. That Jesus would drop down into the sewer of humanity and not just throw us a rope, not just jump in and rescue us, but that we'd be able to read this...

Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are! 1 John 3:1 (HCSB)

That "prince of preachers" Charles Spurgeon read that and wrote:

"Behold!" ye angels! stop, ye seraphs! here is a thing more wonderful than heaven with its walls of jasper. Behold, universe! open thine eyes, O world. "Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God."

If we only realized that what we have and what we have been called to do was the stuff angels only dream of...

Every now and then we need to be reminded that we are what God says we are.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

In Pursuit... of God

Began a teacher certification program a few weeks ago at Gulf Coast Community College. It's a program for people who did not originally plan to be teaching and got their bachelors degrees in other disciplines. The Educator Preparation Institute is a Florida Department of Education program, administered by a few colleges and universities within Florida. The basic premise is to give those within it the tools to teach in 6 months. This does not include the other prerequisites of passing the state mandated tests for General Knowledge, Professional Knowledge, and Subject Area(s), but does include some student teaching practicum.

Did I mention it's only 6 months long?

It's a compressed program, and Lord have mercy, it's demanding.

Second week's work product includes:
228 pages of reading and viewing of three videos
Three quizzes over the reading
Two Critical Reviews that you must post into a discussion forum and defend
The writing of a Personal Philosophy of Education
The writing of Student Learning Objectives and Essential Questions for a Unit Plan begun last week
The beginning of an Instructional Notebook on Reading - 10 pages tied to Sunshine State Standards in Phonics and Phoneme work.

The estimate was that the three courses would consume anywhere from 18 to 30 hours each week.


Burning the midnight oil, we are

But all of that comes after the work God has given me as a pastor.

There's no doubt in my mind that teaching is an awesome way to touch a community and to serve God through your work. I've known too many teachers that were as called to their work as I am to mine as a pastor. They made a difference in my life, and the ones I know now - Diane Weech and Amy Anderson - are true servants of the Lord and are teaching out of their love for Him and His children. I hope to one day be their colleague.

But I am honored to be their pastor. It's what God has called me to invest the rest of my life doing.

Friends, the church/society landscape is changing. Fewer people, particularly in younger generations, have any exposure to Christians or church at all. The mega churches continue to do well, but smaller churches are struggling to stay relevant and alive. So we're going to see if a different model of ministry that uses people working outside the church and also working in the church won't provide more ministry and more resources for the Kingdom.

Ideally we'd get to the point where with that model, at least HALF the money God entrusts to us through tithes and offerings goes OUT of here into spreading the gospel and caring for our neighbors here and around the world. We'd have an entire staff of "tent-makers" just like that 1st century radical named Paul. And we'd have more contacts with more people in the community and outside the church than ever before. Living life with people and loving them makes opportunities to share Jesus increase exponentially.

Other churches may choose a different path - bigger buildings, more programs, more professionals and use that to attract people to them. No doubt it works.

It's not who we are.

New Hope is raw... organic... authentic.

And we think that's what God wants us to be. So pray for the pastor with new challenges and new opportunities ahead. And pray for the church he loves to serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In A Quiet Sanctuary

I'm praying now in a silent sanctuary here at New Hope. Praying that God's Son will be lifted up so that everyone can see how good He is, and how a life in Him can be more than anyone ever dreamed. It's rare for me to have this time on Sunday morning, and I cherish it. I look out over the seats and remembering who sits where (we're Baptists after all:) ) I say a prayer for each person, couple, or family by name. Some won't be here today. One couple is sick, and another is away. Others may not come today.

But they will be prayed for.

And I pray for me. The responsibility of bringing the Word of God to people is terrifying. The fear of saying the wrong thing and sending someone in the wrong direction pops up now and then. You never finish preparing a sermon, or finish preparing the person who delivers it. I'm praying that I get out of God's way and allow the Holy Spirit full use of whatever I have to offer.

Pray for me. Pray for us at New Hope. Pray for churches and pastors today who carry the good news of Jesus to people who need His saving grace.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How Much Is A Church Worth?


It's Wednesday night and I'm tired, my throat's scratchy, and I'm on the ragged edge of crabbiness. Studied for school, studied for church, bought food for church supper, cooked supper, cleaned up the cooking dishes, went over to praise team practice, from there to prayer and Bible study. Came home and replayed the day.

Around me tonight were other people who probably had tougher days than I had.

And yet, they were there, serving kids and youth, helping them find their way, helping them find THE WAY.

What's that worth?


More than most people are willing to give.

Outsiders and Insiders

Having started another educational program recently at a local community college, it's taking me a wee bit of time and a lot more effort than I thought it would to get onboard. Thinking back, I realized that for the last 20 years of my life, I've been in school as much as I have been out of it, pursuing one degree or another. Each and every one has helped me grow as a person and as a pastor. But each of them has it's own barriers and "hoops" to jump through.

This particular program to certify teachers has a language all it's own that has to be learned in order to make any progress whatsoever in learning the skills you need. Here's just a sample of the terms I've learned in two weeks.

formative assessment
summative assessment
student learning objective (SLO)
Florida Educator Accomplished Practices
and many, many more.

I'm an outsider in the sense that if I don't know the terms used in educational textbooks and lectures, I cannot get to the truth of what they are telling me. Sure I can hear the words, but the meaning doesn't transfer just because I know them. I have to be able to use them correctly and in the proper context.

I totally get that.

Here at the church, we have a language too. Oh we are better at unpacking it than we used to be, but there are still times when I look out at the congregation after delivering some information and see a "huh?" expression on some people's faces. Anyone who teaches has to realize that people don't need any more barriers than they came in with. If the threshold is artificially high because of the language, then make the call - is the language worth it? Or is the truth so important that whatever we need to do to convey it - we should.

I vote for change. I vote to let people hear the compelling and convicting words of Jesus in a way that they can "hear" them. I vote to do everything we can to make sure that people hear those words as "good news" and that they hear them in time to make a difference.

What about you?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Here Am I, Send Me

Getting ready for tomorrow's worship by spending some time praying for my friends who are also pastors. I've been fortunate to establish relationships with men all over the world who have followed Jesus into this role. For the last 20 years of my life, I've given Jesus control of where I lived and what I did with my life. It wasn't something I was looking for, or even something I ever had wanted to do. But once I heard God clearly asking for someone to serve, I answered much like Isaiah did.

The last few years have been spent among people who understand "calling." Our area is filled with men and women who heard their country call and they responded "here I am, send me." There's no way I can ever know of the range of experiences they have had serving our country all over the world, in peacetime and at war. On the other hand, they would have the same limitation in trying to grasp what my family has encountered.

Here's where we meet though - we answered the call. No one really can understand what that will mean.

I was looking at some pictures recently of Jonathan Vandivere's EOD school graduation. I went back to look at them, because word had come to me that one of his instructors had been grievously maimed by an IED. Not too many weeks prior, another former instructor had been killed. I wanted to go back and see if the Gunny was in that picture. I wanted to look at him as he was that day - so confident, so rugged, so much a Marine. Being there that day, among those men and women, was an honor for me. They didn't just volunteer for duty in the armed services, which only 1% of Americans will ever do. They volunteered for EOD work, serving their fellow servicemen and women by putting their lives at risk. The Gunny knew that, and he said "Here am I, send me." That's a hero.

One of my friends in the ministry serves in an area of this country that's been especially hard hit by the recession. Unemployment is well over 20% there, and with jobs being scarce, money is tight. He spent years training for his role as pastor. He stepped forward to go to a smaller church when others wouldn't have gone. He and his wife and ten children live in a home provided by the church. He didn't get a paycheck this week. A part-time job is helping some, and family is too. Looking in from here, he's done everything he can do, and yet his family's welfare is at risk... because he said "here I am, send me." He's a hero of mine too.

Friend, if you're reading this, you need to know that there are people all around you who have stepped up and decided to spend their life for something far greater than just making a living. They weren't willing to look the other way when the need was shown to them.

What about you?

There's a world of opportunities to make a difference with your life. If a smaller church like New Hope has quite a few, imagine what your church might have - what your community might have.

Don't waste the time God gives you by simply making it through the day. Be a difference-maker. Answer the call.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I was cooking this afternoon and smiling thinking about the kids at New Hope tonight who make me feel like Bobby Flay at Wednesday night suppers. Tonight's menu was chili and grilled cheese sandwiches. Haute cuisine. :) When I rolled up in the parking lot they were already there. I literally didn't get the chili out of the back of the Element before I got the first "wow that smells good." Friends, I am not a cook.

But they make me wish I was.

If only I could make people understand what life in a smaller church like ours is. Notice I didn't write "is like" because there's nothing like it.

We've been praying and working as a church to navigate through a financial crunch. The adults here and others in our extended church family have given to help us weather the storm. It's been amazing to see what God has done.

But tonight, John Anderson told the RA boys,kids from the neighborhood - rough boys that "good people" wouldn't want their kids to associate with. Whatever.

Those boys heard John talk about the church's need, they prayed, and then they emptied their pockets.

Every dime they had - THEY GAVE.

Enjoy your multi-million dollar edifices.

We're doing CHURCH over here, from the 80 year old to the 8 year old.

And that's priceless.

At the Feet of the Disciple Who Jesus Loved

7 My dear friends, I'm not writing anything new here. This is the oldest commandment in the book, and you've known it from day one. It's always been implicit in the Message you've heard. 8 On the other hand, perhaps it is new, freshly minted as it is in both Christ and you—the darkness on its way out and the True Light already blazing!
9 Anyone who claims to live in God's light and hates a brother or sister is still in the dark. 10 It's the person who loves brother and sister who dwells in God's light and doesn't block the light from others. 11 But whoever hates is still in the dark, stumbles around in the dark, doesn't know which end is up, blinded by the darkness.
1 John 2:7-11 (MSG)

We're walking through John's little letters on Wednesday nights in small group Bible study, and I wonder if anyone will be tripped up by this. The word love here is "agape" which is a steady directed will to do right by another regardless of the personal cost. It's not a "feeling." And yet how many times have we heard about how our feelings are what matters? John is not commanding anyone to feel a certain way about others. He's saying you must, if you are a follower of Jesus, ACT a certain way toward them.

Think about it this way:

When we act properly toward of Christian brothers out of a desire to be obedient to God, we love them.

I'm smiling right now thinking about all the times when Bunny would call the boys together after they were squabbling with each other. She'd have them hug each other and repeat "Adam (or Sean) you are my brother, and I love you very much." Was it forced? Oh yeah. But every single time they would somehow realize in that moment just how special it was to have a brother. They'd usually wind up laughing.

You have, I have people who you don't like. Maybe they've hurt you or hurt someone or something you love. You don't have to like that. You don't have to like them. But John is saying that if you love God, really love Him, you will act in love to them. Over time, I think you'll find yourself more able to love them naturally.

Who said this was easy? :)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Garden Or A Place Of Testing?

This is the garden of Gethsemane. Olive trees thousands of years old frame a place of surpassing beauty, against which was placed the rawness of Jesus' struggle between His humanity and His calling.

I can't relate to the agony he suffered. Literally sweating drops of blood, a condition called hematohidrosis, Jesus was pushed to the edge and remained His Father's Son, saying "not my will, but yours." He knew the weight of the sins of the world would soon rest upon Him. He did not fail the test.

It's hard right now for me. Those of you who have arrived here by searching for "a pastor's life" or "life of a pastor" need to know that while many times the life of a pastor is suffused with joy, there are times,like this one, that try men's souls, to borrow a phrase. When it happens, you have to double down on those things that feed your faith and minimize those that don't. Sounds simple. But life is filled with complexity today and trying to practice those spiritual disciplines can be exceedingly difficult.

And yet without them, without a focus on opening your heart and mind to the grace of God, you become less - less compassionate, less loving, less forgiving... less.

So I kneel tonight in the garden, asking my Father for His strength in this challenging time. Pray for me.

Who'll Be Jesus To Them?

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:27 (HCSB)

I'm writing out of frustration today. Be forewarned.

Last week's bombshell from the NYC health department exposing the number of abortions is haunting me. I cannot get a grip on how almost half of the women in the Bronx decide that their baby is disposable. I just cannot. Then I read about the 44 million orphans worldwide, who have been allowed to be born but have no families and I begin to wonder if Christians actually READ their Bibles.

New Hope, in it's smallness, does care for orphans. We have several families that sponsor children through World Vision or Compassion International. We have a class that sponsors the work of Amazima Ministries in Uganda as well as individuals doing so. We raise thousands every year out of a congregation of people that don't have a lot of money to provide water, medicine, housing and schools for orphans. Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, person for person, we do a lot for a church our size - for a church any size.

And yet, there's such an overwhelming need. The church in America needs to lead people to value life as sacred. It needs to help those mothers in NYC to see that the life they carry within them is a gift from God. Even if their circumstances are such that they cannot keep the baby, the church needs to move heaven and earth to help bring that which God created into this life and care for them. Too many churches are focused on the next 3D program or the next super colossal building for their youth when babies and children are dying each day. It's a sin. yes, I said that.

We have some people here dreaming of building an orphanage in Africa. And events along the way keep happening to direct our attention that way in prayer. You could call them coincidences, but it's funny how when you pray for God's direction out of hearts already trained by the Holy Spirit to love what God loves... how those coincidences keep occurring.

It is COMPLETELY IMPOSSIBLE in New Hope's strength, power or resources. No way.

And yet, nothing is impossible with God.

We may have to give up some things that we have now to do it. Could be we sell our buildings here and rent a school to meet in. Could be the pastor goes bivocational to help. Could be God finds a way to provide for it that none of us even have dreamed of. But friends, if we cannot love the orphan as God does, we are going to fall short of what He wants us to do and to be.

Will you pray with me about what God would have you do, have your church do about orphans?
Will you give part of what God has blessed you with to save their lives?
Would you join with those of us who dare to dream impossible dreams to see lives saved and transformed by the love of God?

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sunday Recap - 1/9/11

Wow it's cold!

Had a great morning at New Hope even though some of our folks were out sick. One of the real blessings in this New Hope family is the way we pull together to get the job done. Well that was the case again today.

We picked a worship set today that included some songs that would warm anyone's heart.
Today is the Day
Everlasting God
God of This City
I Have Decided

The sermon focused on how we are to handle times of trial - and handle fear, and came from Psalm 142.

In the text, David has followed God and yet finds himself in a bad way. He complains to God. It's raw emotional angst, and I love that the Bible shows us all of the lives of the saints - not just the good times. David takes his case to God and leaves it there, showing his confidence in God's knowledge of his situation and faith in God's provision.

When David got up the next morning, he was still in a cave.

But he knew what we need to know.


Friday, January 07, 2011

Jesus Wept

The murder capital of the world.

What comes to mind when you hear that?

Baghdad? Kabul? Mumbai?

What if I told you that it's New York City?

Read today that 41% of all New York City pregnancies end in an abortion.

The new city numbers, from 2009, show 87,273 abortions in New York City two years ago — numbers that are higher than the abortion figures of every state except California. If miscarriages are taken out of the equation, 48 percent of pregnancies of women in the Bronx end in abortion, 38 percent of Manhattan women opt for an abortion, as do 32 percent of women living on Staten Island.

I keep reading that article and rereading it. The enormity of this just breaks my heart. This is not happening in a third world country without access to contraception and medical care. New York, like so many communities, has a law that allows parents to drop off children at a firehouse or police house without penalty. The city and the state offer (at great cost to the taxpayer) a web of welfare help.

And yet, 87,273 babies were not allowed to be born.

"Safe, legal, and rare" was the trite phrase those who were for "abortion rights" used to attempt to claw up to some semblance of moral high ground.

Can we agree that having the city of New York be the scene of 87,273 abortions is a national tragedy?

Jesus is weeping.

So am I.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Can't Wait For Sunday To Get Here

Working on the "meat" in Sunday's sermon that focuses on where to put your fears in a time of change. Psalm 142 is such a great text. I love the "rawness" of David's psalms. Then put it in the "Message" version and you can almost feel the darkness and gloom of the cave David was in when he wrote it.

Two quick thoughts - you'll have to come Sunday for the whole enchilada...

Loud cries to the right person work best. We complain too often and to the wrong people.
Knowing yourself, your enemies, and where your hope lies is pure wisdom. That puts everything in perspective which is - you need God.

Lots more Sunday. :)

1 A David prayer—when he was in the cave.

I cry out loudly to God,

loudly I plead with God for mercy.

2 I spill out all my complaints before him,

and spell out my troubles in detail:

3 "As I sink in despair, my spirit ebbing away,

you know how I'm feeling,

Know the danger I'm in,

the traps hidden in my path.

4 Look right, look left—

there's not a soul who cares what happens!

I'm up against it, with no exit—

bereft, left alone.

5 I cry out, God, call out:

'You're my last chance, my only hope for life!'

6 Oh listen, please listen;

I've never been this low.

Rescue me from those who are hunting me down;

I'm no match for them.

7 Get me out of this dungeon

so I can thank you in public.

Your people will form a circle around me

and you'll bring me showers of blessing!"
Psalms 142:1-7 (MSG)

By faith, by faith, by faith...

Early on in the adventure called "following God's call", I was fortunate to be invited to preach in various churches around the Macon area. Usually I was standing in for the pastor who was away,or even more likely one of a parade of "pulpit supply" preachers. When a small church loses its pastor, many times two committees are formed - a pastor search committee and a pulpit supply committee. The first is thinking long term, and the second is focused on finding someone for each week.

My experiences and venues varied wildly during that time.

So did my preaching.

My first attempt, which I had practiced for over and over again and honed to 22 minutes of brilliance, delivered a stunningly succinct 10 minute message. What the congregation didn't know was that the original 22 minute message had actually been combined with another to make it to the ten minute mark. The funny thing was that I made it back to our home church (Mt Zion Baptist in Bolingbroke GA) before they got out.You'd think I'd have been invited back simply because of my brevity, but no.

Later, after desperately studying preaching fundamentals and having the benefit of the beginning of my seminary education, I got better. One thing a professor told me really helped a lot. "Preach two or three sermons really well", he said. "You are only there once and they won't know you've preached it before." After thinking about that, and considering the alternative, I decided to do just that. So I had a handfull of sermons that I worked on every week and kept practicing and honing the insight and illustrations. People seemed to respond to them. Well, most people. My family got a little tired of hearing one in particular.

Hebrews Chapter 11 is an awesome list of some of those God considers as faithful. It's like a "Hall of Fame" for faith. So in my search for sermons people would connect with, the passage was perfect. Here are ordinary people doing extraordinary things because their faith in God was real. Part of the sermon was my stirring repitition of the passages "By faith (insert Biblical heroes name), repeat, and repeat a few more times.

It's not an exaggeration to say that my family, while outwardly supportive, inwardly GROANED when that began, and gave me fits about it on the long rides back home. I think one even said she'd throw a hymnal at me if I ever did it again. Now to be clear, she didn't have a problem with faith - just the repetitious way I was preaching about it.

You've got to have faith.

As a pastor and as a family, we have to live by faith.

Faith in God, and faith in the group of people that God has placed us within.

We all repeat that here. Often. No groaning accompanies it. Must have been the preaching.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sunday Recap - January 2, 2011

Beginning the New Year is always interesting. Some years you get the benefit of people deciding that "this year I am going to attend church more." Other years you have people spread out all over the country and on their way home. This year I think we had both. It was good to see some people where were with us after a hiatus and I know some people who were still gone.

The theme for the first few weeks is dealing with change and I chose to look at the life of Abram for insight. He was certainly tested by the change that occurred when God called him to "go to a place that I will show you). Personally, God decided He'd test me Sunday by having me teach the older youth class and then come over for worship and find that the projector had given up the ghost. So our modern church had to go back to the hymnal for a Sunday. Bunny, Kristen, and Brittany did a great job adjusting and leading us in worship. I helped, but after was told that there was a very scant relationship between my arm signals leading the congregation and the actual music. All I will say is... probably a good call. :)

So our retro music was: O Worship the King, Tis So Sweet, and It Is Well With My Soul. The invitation hymn was "Jesus Paid It All."

What was funny about the morning was that the one preaching about change and call was the one who wound up doing major adjustments. Not having the powerpoint meant I was working off those notes I never use and it did bother me to a certain extent. But looking out at the congregation I could see times when the Holy Spirit was delivering what he wanted heard. What an amazing thing to be a part of God's work - a "pencil in His hand" as Mother Teresa once said.

Sunday night we met to discuss some items of critical importance to our church going forward. The response once the church family learned of the need for action was heart warming. New Hope is a special group of people who love God and work to bring Him glory through loving others. Very thankful to be placed here as pastor. We're walking by faith through all of what we find ourselves in as a family of believers in Jesus.

If you don't have a church family, out of all those I have known in 37 years of being a Christian, this is the one I'd recommend to anyone. We're not anywhere close to perfect. We don't have many of the bells and whistles the big churches do.

But we know how to love. And that my friends is all you need to know.