Saturday, December 24, 2011

Simply True

Christmas Eve at the Wilson's and the simplicity of the coming of the Prince of Peace is what's on my mind. At New Hope, we don't put on a lavish production on Christmas Eve, it's a few carols, communion, and candlelight. But that, though simple, doesn't begin to capture that first night.

A feed trough. The stink of animals. The wonder of childbirth comes to a virgin and her betrothed.

And God draws near.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
The Shepherds and Angels
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, 19 but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. 20 The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. Luke 2

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The late Vance Havner said "If you do not come apart, you will come apart." I guess that's why teachers get a break at Christmas. I sure need it. Not only have I pushed myself harder than ever, but I've got work to do to improve my skills. Teaching today is far different than most of us remember. The kids are different, the tools are different, and the accountability is far different. I came face to face with the possibility of failure Friday, and I do not want to feel that way again.

So I'll be taking some time off from the classroom, but I will also be reaching out to tap some very skilled and accomplished teachers, reading some books on classroom management, and practicing the discipline of organization in a way I never have before. New Hope needs me to do this. My family needs me to do this. My kids need me to do this. And I need to do this.

Would I have done this if New Hope didn't need me to do it? No. Pastoring a church is a full time job. But this is where God has us and this is what I need to do to live out my calling. Teaching is a calling as well and I'm struggling right now to do it in a way that meets the principal's expectations.

Teacher friends who read this blog, touch base with me. I really can use your help in getting where I need to be as soon as I can.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On Advent's Joy

Thinking about it this week, joy is what's missing from Christmas for so many. We get so caught up in forcing happiness into what is really a sustained riot of consumer madness that we never really stop and reflect on just what Christmas does. It changes lives as the Incarnation is lived out through Christ's people. As we live with the knowledge that God truly is with us, we touch others with Christ's love.

I was walking by the communion table this morning and stopped to put it back into place. On Wednesday nights our girl's ministry "Child to Child" meets in the sanctuary so they use the stage. I was making sure the Advent wreath was placed correctly and saw the cross and crown of thorns over by the prayer bench. So I replaced it to the center of the table behind the wreath.

As I did, it struck me how many people were at the communion table with me this morning. Their gifts were all around me and would continue to give to the people at New Hope this Christmas as they had for years.

The cross was handcrafted by my father-in-love Curtis Clinard, whose talents are not only in shaping wood, but in shaping lives through his example as a follower of Jesus. The crown of thorns was given to me by my dear friend Reggie Gable. Reggie is one of the most faithful men I know and an inspiration in the way he lives out his calling. The covering of the table was made with love by Pam Roberts, who poured her life and her talents into New Hope for many years. And the table itself was here when I came 12 years ago, so that means people like Glenda Marcus, Larry and Brenda Powell, Larry and JoAnn Smith, and others who have moved are still giving to this day. Oh and the kneeling bench I retrieved the cross from? Handcrafted by Pam's husband J.C. I can look around everywhere and see the gifts they have given. I thank God for those gifts.

Advent reminds me  - count it all joy.

Joy that we've been able to lead people to know Jesus as Savior.
Joy that we've seen lives changed and Christians sent out to serve in love.
Joy that we've had a chance to serve alongside some amazing people, even if only for a season sometimes.
Joy that God continues to speak so clearly even through the simple furnishings of this, His church.
Joy to be honored with the calling to care for this church and its people.
I count it all joy.

I realize now more than ever that today is the day we inhabit, and today is the day we need to rejoice.

So from a quiet New Hope sanctuary, I pray you receive all the Joy of Christmas.

Come see us.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Comfort Ye My People

I've been sitting here this rare afternoon in my office at church and reading the Scriptures and listening to Handel's Messiah. Oh. My God!

Today was a training day for me, so I wasn't teaching and got to do what I have done literally a thousand times before - sit in my office here at church and meet with God. It's true you know, you don't know what you have until it's gone. For me now, an uninterrupted block of time that I am not working on something for school or scrambling to squeeze the meaning and purpose out of a text to teach or preach is so incredibly precious that I found myself in tears several times.

Harboring no doubts about what I've chosen to do to not just continue to serve New Hope but to see her grow in every way, still... I needed today. This past Sunday I preached my heart out through Isaiah 40. That message was built during the week prior a little here and a little there - the same way I did for years as a bivocational pastor. I was excited to be able to bring it to the congregation, gave it everything I had  and begged God for everything He would give. It seemed to resonate with people and I hope the Spirit spoke healing and direction into people's lives. I thank God for the gifts He's given and pray every day to be able to be found faithful in whatever He asks me to do.

But oh I needed today.

I'm what they call a contemplative.

My life now is so frantic that I don't get a chance to do that as much. So today, in my office, with no agenda save one - listen - I did. And it moved me so.

So before I plunge back into the flood of papers to grade, lessons to plan, and kids to think about, I'm going to listen to the incomparable Matthew Ward one more time and remember just how good my God is to me.

Saturday, December 03, 2011


Advent. It's a season that can get you to examine things you've been covering over and pretending not to notice. I've been trying to follow the readings for each day even during the busyness of teaching and pastoral work. Advent is preparation.

Behind the pulpit, and in the classroom, a lack of preparation will cause you to quickly experience fear. And that fear robs you of the effectiveness you need to speak and explain. It almost paralyzes me. The feeling is of being tied to the train tracks and seeing the light of an approaching locomotive. I just cannot preach or teach off the cuff. I have to prepare. Advent is preparation.

Sure, in the back of everyone's mind this time of year Charlie Brown and Linus are on a darkened stage. People know the story of Christmas well. But they don't necessarily know why Christmas matters or why Advent matters. Advent is preparation.

In my new dual role as pastor/teacher, I'm learning more about how the world is working and my research is returning a clear finding of "not good." "A new generation arose knowing not Joseph" wrote the scribes. Well, new generations have risen believing that the world revolves around them and that there's noting more to life than what they can see or hold in their hands. Working with kids every day, each of whom are precious in God's sight and dear to my heart, I can see the effects of society's message. And one day Jesus will return and set everything right. Advent is preparation.

"A voice said 'Shout!'"

"Shout that people are like the grass.
Their beauty fades as quickly
as the flowers in a field."

Advent is preparation for life here, and life eternal with Jesus. It's acknowledging that some things God has done are simple yet complex, warm and fuzzy, but incredibly costly, and the effects that we can see may be only a fraction of what God has done. A baby was born. No big deal, right? Babies get born every day. But this one changed everything.

One day people will wake up. Maybe it'll be a week day. Or maybe the weekend will see Him come. But one day Jesus will come, not as a babe in Bethlehem, but as the leader of Heaven's Armies - as King.

Advent is preparation for that day when the Shepherd of Israel returns. To His enemies His wrath will come. To His beloved... "He will carry the lambs in His arms, holding them close to His heart. He will gently lead the mother sheep with her young." I LOVE that picture.

But while we wait...

"And so dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in His sight."

Make every effort.

Advent is preparation. 

Take time this weekend to worship Him and study His Word.