Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Under the Shade Tree

Don't know whether I was running on fumes Sunday or what, but I came home after and went straight to sleep. I was awakened about 2:30 by a call from Willie Jackson, the man who lives at the blockhouse with his wife that we helped with some of the money he needed to purchase a used engine for his car. Willie came to New Hope today and worshiped with us. He's looking for odd jobs to get that engine in so he can have better transportation than his bike and take a job. What he needed to get it done was the fluids to fill the engine and transmission with and a special tool that's used with the fuel system. He got the tool but still needed the fluids.

So a while later I got up and went to Autozone and explained what I was looking for and why. One of the employees helped me find the oil, filer, and transmission fluid - which was on sale at a very low price as a kit with a pan, funnel, rags, and hand cleaner for less than the oil alone! He apologized for not being able to offer me a case discount on the transmission fluid.

Then he gave me a 10% discount, because "people need to help people." And God uses people to do just that.

When I got to the blockhouse, Willie was pulling the old engine in true shade tree mechanic fashion - under a shade tree with the hoist over a limb.

I explained to Willie how God made sure he got more than what he needed.

It was a moment of grace. It was one of those times when I remembered what I had just preached - God often works in ways we would not have anticipated, using people who we wouldn't have chosen.

Pray for Willie as he completes the engine swap and thank God for reminding us once again just how great His grace truly is.

It's A Small World

The mail comes, and within the usual bills, offers for vinyl siding, and credit cards are three items from the corners of the world. A case for Bunny's new phone from China, a postcard from one of her friends who is in South Africa, and a new picture of "Mookie," our sponsored child from Compassion who lives in Rwanda. I'm just blown away how the world has shrunk within my lifetime.

Growing up, we wandered our "neighborhood" which was all those acres and acres that surrounded us. My brother and I went so far deep into the woods that I doubt as a grown adult I'd dare to do today without sufficient firepower and secure mobile phone access. We never felt scared - only the thrill of discovery.

Seems ironic that kids can't go out of sight today in their own neighborhoods, but we can connect with the world so easily.

Few years ago at New Hope, we were focused on "Doing Something" for people overseas. And we did! We helped drill wells, provide clean water, medicines, shoes, baby formula and whatever else we could think of.. We promoted the sponsorship of kids like Mookie and many of us responded.

It was all good. And we still do some of those things today. To know that people across the world are alive and well because of what you and your friends did together with God is an awesome feeling.

Then we focused more on where we live and tried to help kids with back to school items, participate in raising money for the Relay for Life, helping people with needs here, and cooking and delivering meals to people in need in our little town. We've given thousands of dollars away doing that and helped a lot of local people. And we've been blessed to see God at work.

It's a small world.

And it needs to get smaller. I need more and deeper connections with the people in my life, and I need to see the same come to fruition as part of what New Hope is and is to be. We're not "sticky" enough.

Now following this warning is an authentic flaw in my character. I know, some people believe that pastors should be above all that stuff - past it - so mature it doesn't affect them. Well, I have been working on this and praying for help with it since I have become a Christian. God hasn't seen fit to remove it from me. Maybe it's to keep me praying. Maybe it's my "thorn." All I know is that it's real, and I wish it wasn't. So you've been warned.

Here's a problem. I am a certified unsocial person. Every personality test any of the sales organizations I worked for gave me returned results like INTJ (Myers-Briggs) which is interpreted in part to mean that an individual like that:

INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people's thoughts or feelings. Unless their Feeling side is developed, they may have problems giving other people the level of intimacy that is needed.

So God called me to be a pastor and before that I was in sales. Yep. What a sense of humor He has.

I've struggled trying to step out of that and can do pretty well at it some/most of the time. But there's always a tendency to "button up." And I do have trouble remembering to make connections and keep them alive - two things that my wife Bunny does as easily as breathing. I need her to remind me, and then I have to actually act. It's not natural for me, but it is something I know matters and I try to push past my reluctance and reach out. But it does hurt my effectiveness and there may be people I know or have known and loved for who they are that don't know that because of it.

Again, I am praying my way through it, working on it, and accepting the help of others with gratitude. (Except when I don't - ask Bunny about that)

Pray for me, that I would be, and help others to be "glue" to cement relationships and help individuals become friends and family. I do love the people God has surrounded me with. Lord help me to show it better. I have to believe that there are others out there like me - who want to be "salt, light, and sugar."

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Witness In Wood

I took this picture a few years ago. It was at this desk, where a man built a career. He rose from salesman, to territory manager, to manage a district for a major multinational company. He'd leave his family late Sunday night or early Monday each week and drive all over the Southeast, returning on Friday. Later on, he'd fly to distant places and meet a salesman that he'd hope to help become better. But every Friday, he'd be home.

Saturday night he'd study his Sunday School lesson at this desk, preparing to teach the class he led for decades.  He was the picture of an expository Bible teacher, and could have been a good preacher if God had led him there. His calling was broader - husband, father, servant, Sunday School teacher. I can remember the men in his class and the respect they had for him as a teacher. But it wasn't just his teaching they were looking at - it was the way he lived his life. There are lots of ways to teach. He led by precept, principles, and by his practices. 

He retired from his career, and came home. Enjoyed his wife, his kids and his grandchildren - had a garden, and a shop downstairs. He and one of his long-time friends started a little business building furniture and fixing things in homes. They had a ball helping people, though I doubt they made anything from it. Still every Saturday night would find him sitting at this desk, preparing his lesson. Broadman's Commentary, Standard Sunday School Lessons, Open Bible, Amplified - were the tools of this teacher. In retirement, he did more around the church and around the house. He continued to encourage his pastor, to love his family, and to serve as an example of a true Christian man for us all, until His maker called him home.

In the aftermath, Bunny was struck with the realization that both her parents were gone. Having been through that myself years ago, I knew the feeling of having no "roots" or "pillars" to lean on that losing your parents can bring. There are still times when it sneaks up on me, and Bunny still misses her Mom and Dad a great deal. They were such a blessing.

When Bunny's oldest brother asked her what she would like to have of the things left behind, initially she couldn't think of anything. Then I remembered Curtis' desk. It was such a part of who I saw him as, and Bunny remembered him sitting at it from when she was a little girl. She had recollections of going up to him sitting there to ask him for a new dress, of the crazy "finger in a box" toy, and the silly "goofy glasses" her very reserved daddy would pull out and create laughter. This simple piece of wood was so tied to both of our memories of him - who he was, we quickly agreed we'd love to have it. So she asked with the stipulation that if one of her brothers wanted it, they should have it.

It's here. We brought it down from Georgia a couple of weeks ago.

Every Saturday night I go in my office and sit at that desk as I prepare the powerpoint for tomorrow's message and go over the lesson for Bible Study. I am very conscious of the legacy left me through the memories of Curtis Clinard. His love for Christ was real and penetrated every area of his life. 

So when I sit down, it's as if his hand is on my shoulder. And how I wish it was.

Thank you again Curtis. You trusted me with your precious daughter, encouraged and guided me through my married life, and continue to give me a standard to aspire to. I could not have asked for a better Father In Love. See you later my friend. Say hello to Ballard for me, and give Dot a kiss.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Works In Progress

Every week when we go out to deliver food in our little town, we greet people we have known for a while and we meet new people. Every one of them has a story. Sometimes they'll share. Here's one from last week.

"We met Jimmy Varner and Edwina Pittman at the blockhouse tonight.  Jimmy is disabled after suffering a stroke and being paralyzed on his left side.  He does have some movement now in his leftarm which he demonstrated for me tonight.  He also has high blood pressure and gout. 
Edwina used to be his girlfriend, but he moved another girl into their house, so now she's not.  Now she's his caregiver.  I got their whole story while I was there.  I believe she is probably a person of faith and she said God is still working on her.  I told her I am still a work in progress, too.  Edwina asked to put Jimmy on our prayer list."
 Don't you know there were smiles in heaven when two of God's children shared this moment of grace. This pastor's heart was sure warmed by reading what one of our New Hope folks had said.

That my friends, is grace in action. Well done, brother.

Friends, we are ALL works in progress. We're being "conformed into the image of Christ." Sometimes you meet people who don't want to admit that, but I'm blessed to be a part of a church that's a work in progress too.

Come and walk with us at New Hope as we experience The Story - a 31 week walk through the Big Story of God's love for mankind. You'll find yourself understanding the Bible in a deeper way as you make connections to the bits and pieces of what you already know and place them together and let the Holy Spirit show you the depth of God's love.

New Hope - a great place to know, to grow, and to go and share God's love.

Hunger Doesn't Take Holidays

Things have changed. Things are changing.

It's a challenging time to be alive, and to be called into ministering in Jesus' name.

Everyone knows Jesus. But not many KNOW Jesus in a way that would result in a changed life. And years of most churches as "holy huddles" has left folks on the outside not looking in -
or really even looking in that direction.

But we're called to love our neighbors whether or not it's easy, whether or not anyone even notices we are doing it.  To do that as if the person we were caring for was Jesus himself. Regardless of who is physically before us.

Wednesday we delivered food to people in our little town. It was July 4th. The town and most people in it were enjoying a day off and the events of the day with a big annual fireworks show at the end of it. When I was looking at that day on the calendar a few weeks ago, I wondered whether we should just take the evening off. I had a list of reasons including both truth and suspicions. It was true that the folks at New Hope could have enjoyed a break. We don't have many people, but we have people who work hard and give of themselves every week. It might have been true that lots of the people we regularly deliver to were not going to be there. Might have been

When we packaged the meals, we cut the number by 15 because we really thought some people wouldn't be home. We'd never delivered on a holiday before. 

As we delivered, we had people tell us "we didn't realize you guys would be here today." Walking away from the house of an elderly woman who received the 6 meals as she does every week, I shook my head wondering if we were wrong. Maybe people would be home after all.

It happened again and again. "Oh you are here!" "Don't you know it's a holiday?" or some variation. When we met up with Frank and Diane Weech at the low priced rentals we call "the Blockhouse", we only had 8 meals left. We wound up leaving what meals we had with them, then going back to church and getting more meals twice to meet the needs. We learned something - Hunger Doesn't Take Holidays

Monday, July 02, 2012

We're headed for a breakdown

The last school year - It was the hardest 9 months of my life.

There were times I came as close to quitting as anyone possibly could. Emotionally, physically (working 80 hours a week wears you down), and mentally - the grind of trying to motivate, inspire, correct and yes teach was exhausting.

The pay is laughable. Praise or encouragement is hard to come by. The system is set up to beat you down, not build you up. Don't believe me? One of the best teachers I have ever seen did not receive a "Highly Effective" rating because she didn't preempt a student's misbehavior during an evaluation. Oh she dealt with it, but to he highly effective she needs some version of that "Inception" scope. Others reported that on one visit what they did was rated unsatisfactory and on another the same techniques were rated effective. Teachers who had taught for years effectively were genuinely concerned they might be let go. It's a new system and I know it'll get better, but it was tough.

Coming from outside and knowing nothing about what teaching really was, I got through by prayers - my own and those of others for me, by my wife's unconditional support, and by help from my colleagues.

Some of that help came from two veterans - Edie Smith, a gentle soul who taught 4th grade Math and Science, and Hal Tihart, who was the only other male classroom teacher (he taught third grade). I went to them for insight, for understanding, for direction. And each in their own way was a huge help. Both went out of their way to try to get a first year teacher through the crucible. They have my thanks, and my undying respect for what they gave to me, and what they have given to hundreds of students.

They both retired last week, victims of the changes that have come to the classroom. Neither would have left on their own. I know that because I heard it from them firsthand.

Between them they had decades of experience. And they loved teaching kids.

We're losing people in droves who remember what education really is. 

There's a breakdown coming.

Don't misunderstand me. I love teaching and am leaning forward as the winds of change blow. In many ways I'm running out front of the changes to use today's tools to help today's kids learn and grow.

But we need people who have seen these winds come and go and know what will work and what won't. We need folks who have the essence of teaching down so well that they can go where the needs are and teach whatever they need to teach. Who love the classroom and focus on seeing kids becoming what they were created to be. Who aren't interested in looking cool or being the kids' friends.

We need people who consider teaching a calling, not a job.

My fear is that they will be replaced by people on their way somewhere else. Who'll see teaching as a step on the way to other goals. Who aren't interested in investing decades of their lives to change society one child at a time.

I'll be praying I'm wrong. Please pray for those who teach.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Story - Week 1

Week one of The Story has come and as I sit here tonight I'm grateful to God for what I saw today. People were engaged in the story of the great love of God for His penultimate creation - us. We heard some amazing things today. Some resetting of our understanding of who we are to God took place. 

Think about it.

What if the wonders of Creation we marvel over - Mt. Everest, the Serengeti, the Grand Canyon and the amazing crystal clear waters around us...

What if all of that is just a backdrop for us - God's canvas to paint His masterpiece on?

How does that make you feel, knowing that God loves you that much? YOU.

You with your failures. You with your hangups. You with your anxieties and doubts.


And that God is RELENTLESS in His pursuit of a relationship.

He never gives up on us. NEVER.

So being reminded of that... seeing those truths sinking into the hearts of the people I so dearly love today...

To use a Biblical phrase... It was very good.

Come check out The Story with us. 31 weeks deep into God's great plan. We'll hook you up with a copy of the book and walk with you through the entire Bible. You will come out of this encouraged, strengthened in your faith, and energized to to more for God and for people.

Today's Music was great too.

We began with "I'll Fly Away" - I know, right? New Hope does Gospel. Well friends, you need to come hear how our praise team lays it out there. They could play anywhere but they play at New Hope for the glory of God. 

Then we did "Mighty To Save", "New Doxology" and a new song for us written by Laura Story named "Blessings". Our hymn of commitment was "Just As I Am."

Today was a great start to what I believe will be a life-changing experience for everyone who goes through it together.