Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Church Website

Two Sundays ago, I had four college students come to Sunday morning class. The problem was that we were no longer having college class. There were just not enough students coming. Sometimes no one would show up! It was very discouraging. So, when I told them that we didn't have class, they began wondering where they should go. One student asked me where the "Body, Soul, and Spirit" class met. I didn't know, but as I asked someone I realized that all adult Bible Classes were currently going through the One-Year Bible reading. Each class would be doing that. The student told me she saw this class on the church website and I knew I had to break the news. Our church website had not been updated recently.

This incident got me to try to begin tackling the job of updating our website. It needs major help! I am taking the initiative because that is what our community needs. We will see what happens, but I am still waiting to get access soon.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

God's Word

This year we have begun reading through the Bible using a One-Year Bible reading schedule. It is about four, sometimes five, pages of reading. There is a passage from the OT, a passage from the NT, a Psalm, and a Proverb every day. I have kept to the schedule. It is actually much easier than the schedule I had been keeping the last year and a half.

I must say that this sipping of God's word that I have been doing this year has proved to be refreshing. I find myself not compelled toward study. I don't think about lessons that can come from these passages as I am reading. I just read. In doing so, I notice things I'm not sure that I would have noticed before. New implications for the reading. New ideas and concepts on living that I glossed over until now.

My day is filled with more grace since the reading. Praise God for his enduring word. It refreshes the soul. It grabs the heart. It sustains life. May your word be near me, Lord. May it never depart.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Sunday Worship

I feel like I am talking about this a lot, but it continues to linger in my thoughts. Worship. Yesterday, worship was full for me. My heart was moved...I was engaged. I went home refreshed!

I look at the factors that brought about this in my heart. The song selection had a lot to do with it. C was singing, and he chose great songs. He always seems to do a great job leading us into the presence of God. To put it another way...the focus was rightly placed on God.

He accomplished this by starting songs from within the congregation; he began the song at his seat. I love it! He also focused our minds on what this song is accomplishing in our worship time. The songs were appropriate for their purposes.

Here is what really moved my heart: I was able to freely respond to my hearts' call to clap during appropriate songs. As I closed my eyes, I rejoiced in the presence of God singing, "Behold He comes, riding on the clouds, shining like the sun at the trumpet call..."

May God continue to lead us into his presence during our worship. Lord...revive us! Bring new wineskins so that we can carry the new wine. Let us be the new wineskins, Lord. Let us progress toward your presence according to your word. Amen!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Birthday time

Kayla turned two years old today. Tonight at devo we sang happy birthday to her. She didn't know what to do with the candle, but we were just practicing for tomorrow for her party. It is hard to believe that she is already two!! It really does go by fast.

This reminds me of how little time we have here on earth. We were born just yesterday!! With this little amount of time given us we need to glorify God. It won't be long until our chances are up. As long as it is called today...glorify Him.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Instrumental Worship

Rick Atchley and the elders at Richland Hills Church of Christ have added a third service on Saturday night. This worship service will be instrumental worship. It obviously is being watched by many churches in our fellowship. It also poses questions throughout the Churches of Christ.

I found out about a three-part sermon series by Rick Atchley about the decision they made as a congregation. Something I can say about Rick is that he always boldly proclaims God's word! After watching the lessons, he has encouraged me in my ministry in Huntsville to seriously consider how I encourage and/or challenge those around me. This is a difficult task that many minister face, myself included. How much do I affirm what others already believe? How much do I challenge them? How much do I reorient people? No matter what, though, I must stand on the word of God. Rick poses very interesting questions that I pray glorify God.

Here are some questions I struggle with in this conversation about instrumental music:

How can healthy conversation happen without "sides" becoming polarized? Can we learn anything from those with whom we disagree?

When is it appropriate to give up my "rights" in an effort to edify the church?

What is the relationship between corporate worship and individual worship?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lord of the Harvest

"Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, 'The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'" (Matthew 9:35-38)"
The campus is full of students who are harassed and helpless to do anything about it. They are sheep without a shepherd. They will tell you that they know where they are going, but they don't have a clue. They have a plan for their career, their family, their success. All the while, they are sheep without a shepherd. They feel how direction-less they are inside. They really don't know how to deal with their emptiness, their desire to belong to something significant. This is the harvest field.

For those "insiders" (so-to-speak) we know the harvest is plentiful. Workers are needed to work. But what exactly are they working? They are working the seed of good news, that we have a shepherd who gives life. That is what Jesus was doing just before this passage in Matthew. Raising the dead, stopping the flow of blood, restoring sight, freeing the demon-possessed. Jesus was showing his shepherd abilities. It is at this point that we see the call: Pray that workers are sent out!

My prayer is that I begin with the harvest before me. Students need the Shepherd...I will lead them to him.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

illustrations of worth

Last Sunday I went to the Hispanic class. They only spoke Spanish. It was good for me to be there for many reasons. I always jump at opportunities to improve my Spanish. Also, I had never heard of a few things the teacher had said. They were not foreign concepts to me, but the way that he presented them was new. It was also good that I got to hear his illustrations as he taught.

He talked about the New Testament in relation to the whole Bible. It was like the meat of a sandwich giving all the flavor. You could just eat the bread or lettuce, but the substance is gone. This is the illustration that stands out to me. There were other examples that I cannot recall right now, but he continued throughout the class relating to people through illustrations.

Obviously, Jesus did the same. I have tried to get better and better at this in my own teaching too. Just this morning I realize that I need to meditate on life more. Illustrations are everywhere. Spending the time thinking through life will help me connect my teaching with students' lives. Much of my prep time this semester will be allowing God to guide my thinking in this regard: how can I present illustrations of worth

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Stepping Out in Faith

I am really nervous right now. This semester is a new one for me. We do not have an intern that I can turn to any time I need to. Before I could always count on Daniel. Now he is not here. We have an empty spot.

I have intentionally not filled the intern spot praying that the void will be filled by a student leadership team that will step up. Classes start tomorrow and we still have not hashed out our calendar. This goes against every atom in my body! I know we are going to have a big welcome back activity, but I don't know what it is going to be yet. A student has taken that on.

When I close my eyes I picture what walking by faith is all about. We don't fill up our calendar just to keep us busy...act like we are doing something. We walk by faith knowing that God will show us what we need to be doing. When the opportunity comes we pray we have our eyes open to see it and the courage to do it.

Walking by faith isn't easy. You approach the day you have with eager expectation to see what God brings you this day. You trust that words will be there. You trust that the Lord will guide you. Even a day before the students come back, I am forced to trust that God will provide. We need leaders. I don't see too many...yet...we walk out in faith. Guide our steps Lord.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Moving Me in Worship

Being honest, I sat yesterday in our weekly Sunday service with a critical eye. I was going to see if 'they' could move me...whoever 'they' were. The service began normally. I had "seen it before, heard it before, and gone through that motion before." As we progressed through the service, I found myself trying to focus on what was happening. However, I kept thinking about me doing what I was doing. Nothing was moving me at all. I couldn't wait to tell how 'they' didn't move me in worship. Time for the invitation song.

"Lay Your Burdens Down..." the song begins. As I stood to let people respond (obviously not me, so I thought) to the message the thought occurred to me, "Why is this the song of invitation? It is such a great song!" I stood anyway, closed my eyes, sang, and was overwhelmed.

This song moved me! Rather, God used this song to move me. Seriously...I was shaking at the end of it. I was even trying to stop shaking because I didn't want to be moved. I wanted to prove my point that nothing in the service could move me. Then I could wallow in my own self-absorption of empty worship. That didn't happen. I was moved. It was God. I couldn't help it!

Reflecting on this over the last day, I have learned how much I need to grow! Why am I coming to worship trying to prove that I can't be moved? I should be seeking the very thing I was avoiding yesterday: God's presence. Yet, amazingly enough, God was gracious enough to allow a song to usher his presence into my life. How many times does God use songs to move me in worship? Too many.

Thank you, God, for being so gracious. Thank you for your patience with me. I need to grow so much. Let me continue to be aware of your presence in my life. May your praise be on my lips throughout the day. Keep me from the cynicism I experienced yesterday...all for your glory. You are the one I need. Let me seek you alone.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Joy of Potty Training

Kayla is growing up so fast! Because she likes crackers, potty training has become one of Kayla's favorite hobbies. Yesterday, nine times she said, "Iwa tee tee." That means, "I want to go tee tee on the toilet so I can get a cracker." Many times when she finishes her cracker, she asks for another one. Once I tell her that she only gets a cracker when she goes tee tee or poo poo, she immediately says, "Iwa tee tee" again. We smile and say, "You just went tee tee." She smiles back and says, "yeah." It is pretty cute. I love how she is growing up! I guess she will be driving in a few months, so I better get ready!

This makes me wonder about how we grow up in Christ. What is it like for God to watch us grow up? I know the joy I have in seeing Kayla discover new things, learn new words, play with legos, laugh as she learns she can keep the rope away from our dog, and just grow up as a human. It truly is a joy!

Solomon understood this when he began his proverbs in Proverbs 10:1 by saying, "A wise son brings joy to his father." As children apply wisdom to their life, it impacts more than just themselves. It brings joy to their parents and others who see. In the same manner, as children of the God who sees all we do, our wise choices in life bring joy to our heavenly father. I imagine a heavenly smile coming across the face of God when I choose to live according to God's word...no matter how small and basic it is. It is a joy for God to see us going t-t in the potty as well as designing a brand new potty for others. How are you going to bring joy to your heavenly father today?

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Pray for Benjamin Gatewood

Please pray for Benjamin Gatewood. He was born on Dec 31. Apparently his trachea and esophagus did not form properly in the womb. Once they cut the umbilical cord, he couldn't breathe. After an emergency tracheotomy he could breathe. He won't be able to breathe again until surgery happens in a few weeks.

His parents, Whit and Adrienne, were teammates with us on the Mission Miami team. They are dear friends and we want to get as many people as possible praying for them. Thank you for your prayers.

Please read Whit's blog about Benjamin's status.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Semester Prep

Well, this is my first day back in the office. I must say that it is good to be back. I am Christmas'd out. Praise God for the season, and I will look forward to the same at the end of this year. But, it is good for me to be getting back to normal.

I don't know what to think about this semester yet. I am a little nervous about what it will bring. We don't have the calendar planned out because we haven't met to do so. I think we will be taking things as they come. Since Daniel is gone I am relying on a group of students. More than anything I need to communicate to them that I am relying on them. I plan to do this soon. In fact, one student is wanting to plan our fun "welcome back" activity. I hope to contact him today about that. (Just in case you wanted to know that.)

Our discipleship group will be starting at the beginning of this semester too. I just ordered their books this morning. Words cannot describe how excited I am about taking my relationship with God and these men to another level. I am intentionally not going through the material beforehand so that these men can experience my unplanned thinking process. I think this will allow them the freedom to engage the material more readily. I will keep us posted on the development of this discipleship group.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Living Anew with God

Below is the sermon I preached yesterday. I know that it is a long post, but for those interested...there you go.

Title: Living Anew with God

Text: 2 Kings 22:1-23:3

Focus Statement: God continues to work newness into life

Function Statement: To foster a sense of renewal in our lives


Painting by Thomas Hart Benton in the Dallas Museum of Art. Key parts: late afternoon sun, man looking at old shack, roof about to cave in, suitcase held together by two ropes, cow skeleton, man’s hands on beard wondering something. Its name is ‘The Prodigal Son.’ In Thomas Benton’s telling of the prodigal son, we learn that the son waited too long. You’re too late! A welcoming family does not tend the house with servants, the fatted calf is now dry bones, and there is no reconciliation between father and son. The story is anything but the one I know!

Transition: But, this picture is exactly the picture I see when I look at the story of Josiah at the end of the book in 2 Kings 22. Go ahead and turn there.

Rejected Property

The book of Kings is a long series of stories about leaders…kings…“who did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Kings 11:6; 15:25; 16:25, 30). Time and time again a king is described as one who “forsook the Lord, the God of his fathers, and did not walk in the way of the Lord” (i.e. 2 Kings 21:22). It is as if we see all over again the sin that gets worse and worse at the beginning of Genesis, which led to the flood where God totally destroyed the world.

Then, in the chapter just before we begin to read about Josiah, God makes his pronouncement: “I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (21:12). Even after the story of Josiah we see the lord rejecting his people: (23:27) “So the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also from my presence as I removed Israel, and I will reject Jerusalem, the city I chose, and this temple, about which I said, “There shall my Name be.”’”

All of this was part of the covenant God established with Israel so many years ago. Keep my commands and you will be blessed; reject my commands and you will be cursed. So…because Israel rejected God’s commands…it is set…Jerusalem will fall…there is nothing you can do about it! No amount of repentance will change my mind. You can hear the distant voices saying …you are too late…just like Thomas Hart Benton’s rendition of ‘The Prodigal Son’…you waited too long…you kings of Israel.

Transition: But, you can’t just let these distance voices convince us that there is no hope…that we should just resign ourselves to inescapable destruction as rejected property! There is more in our text this morning that compels us to keep listening. The story of Josiah is filled with hope…with renewal. Let’s move in a little closer to hear the story.

Business as Usual

As the story of the Kings comes to a close (at the very end of the book), we see this story of Josiah. He is the one we have been looking for as far as walking with the Lord. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and walked in all the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (22:2). “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the law of Moses” (23:25).

Josiah comes on the scene as an eight-year old boy (22:1). Ten years pass by without any mention of his activity. Nothing stands out as noteworthy to the narrator of 2 Kings. The years went on like usual. A young king doing what young kings are supposed to do…I guess. Business as usual for king Josiah. Even after ten years of being king we see business continuing as usual in 22:3. The kings of Israel regularly sponsored repairs and renovations on the temple. That is what you were supposed to do…repair and renovate the temple…and so…Josiah does this.

He sends the secretary, Shaphan, with this message. (22:4) “Go up to Hilkiah the high priest and have him get ready the money that has been brought into the temple of the Lord, which the doorkeepers have collected from the people. (5) Have them entrust it to the men appointed to supervise the work on the temple. And have these men pay the workers who repair the temple of the Lord—(6) the carpenters, the builders and the masons. Also have them purchase timber and dressed stone to repair the temple.”

Business continues as we continue reading, but there is something new in the story…its something powerful, but not important at first. Hilkiah the high priest found a book in the temple during the course of business. He (oddly enough as a priest) doesn’t know what to do with this book, so he gives it to the secretary, Shaphan. It, apparently, isn’t too important to Shaphan either. He almost forgot to mention it to the king when he was reporting back to him about business. (vs.9) “Then Shaphan the secretary went to the king and reported to him: ‘Your officials have paid out the money that was in the temple of the Lord and have entrusted it to the workers and supervisors at the temple.’” Business as usual… money… workers doing their job…normal stuff here. Oh yeah! (vs.10) “Then Shaphan…informed the king, ‘Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.’ And Shaphan read from it in the presence of the king.”

Transition: At this point in the story, business as usual is over! Life changes. Josiah’s response is unprecedented. Even though we don’t know what the contents of the book are until later, it must be powerful to make such a dramatic change in a person.

Josiah’s Initial Response

Josiah rips his clothes. He orders three other people (more people are involved now) to go with Hilkiah and Shaphan to inquire of the Lord through a prophetess (Huldah) to see if these things are true. It seems like Josiah fears that something bad might happen soon because of the disobedience of his predecessors. She affirms his suspicions (vs.16): “This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.”

At this point, I still don’t see anything good about this story. Nothing has changed! Destruction is still coming. There is something about the words of the Lord “my anger…will not be quenched” that doesn’t give me hope. I see the image of Thomas Benton’s prodigal son. Those voices comes around again, “Its too late.” “You can’t change anything.” “Don’t even try.” You know Josiah was probably thinking that when he received the news from the prophetess…wasn’t he? Let’s see.

Josiah’s Complete Response

2 Kings 23:1-3. What does Josiah do? He tells as many people as possible. More people need to know what is written in this book. We learn here that he is reading from the Book of the Covenant. There are many ideas of exactly what is contained in this book that Josiah read. It could be the laws of Exodus 20-23. It could be pieces of Deuteronomy. It could be the whole Pentateuch, the first five books of the OT. Whatever it is…it contains the idea of blessings and curses predominant in Deuteronomy. Meaning…those who keep the commands of God will be blessed, while those who reject the commands of God will be cursed. Josiah needs to tell everyone the contents of this book.

Beyond just telling people about the book, Josiah did something else. He also renewed the old covenant between Israel and God. He is interested in following the Lord despite the circumstances (despite the fact that God is about to destroy Israel), Josiah decides to renew the covenant in the presence of the Lord.

Taking things even further than verbally renewing the covenant, Josiah completely reforms the entire kingdom (23:4ff). He tears down idols in the temple set up to Baal and Asherah. He does away with all the pagan priests, mediums, and spiritists. He tears down the houses of prostitution. He breaks down shrines, burns other altars, scatters the ashes, and desecrates the so-called “holy places” throughout the land. He takes bones from tombs, puts them on altars, and burns them…total desecration. He slaughters all the priests of Samaria’s high places on their altars and burned human bones…again desecrating them.

On a slightly more positive note, Josiah commands all the people of the land to celebrate the Passover. The narrator says the Passover had not been celebrated since the time of the judges. They again participate in an event that defined them as a people…God showing his favor to Israel when he passed over them when he killed Egypt’s first born. They celebrate the Passover!

Overall, when you read about “Josiah’s reforms” (as they are called), you can’t help but say that it was complete reformation. Josiah truly had a heart that was responsive and humble just like the prophetess said (22:18-20). And you could tell this by the way he behaved. The narrator says (and I read it again) “Neither before nor after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did—with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the law of Moses” (23:25).

Transition: I can’t help but ask (when I hear the story of Josiah), “Why? … Why does Josiah respond this way? Why doesn’t he just resign to his fate and carry on business as usual? No harm in that right?”

Living Anew with God

Well…yeah there is if you’re Josiah. [pause] Apparently, if you are going to walk right and “do what is right in the eyes of the Lord,” you are going to do this regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the fact that Judah is going to be destroyed regardless. Repenting is just the right thing to do. You do what is right, period. Josiah hears the words of the Lord and responds accordingly. He doesn’t say, “If my repentance doesn’t change God’s judgment against Judah, I am not going to repent.” Josiah instead says, “Living anew with God means responding to his words that never change.” So, he stands by the pillar and reads the words of God to everyone! That is bold.

This is the message that confronts us here today: how are we going to live anew with God and respond TODAY to his words? The world around us seems to be telling us (ever so subtly), “It doesn’t matter! If you want to do that to make you feel better…go ahead. But it really doesn’t make the world a better place by doing all these things.” They might whisper in our ears that living with God is just about going to church and saying the right things. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Living anew with God means…living according to his word. His word still speaks to us today…just like it did to Josiah. The words that God has spoken are not hidden away in the basement. Instead, they are accessible. They are alive. They are real. They guide us. They speak to us right now! Where are they? They are in the Bible.

Our job…no…our responsibility…is to stand by the pillar and read them! We must be committed to God’s unchanging word despite our circumstances. All of our circumstances change by the minute, but God’s word never changes. The message he spoke to Josiah is the message he speaks to us today. It is an invitation to life with God. His word needs to be close to our heart. Now is the time to renew yourself to God’s enduring word.

The question I have for us this morning is this: How are you going to get into God’s word this next year? Even more than that…how are you going to live according to his word? You can read the words all you want. You can even praise God for his glorious words that offer life. But it is completely empty if you don’t do anything about it. As James tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says….the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.” (James 1:22, 25)

As we encounter God’s word again, we need to ask, “What are we going to do to live anew with God?” Reformation needs to happen.

God needs your commitment to him despite how tough times are for you right now. I really do get tired of people saying to me, “I need to do better, I know. But I am about to get this new job. Or I am about to retire. Or I am about to do this or about to do that.” There is always something. But, we can still serve God and live life anew while doing all these things. You don’t have to wait until everything is perfect before you begin. Begin now! I can’t think of a better time of the year.

Perhaps you are going through life thinking things are just business as usual. Life is going along pretty normally…nothing major is happening in my life and I am going to work on keeping it that way. But, if we are to take this passage in 2 Kings seriously, we are to be continually looking for ways to reform our lives according to God’s word in a responsive and humble manner. We want to be ones who DID right in the eyes of the Lord. Not the ones who WILL DO or ARE ABOUT TO DO right in the eyes of the Lord. We don’t want business as usual. We have that chance right in front of us. Right now. What are we going to do?

I want to close by reading the chorus of a song from a Christian band.

Watermark song: All Things New


Because of who You are and who I am in you

You make all things pure

Because of who You are and who I am in You

You make all things true

You make all things new

It is because of who God is and whom he has made us to be that we can begin anew with life with God. God truly makes all things new. That is his business. He can do it. Let’s respond as a community. It is not too late! Let’s live anew with God.