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Wit and Wisdom of Gateway Church Athens GA

As we begin our new church life … so too a new blog!

Category Archives: Change

As I’ve been working through Randy Alcorn’s book, I continually remind myself of the target: what is our mission?  What has God called us to be in our community? 

At out last council meeting, pastor Tom gave us a document from the district office, “Vital Congregations Planning Guide” for 2012.  It is a series of detailed questions and guidelines that is required by all UMC congregations in the district.  I bring this document to your attention for a couple of reasons.

The first and most important reason is it points us in the right direction.  The questions we are being asked to answer for the district are the questions we have been trying to answer as church body.  Here is a sample:

1.    What are the current needs of your surrounding community?
2.    What are the strengths of your church?
3.    What are your challenges and threats to your congregation?
4.    Why does your church exist?
5.    If your church were to cease to exist, what impact would it have on the local community?

These are incredibly important questions.  They are tough questions, but we need to prayerfully answer them.  If this sounds suspiciously like work, it’s because it is.  This is tough work.  It will require lots of prayer, time, thought and patience.  In order to effectively answer them, we will have to ask God for his guidance and then listen for His answers.

The second reason I bring it to your attention is because it contains the same set of questions we need to answer as individuals.  By prayerfully considering these questions and talking with each other and the Lord, we can identify who we are as individual members of the body.
       
I want to quote an August 6th blog posting outlining why we are studying suffering and evil:
   
    I think it would benefit us as a body to study this very important subject together. Lets study what God says about suffering. Lets talk to Him, argue with Him and question Him. Lets ask Him for His perspective on this most important subject that affects everyone in the human race. I believe if we take the time to work through this subject together, being guided by the Lord, we will gain some fresh perspective about who we are at Gateway.

This is also applied to us individually.  Who are we as individuals and where do we fit in the body of Christ are questions we each need to answer.

I’m recovering from surgery on my shoulder.  Recovery and rehab will take a couple of weeks and then I should be good to go for a while.  I’ve needed surgery for quite a while.  I put it off as long as I could.  I didn’t want to mess with it.  I put up with the discomfort and pain as long as I could and finally, I couldn’t take it any more so I said ok, lets do it.  Shoulder surgery is like jumping off the high dive.  You either do or you don’t, but there is no middle ground of well maybe I will and then again on the other hand ….

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I had an ice pack on my shoulder, and was waiting for the pain to ease so I could sleep.  I began reading in 2nd Corinthians.  As I followed Paul’s writings I saw something important.

2 Cor 1:3-4 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy (pity and mercy) and the God [Who is the Source] of every comfort (consolation and encouragement), Who comforts (consoles and encourages) us in every trouble (calamity and affliction), so that we may also be able to comfort (console and encourage) those who are in any kind of trouble {or} distress, with the comfort (consolation and encouragement) with which we ourselves are comforted (consoled and encouraged) by God.

This is one of the characteristics I see of Gateway as a whole.  We have a vast array of experiences that we can testify the Lord has brought us through.  It is clear we are to be able to comfort those who are in any kind of trouble as we have been.

The other thing I read is directed as a challenge directly to me.  The apostle Paul was fully committed to the gospel.

1 Cor 2:2 For I resolved to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified.

Paul was fully committed to the gospel.  Every ounce of his being was committed to the gospel.  I believe that level of commitment was one of his greatest attributes and the biggest source of trouble for him.  Paul did what God asked him to do.  The result of that obedience was miracles, healing and deliverance and extensive spiritual combat with satan and his henchmen.  I will have much more to write about this in a later blog, but this presents me with a personal question:

“Am I committed to the gospel of the Jesus Christ with the same level of determination and dedication as the Apostle Paul was?”

No I am not.  I actually want all the good things Paul had in his ministry without having to deal with the bad things such as 40 lashes less one and beatings with rods.  (I’ve been beaten before with leather straps and wooden paddles and shovels.  As you can well imagine, I’m a bit adverse to that type of activity).  The point isn’t the beatings, it’s my attitude.  I want to sail away from harbour but I have one foot in the boat and one on land.  This type of approach to the gospel doesn’t foster an image of “risking it all” for Christ.  On the contrary, it shows a person who is halting, scared and double minded, none of which are positive spiritual characteristics.

I am sending Nancy a copy of the planning guide to be forwarded to all church members.  If you don’t get one, please let either myself or Nancy know and we will see you get a copy.

I had an experience yesterday that I find to be utterly amazing. I’m not at all surprised about God’s part in it, I’m just surprised He used me.

Tuesday as I was eating dinner, two Muslim women cut in front of me in line. They were fully garbed in Muslim dress and I just stood there. As I think back on it, I am sure I was glaring. As I “glared” at them, I had the most horrible series of thoughts go through my mind. The thoughts were simply right out of the pit of hell. I immediately told the Lord I was sorry, I hated the fact I thought those thoughts and worse, that they represented what I actually thought inside. I repented but I don’t think I asked for anything. I was really too ashamed to ask for anything. I just shook my head and moved on.

Fast forward to yesterday. I am on my way home and buzzing through Atlanta traffic. I had just talked to a friend for quite a while concerning prayer and a number of other church related issues. I hadn’t eaten and thought I would stop at one of my favorite restaurants to eat. I jumped off 85 and went there to eat. As I walked in, two Muslim women were in front of me in line. I stood there looking at them, not really thinking about anything. The taller of the two looked at me, smiled and told me to go ahead. I did and as I went by them, I sensed something about them that was stirring my spirit. I didn’t know what, but something. I ordered and as I walked down the line and started to pay, I looked back at them and I immediately saw a $20 bill flash in my mind. I was shocked and looked back at my tray and paid. I looked back at them again (thinking I might get a 10 or two 5’s) and again the $20 bill was there. I turned to the little Chinese lady running the cash register and gave her a twenty and told her to apply it to those ladies bill. She smiled and nodded.

I grabbed my food and split as fast as I could because I wanted to get out of line to avoid the ladies. I didn’t think it would be prudent to be there. I went to the farthest part of the dinning and room and sat purposely behind a post so they couldn’t see me. I made sure they couldn’t see me. I thanked the Lord for what He did, although I wasn’t sure of what He did. I looked up from my prayer and there was the little Chinese lady standing in front of me waving a 20 and pointing towards the cash register where two clearly confused Muslim women were standing and looking directly at me. The Chinese lady asked me if those two ladies were who I was talking about and then pointed directly at the two women. I was mortified but I said “Yes, that’s them”. She said (honestly she did) “Okray Dokrey” and smiled and walked off. The next thing I knew a very tall Muslim woman was standing beside me and said (with a huge smile) “Thank you”. I told her she was welcome and turned to finish lunch. I then heard as clear as a bell “Tell them you did that because you are a Christian”. At this point, I realize I haven’t eaten much because I lost my appetite about 5 minutes ago. So I got up, went over to their table and pulled out a chair and sat down. I had no clue what I was going to say. But as I opened my mouth here is what I told them: “I am a Christian and I wanted you to know that not all Christians hate Muslims. I believe the Lord told me to buy your lunch to let you know that He Loves you.” I don’t have words to describe their smiles. I asked their names. “I am Esra said the tall lady” “I am Wreeim” said the shorter lady. I asked her where she was from, she smiled a smile that was one of the most engaging smiles I’ve ever seen, “I’m, from Jerusalem!” Oh really I said. You know Bethlehem is close by don’t you. Her face kinda scrunched up with a bit of a confused look and Esra put her hand on my arm and said “I will explain to her” with a big smile. I smiled back and left.

Isn’t God good!!!!!!

Two Sundays ago I taught a Bible study at church talking about living in faith and walking by faith and not by sight.  The Lord convinced me I was to teach this.  I spoke to Tom about it and He agreed, it was the right thing to do.  This week I had abundant opportunity to practice my new found truths

This has been a week of extremes for me.  Extreme pressure, extreme hours, more extreme pressure and of course, travel.  A couple of days ago, I had responded poorly to a challenge I had been presented with.  Quite frankly, I responded in a not so Christ like way.  I remember thinking almost aloud while sitting in the car at the hotel: “It’s like I am two separate people.  There are times the good Dr. Jekyll is speaking and other times it is the evil Mr. Hyde.”  There is the good Andy and the bad Andy, but there is definitely two Andy’s.  I didn’t give it much thought as I had a lot of training to do.

The next morning (Thursday morning) after an allergy riddled night, I stepped out of the shower and suddenly I remembered a document I received at Onsite last November.  I was so caught unaware, that I simply stood there almost speechless.

An old Cherokee Chief was speaking to a young warrior.  He told him there were two wolves that lived inside of him.  A good wolf and a bad wolf.  They were constantly fighting.  The young warrior asked him, “Who will win?”  The wise old chief answered “The one you feed the most.”

I got goose bumps galore and in a flash, I saw something I had been told, but it didn’t sink in until this morning in the shower in a hotel in Asheville NC.  I am a task oriented person for sure. I want a formulae to work with, something I can do that makes me feel like I am accomplishing something.  I’ve not been able to overcome things in my life that are driving me batty!  I’ve tried and tried and tried, but to no avail.  Gritting my teeth and trying harder produces less results and more frustration.  That clearly isn’t the answer.

But here, in a lonely hotel room under all kinds of pressure, the Lord in his infinite kindness gave me an answer to a question I asked just the day before.  The answer came at the right time, in the right manner for me to understand.  My problem is, I’m feeding the wrong wolf.  Suddenly pieces of the puzzle of my life just plopped into place.  I had a key to my life.  Well, at least the key to a door I couldn’t seem to get through.  Stop feeding the bad wolf and feed the good wolf!  Simple yet profound.  Profound yet something I can do.  Simply stop feeding the bad wolf!  Wow!  My heart was full of hope.  I sensed the Lord smiling as one of his kids “gets it”.

I finished drying off, got dressed and logged on to prepare for my day by reading Small Straws in a Soft Wind by Marsha Burns.  This was for 5-12-2011:.

Haven’t I said that I would give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches in secret places?  Stop and ponder.  You will find that I have brought the light of revelation in areas of your life that you didn’t even expect.  Rejoice that you are growing in understanding because this understanding will make you more effective in My kingdom, says the Lord.  I have given you a taste and a glimpse of My glory, which will make you desire even more.

  Isaiah 45:3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.

Oh most gracious Lord …. Thank you for your patience and kindness.  Thank you for teaching me in a way I can understand.  Forgive me for being so slow Lord but thank you for your secret places.

Hebrews 11:1 Amplified Bible

NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see {and} the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

​Over the last several months, I’ve been looking very closely at Biblical faith and what it means.  I’ve always been one to read something and then try to figure out how it applies to me.  So it has been with the subject of faith.  I’ve really been trying to get my arms around Biblical faith and what it means for us to operate in faith.  I want to please God.  I want to do what He wants me to do.  I want to be what He wants me to be.  But in order for me to fulfill these lofty goals, I better understand faith.  Hebrews 11:6 adds a bit more fuel to the fire so to speak:

Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please {and} be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must [necessarily] believe that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly {and} diligently seek Him [out].

I believe the Lord has given me some guidance on this topic and I felt so strongly about it I asked Tom if I might have some time to discuss it with the class. He graciously agreed and so this Sunday during our class in the “blue room”, I want to dive into this subject and see how we can make it applicable to our daily lives.  It’s clear that faith is vital to our walk with God.  I wonder if we give it enough due consideration for it to be a force in our lives.

Take some time today or tomorrow and read the 11th chapter of Hebrews, the “hall of faith” and then meditate on it.  We are going to look at some very practical things and attempt to tie them to our daily lives at Gateway.

I look forward to seeing you on Sunday!

​Andy

PS:  Right after I posted the original blog, I received this timely “Small Straws” update:

SMALL STRAWS IN A SOFT WIND by Marsha Burns — 4/29/11:

I saw the letters “TGH”. What does this mean, LORD? “To Greater Heights!” It is time for you to go forth with a sense of action, adventure, excitement and expectation. If you stay where you are spiritually, you will miss out on one of the greatest moves of My Spirit that has ever been. Watch for opportunities to launch out in faith and do what I’ve given you to do. Be courageous, and refuse to allow fear to keep you from My HIGHEST and best, says the Lord.

Luke 5:4 When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”

If you don’t know about “Small Straws in a soft wind”, it is a prophetic ministry that has been so timely and uplifting in my life.  I encourage you to check out Marsha Burns ministry as well as sign up for the daily word she sends out.  Ms. Missy was the first person to tell me about this wonderful ministry. 

Here is the link to sign up:  http://ft111.com/

“If you believe in Jesus, you will not spend all your time in the smooth waters just inside the harbour, full of exhilaration and delight, but always moored; you will have to go out through the harbour bar into the great deeps of God and begin to know for yourself, begin to get spiritual discernment.  If you do not cut the moorings, God will have to break them with a storm and send you out!” – Oswald Chambers Devotional Bible February 21st.

I have been called to jury duty this week and while awaiting the selection process I was given a couple of hours for lunch.  I proceeded to Barnes and Noble and as I was eating lunch, I received a vision.  It was a powerful vision that affected my breathing, my posture and I believe my life.

I saw a large three masted ship leaving a harbour at a good clip.

the_clipper_ship_blue_jacket_on_choppy_seas-large_3

It was headed out into the open seas.  I was standing on the deck and looking out the starboard side.  I could see the swells starting to build.  I could actually feel the ship moving and I adjusted my position in my seat at the bookstore to accommodate the change in the ships pitch and roll.  I looked over the side and could sense the water beginning to move.  My breathing began to pickup as I looked at the back of the ship and saw 5 “banding lines” of the type used to hold paper goods on a pallet, trailing from the ship and going back to the dock.  They were attached to the dock.  The banding lines were small and quite incapable of holding the ship to the dock.  The Lord then quickened to me the banding lines represented the things that have held me back in life.  I saw the ship was headed out to the deep open sea with an open sky and an unlimited horizon.  What was going to break the lines was the act of leaving the harbour, not waiting for the lines to be broken before I left the harbor.

As the vision faded I realized my heart beat was much faster and I had just seen that my time had come.  My ship was leaving the harbour and I was no longer going to be bound to the dock.  As I started to think through the vision, I began to see some things I hadn’t really understood before.

Things I had experienced over the last couple of months and wasn’t quite sure of why was because my ship was preparing to leave the harbour for the open waters.

I also began to realize I have been in harbour for a long time, trying to get the bands off the ship before I sailed.  I thought I had to get these things fixed in order to sail.  But it was actually the act of sailing that broke the banding lines that entangled my life.  It was in the act of leaving for the open seas that will break the lines.  I don’t have to worry about them, I simply need to look out the front of the ship and not worry about those lines, they will be broken for good, and they will no longer inhibit my ship from moving.  Since I am in a wind driven ship (ie: the Holy Spirit) I don’t have to worry about them fouling the propeller or anything like it. 

Mark 4:35 is the story of the storm and Jesus asleep in the back of the boat.  The whole story started with a command: “Lets cross over to the other side.”  As Paul Harvey would have said, “Now for the rest of the story.”

I’ve heard the Lord say a couple of things to me: “Whom shall I send to the Hispanic Mission field?”  I said “I’ll go Lord.”  “Ok” He said, “Let’s go over to the other side.”  I am in the boat and it’s leaving the harbour, heading for “the other side.”  Yes there will be storms ahead, big storms.  But I don’t want to stay in the harbour any longer.  I sense the Lord’s timing is right.  I’m where I’m supposed to be.  We are headed for the deep.  When I look at the people I have looked up to and wanted to be like in my life, they are people who have accomplished great things.  Lewis and Clarke, Earnest Shackleton, the Apostles Peter and Paul as well as many others.  All left the safe harbour of life and attempted to do great things.  Some made it, some didn’t but they all tried.  Well, I believe God has given me a charge and I’m going after it.

As the Lay Leader of Gateway, I ask you to pray for us as a church and for me as your friend and Lay Leader.  I believe God is getting ready to do a great work in our lives.  My boat is much larger than I can manage on my own and I need shipmates to help.  Anyone want to go for a boat ride????

Lord: I think of the great Irish seaman’s prayer.  Oh Lord, your sea is so big and my ship is so small.  Help me lord navigate to the other side and help mis hermanos y hermanas as they wade through the immigration morass in this country.  Help me to see them and their situation as you do and to keep focused on you and your Word as we sail this sea together.

Thanks Lord.

Now full speed ahead mates!

On Feb 6th I was the guest speaker at Mision Latina in Athens.  My good friend Roque and my “should-have-been-my-daughter” Claire came along for the ride.

The entire experience was enchanted.  From the moment I walked into the building I was warmly greeted and I felt as if I belonged there.  A little more than 22 years ago was the first day I stepped into this ancient edifice.

Sunday represented a full circle for me, and I might add a very emotional one.  Mision Latina has taken this building and done about all they can with it.  As my good friend Joseph Slife once said, “It’s hard to do 21st century ministry in a 19th century building”.  Yet, Mision Latina is doing just that.  As the service opened, there were testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love.  One particular testimony stood out to me.  (I will get back to this testimony in a little bit.)

As the singing opened, the Holy Spirit touched my heart and I simply drank in the love and worship these brothers and sisters in the Lord offered to God.  The more they sang, the deeper I was drawn into their lives.  Since I don’t understand Spanish and I don’t sing well I was able to enjoy the worship time in a special way.  I closed my eyes and began to sing in the spirit.  It sounded a bit like Spanish, so I blended right in.  As they progressed through the songs I watched each participant as they played their instruments and they danced and worshiped and sang to the Lord.  I was so overwhelmed by the love and mercy of God that I understood why Peter said at the Mount of Transfiguration, “Let’s just build a house and stay here.”  It was that good.

When it came time for me to speak, Haydee introduced me and Efrain was the translator.  While I don’t speak Spanish fluently, the 4 years of Spanish 1 I flunked in school has left its mark on me.  I can read Spanish and not do too bad a job of pronunciation.  Using Google translator, I developed some phrases that spoke of the desire of my heart.  We prayed and I launched into my talk.

I spoke of Mark 4:35-41 and Acts 12:1-8.  The term that developed from this talk was “La Pista de la vida” or the “Life track”.  Basically the idea is in the book of Mark, Peter saw Jesus asleep in the back of the boat during a life threatening storm.  In the book of Acts Peter had learned how to be peaceful in the eye of the storm as he slept soundly the night before he was to be executed.  I wanted them to experience this type of peace in the storms of life they face.

I told them how there were issues we needed to deal with up-front.   They are my born again brothers and sisters in the Lord and they have documentation problems.   How do we deal with it?  Not all of them have documentation problems, but many do.  So the question is what do we do as Christians to walk in God’s love and help one another?  I saw how these dear friends live in constant fear because of these problems.  What do we do?  I told them I didn’t care what the democrats say or what the republicans say.  I want to know what God says about it.

One of the basic elements of the Christian faith is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  When I do that, I see things in a completely different light.  As I said earlier, one man spoke of how he came to the United States.  He was from El Salvador.  He was working there and making $270 a month.  He wanted to send his kids to college and needed a better job, so he came to the United States.  When I heard his testimony I was cut to the quick.  He was making $270 a MONTH!  I reflected to the Lord quietly my shame.  I am quite capable of going into Best Buy and blowing $270 on some electronic gizmo I don’t need simply to have a “new and improved” version, and to my eternal shame, I wouldn’t think twice about it.  Oh God forgive me please!

1st Samuel 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 

This is what has happened to me.  Efrain Diaz is as Jonathan unto me.  I love this man and I thank God daily for bringing him into my life.  I thank God for bringing the plight of my Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ into my heart.  There is nothing I can do at this time more important than to help them alleviate fear and walk in peace.  This will be a tough road though, yet I am in the boat with them.  Where their boat goes I go.  Their storms are my storms.  Their victories are my victories.

Lord: I have no answers to the difficult questions we need to answer, but you do.  Help me to listen oh so carefully as we move forward.  Give me courage to act on what you tell me to do and go where you tell me to go.  Bring across our paths the resources and ideas you want us to pursue.  Help my brothers and sisters in Christ and use me anyway you want to help them Lord.

What a wonderful meeting we had at Gateway last night.  The weather didn’t hold us back from meeting with Mision Latina to discuss going forward with our joint healing and praise service on February 13th.

In attendance for Gateway was Roque, Nancy, Andy, Tom A & Tom C and Rusty, with Frieda in the bullpen praying for us.

In attendance for Mision Latina was Alex, Carlos, Angela, Haydee and Efrain.

Tom A opened with prayer and we opened discussion with how to proceed with our Feb 13th prayer, praise and healing service.  We discussed other points of common interest such as children’s Easter egg hunt, homeless ministry and common interests.  There was such a wonderful spirit of love for each other that I simply can’t find the words to describe how I felt.  Haydee prayed to close and Efrain translated.  This is the second time I have been in Gateway when Haydee prayed with me.  The Holy Spirit shows Himself strong when this lady prays.  Tom C spoke to me last night and commented on the power of her prayer.

I sense as I haven’t sensed before this is where Gateway begins a new phase of ministry.  2011 will be a year of wonderment at what God will do.  People are going to be healed, saved and delivered from demons.  This is what we are called to do.  All of the work Jerry and Beverly did built a strong foundation for us.  They got us ready to go forward and now, as a group, as a team we go forward to fulfilling that which God called us to do, “Helping People Experience God!”

It is vital that we pray for the Feb 13th meeting.  The enemy will do all he can to stop this joint effort.  I believe the Lord is going to use our partnership with Mision Latina to begin to heal the rift between the Anglo and Latina communities.  God is in the healing business.  I believe this will be the start of a work in the Athens area that will spread to Atlanta and other communities as a model of how to work together in Christian love to honor God, each other and overcome cultural barriers that have long separated us.

Efrain and I were talking the other day.  He told me the Lord laid a specific scripture on his heart and he wanted me to look at it.

Revelation 5:8-13 (ESV)

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

He pointed out to me that the prayers of the saints are being presented to God in golden bowls that are FULL.  That means they have been going on for a while.  He also pointed out that Jesus’s blood ransomed EVERY tribe and tongue.  That would include Latina and Anglo as well as German, Russian, Abyssinian, Arab and anyone else in the world!

I believe the Lord is giving us an opportunity to do something special.  We are going to walk hand in hand with the Latina community to worship God and to love and help one another to become the people of God He desires us to be.  We as a body will experience God as we reach out to others who are different and realize they worship the same Lord we do.  They are not different from us nor we from them in the crucial elements of the faith.  Oh there are differences for sure.  I am excited to experience those differences under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am even more excited to see people in the community come for healing and be healed as Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the risen Lord and Saviour does in 2011 what he did in the new testament, “destroy the works of the devil!”

Lord: We love you and each other.  Help the love we feel for one another grow.  In areas where we don’t love one another, give us courage to bring those areas to you for healing.  Thank you for what you are doing in our community.  Help us to go forward together as one under the strong banner of the Lion of Judah!