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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

Last Sunday in our adult class, we discussed the book “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire”.  We talked about the need for prayer and ministry to those God wants to lead to our fellowship.  Well this Wednesday, we start our prayer ministry.  I will be at the church at 6:30 PM and we will start praying as the Holy Spirit leads us.

I am very excited about where we are at this place in our ministry.  God is providing us pastoral leadership in abundance.  Tom Atkins has a wonderful plan for TEAM ministry with Bob Beckwith, Joseph Slife and Gene Acuff.  These are men we love and respect.  They are familiar with us and we with them.  They love God, and have agreed to join our ministry.  That is good news.

However I want to elaborate on a few points.  I believe God has given us a great start for 2011.  But these men represent one part of the equation.  I believe their joining with us in ministry is a missing key for us.  But now they are on board, we must focus on OUR responsibilities.  God will lead people to Gateway in response to our cries for ministry.  But to be effective the Holy Spirit will be critical.  Our willingness to hear the Holy Spirit as He leads all of us into ministry is a necessary element of our fulfilling our calling.  We are asking God to send us those who haven’t been churched, those who have issues to deal with that aren’t easy.  Please keep in mind that our responsibility is to love them as God sends them.  It is HIS job to clean them up.  But we must all be willing to be “cleaned up” as well.  God accepts as we are, but he doesn’t LEAVE us as we are.  None of us. 

To that end, this Wednesday the 22nd of December will be our first prayer time dedicated to our new direction.  Please come and join us in prayer as we lay our lives before God and ask Him for guidance in “helping people experience God”.

I look forward to seeing you there.


Julia and I are in snowy Albuquerque enjoying a relaxing Thanksgiving morning.  We are now two hours behind Athens.  We crossed Mountain time last night and didn’t calculate travel time correctly (that is my responsibility) so we had an extra hour in the car with each other.  Can you say … Tired!!!!!

I wanted to share with you about our time in Shreveport with our former pastor and his wife.  Richard Exley was our pastor in Tulsa for 7 years.  He retired from pastoral ministry years ago and has been working as an evangelist and traveling pastor for many years.  He was recently called back into pastoral ministry at a church in Shreveport named “Gateway”.

Julia and I met with him at the church and while he was on a phone call, I made myself at home and I “explored” (snooping is probably a more appropriate word) the church.  As I did, I talked to the Lord about the real “Gateway”.  I shared my desire to see our wonderful church fulfill our destiny.  As I walked around I saw a huge church.  One that was split under the previous leadership team.  They had a huge debt and a very small congregation.  Yet under the right leadership, they have bounced back.  They have grown from 200 to 300 in under a year.  Their children’s ministry has gone from 11 small kids to 58 last week.  Their homeless ministry has grown.

Richard bought our lunch and we left.  On the way to Dallas, I thought about our ministry in Athens and their ministry in Shreveport.  This is the second church the Lord has entrusted to Richard’s care that was in financial difficulty.  Christian Chapel in Tulsa was the other one.  Both churches were in desperate financial conditions.  The Lord used different methods for deliverance, but deliverance indeed came to Christian Chapel and is now flowing through Gateway in Shreveport.

There are a couple of lessons here.  The first one is that with God NOTHING is impossible.  So lets set that as our foundation.  NOTHING is impossible.

The second lesson is with the right leadership, a church grows and begins to flex her strength.  Gateway will grow and will flourish as the Lord brings the right leader to us.  I believe that leader is on the way.

God is sending us a man that I believe will enable us to fulfill the calling God has given to us: “Helping people experience God”.

As the lay leader, I’m going to make a plea to all of us.  I am asking everyone to enter into extensive prayer for Gateway church of Shreveport.  Julia and I will be on our way back from Vegas a week from this coming Sunday.  We are going to attend Church in Shreveport at Gateway church.  We are going to ask them to become our “sister” church and join us in prayer for our ministry.  I am also telling them we will join in prayer for them.

I am very encouraged about how God is leading us.  We’ve been through some storms for sure.  Yet, the boat is still floating and regardless of the wind and waves we are beginning to get some positive direction and leadership.

Julia and I are sitting in a hotel in Albuquerque awaiting the roads to clear of ice and snow.  She told me before we left that we would run into snow and ice.  I told her no way.  She wanted to go through El Paso.  I told her no way.  I would rather fight snow and ice than drug dealers, but, I assured her, it won’t snow and we’ll be fine.  So much for my ministry as a prophet!

I hope all had a wonderful Thanksgiving. 

Don’t forget to pray for Gateway of Shreveport!

One last word though …

I had seen a show on TV about a hamburger joint in Amarillo Texas that served a “burger from hell” with every kind of pepper and hot sauce you could imagine.  Well we were  going through Amarillo and I thought .. hmmmm  … lets take on this particular burger and see what she’s got!


Well I found the place I told the creator of the “burger from hell” to “bring it on!”.  They did!

burger from hell

And the deal was on as we dove in …

captivate pictures 085

So much for the “burger from hell”!!!!

Buger from hell handeled

I just wanted you to know, we were spreading the Gospel and attacking Hell’s gates and Burgers where ever we travel!

The week of November 5th through the 12th I experienced a truly marvelous, life changing event at Onsite workshops.  I shared with our adult Sunday school class about how the Lord used that week to change my life and give me a new identity.  I even found my tie and wore it to church with my sport coat.  I did that to represent to everyone I am a new man.  Well sort of.

Last Thursday and Friday I became embroiled in a very nasty fight between a chapter of the boys and girls club and our neighborhood over (of all things) a soccer field.  Their neighborhood is next to ours separated by a buffer of trees.  Well it turns out they have acquired all of the land and started tearing out the trees and exposing us to the vandalism, gang violence and sexual misconduct of this particular neighborhood.  This is not a trivial issue.  Over the years the police have become good friends with us as they help us combat the crime coming from this particular neighborhood.  We had it under control.  Until last Thursday.  When all of this started happening I got involved with my neighbor and we went to talk to the people to find out what is going on.  The “discussion” escalated to the point of threats being made and much anger was expressed on both sides.  The police are again involved.  The planning commission is involved.

This is where the two Andy’s get involved.  The old Andy showed up to the meeting and the new Andy left the meeting.  The old Andy was like an F4 Phantom strafing a village with verbal napalm and guns blazing.  Not a nice picture.  The new Andy realized there was a real problem so as he turned around and left.  As he left he prayed: “Ok Lord ..  Now what?”.  It was at this point the Lord showed up and I recognized him.  In no way did I sense condemnation or guilt.  I just knew I had screwed up and wanted to know what to do to try to fix it.  It was like He walked with me through the mess and on the way home he gave me two visions.  I literally stopped in my tracks for them.

The first one was to apologize to everyone I had yelled at.  I have been married for 35 years so that’s not a problem.  But the second one bowled me over.  I got a picture of this neighborhood, the kids involved, and my home, and a picture of Gateway.  I can connect the dots pretty well when I have a clear picture.  The Lord clearly showed me there was an opportunity here for me to do what I had been asking Him for concerning Gateway.  I believe He was saying to me to get involved with this neighborhood and help them with the kids.  I also believe this is an opportunity for Gateway.

I was stunned but I went back home and made apology’s to everyone and I drove to the neighborhood to find the lady who was the primary target of my verbal strafing attack.  She was walking into her dilapidated “office” and when she saw me she stopped.  I told her why I was there and I asked for her forgiveness for being a complete jerk.  She smiled and thanked me and said she would.  We talked a bit and as I looked into her eyes I saw her and the whole neighborhood as God did.  I was humbled to say the least.  I was reminded of a saying I had heard before but one that simply bypassed my mind and my heart:

“If you want to go places you’ve never been, you’ll have to do things you’ve never done.”

I realized that for the “new” Andy to accomplish his heart’s desire to fulfill all God want’s me to be and do, I was going to have to walk places I’ve never been and do things I’ve never done and it was going to take a lot of faith to do it.  I’ve fought this neighborhood tooth and toenail for 21 years.  I’ve done everything I could to minimize their presence and I’ve fought them every step of the way.  Now, I believe the Lord is asking me to go there, help them and work with them.  He wants me to become involved in their lives.  I saw the vision and I recognize when the Lord is giving me an opportunity to do as Henry Blackaby said.  I have an opportunity to see where God is working and get involved.

In addition, I think as the Lay Leader of Gateway, the opportunity is for Gateway to reach out as well.  I believe this is a door for us to enter that will lead to ministry opportunities and community impact we have never considered or had the opportunity for.

I don’t know how it is going to play out.  I don’t know how I can possibly contribute to this mainly Hispanic immigrant neighborhood.  I have no clue.  But I do know someone who does know.  His name is Jesus.  As I left the neighborhood with a sense of awe I was reminded of Romans 4:18-20.  I don’t have the whole picture.  I do have a picture and I know a starting point.  I don’t know everything I will need to do to accomplish this, but I do know something.  So I am going to step up to the starting line and begin this race. 

Recently I’ve been reading and listening to Jack Hayford’s book “Rebuilding the Real You”.  Jack makes the case that Nehemiah’s leading of the rebuilding project in Jerusalem mirrors the Holy Spirit’s work in our own lives.  As I’ve been thinking about the entire rebuilding project, the subject that keeps coming to my mind is foundations.  You can’t rebuild a building or a life without a strong foundation.  The classic scripture I think of is in Matthew:

Matt 7:24-25 So everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts upon them [obeying them] will be like a sensible (prudent, practical, wise) man who built his house upon the rock. And the rain fell and the floods came and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.

All of this leads me to where we are at Gateway.  What are our foundations?  As we go forward, what do we build on?  What do we do good and what are we not so good at?  Over the years I’ve wanted to “whiteboard” our congregation many times.  By “whiteboard” I mean getting people in a room and talk through a positional-directional analysis.  In other words, where are we now and where are we headed.  Without this type of analysis I’m not sure we have a good picture of exactly where we are.  We have a good mission, “Helping people experience God”.  Are we structured as a church to maximize our mission statement?  Do we as individuals understand our gifts and our callings?  If we had a Sunday where we had 10 new families come to our service, would we have the processes and procedures in place that would help them feel comfortable?

These are questions I have been thinking about.  I know our congregation has a strong love for God and makes people feel welcome when they come to Gateway.  I know there is no better place to be if you are hurting than within the friendly confines of Gateway church.  Being friendly and helping people in need is one of the strengths of Gateway.  What I am concerned about is do we have the structure for dealing with growth?

We have the next three months with Rudy Baker as our pastor.  Rudy is gifted in the areas of organization and administration.  I believe the Lord has sent Rudy to Gateway in this time of need.  I believe it would be wise for us to take advantage of his skill set and focus on building a foundation we can grow on.  I don’t know what that will look like, but over the next several months we have an opportunity to find out.  Lets pray, study and work to show ourselves willing to do what we need to do to be what the Lord wants us to be.

Lord: Help us establish a strong foundation to grow upon so we can help people experience God.

Last Sunday, Frieda announced that Dr. Rudy Baker will be appointed as our interim pastor.  It is imperative that we prayerfully support Dr. Baker as he leads us during this critical time in the life of our congregation.  As such the church leadership has sent Dr. Baker a memo showing our support for his appointment.  I wanted to share the memo with you.

Dr.  Baker:

As you well know, Gateway has undergone some extreme changes in the last year.  After 25 years of pastoral stability, we’ve undergone 2 changes in a matter of months and we don’t have a permanent replacement in sight.  Dr.  Whetstone has been a tremendous ally in helping us work through these changes.  We are experiencing the strength of the connectional system as the district is helping us work through financial difficulties with our mortgage.

We have placed our confidence in the Lord and the proper authority structure of our district.  It is through prayer and careful consideration that you have been asked to serve as our interim pastor.  I believe I can speak for the leadership at Gateway we look forward to working with you.

A quick word about our congregation.  While our numbers have dwindled over the last couple of years, those that are left are committed to completing the mission God has given us: “Helping people experience God!”  We stepped out in faith to build our building.  We were able to complete our obligations for 3 years before things became unmanageable.  We do not understand why people chose to leave our congregation, but that is in the past.  We look to the future with hope and confidence that God will fulfill Phil 1:6 in the life of our congregation.

Our leadership is strong as we keep our eyes focused on Jesus.  You will be in our prayers as we believe the Lord has chosen you for the faith and unique set of skills you bring to Gateway in this time of need.

I look forward to meeting you and working with you.

In Christ,

Andy Hines
Lay Leader
Gateway Church

While I wasn’t there to actually hear Joseph’s sermon Sunday, I’ve read it and my good friend did as he always has every since I met him: delivered the Word of God faithfully.

The plight of King Jehoshaphat and his response has always been a great encouragement to me.  A modern version of his prayer is “Lord, we don’t have a clue, but we look to you!”  I have to say that I’ve personally felt that way in the last couple of months.  More than once I’ve played the what if game.  You each know the game and you know the rules.  It’s an unusual game though because no one ever wins, yet we play it all the time.

But as Joseph asked us to do, let’s take a new perspective on this and let’s play “What if” going the other direction.

What if: We had not left the old building and Mision Latina did not have that building.  Would they have been able to minister as they have now?

What if: Jerry Varnado hadn’t heard the Lord concerning his retirement and would have stayed at Gateway.  Would Joseph and Becky have been able to get things worked out with the Lord?

I like Joseph’s emphasis on repenting, truly turning around and changing direction.  Lets take that advice and look at things from a bit different perspective.  Lets look at Mark 4:35-41 for a bit of guidance in negotiating storms.

Notice verse 35:  On that same day [when] evening had come, He said to them, Let us go over to the other side [of the lake].  They responded to the Lord’s direction and went over to the other side.  They did exactly as he directed them.

The next verse clearly states:  they took Him with them, [just] as He was, in the boat [in which He was sitting].  Jesus was with them.  Then all hell breaks loose:

And a furious storm of wind [of hurricane proportions] arose, and the waves kept beating into the boat, so that it was already becoming filled.

They did what they were told, Jesus was with them and they find themselves in a storm of hurricane proportions.  How many times have you said “Boy if only I could see Jesus physically.  Then I would be ok.”  Well not only could they see him physically, HE WAS ASLEEP IN THE BOAT!!!!!  The storm hit anyway.

Jesus response has been discussed many times, but I want to ask a question that is pertinent to our situation.  What is the appropriate response to a storm when you are in it and waiting?

Do you bail water waiting?  If you take this approach, you might see an Angel standing there and saying, “Why stand ye here bailing?”  (Sorry couldn’t resist.) 

Do you simply sit in the boat and wait for your wazoo to get wet?

It’s obvious these professional fisherman who made their living on the water were in a bad way.  Do you just let the thing sink?

These are questions I have about this story.  Jesus calmed the water and the wind and then asked them where there faith was.  I don’t know what they were supposed to do in that situation.

In our case, I take great encouragement and faith from Joseph’s word.  I think there is more good news coming.  I’m excited about  our upcoming study on Nehemiah and Jack Hayford’s book, Rebuilding the Real You.  I think there are timely words of encouragement there as well.  I think it fits well with the new direction Joseph has asked us to consider.

I encourage you to read the book of Nehemiah this week.

2 Kin 5:8-14 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, he sent to the king, asking, Why have you rent your clothes? Let Naaman come now to me and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stopped at Elisha’s door. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.  But Naaman was angry and went away and said, Behold, I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and heal the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and said to him, My father, if the prophet had bid you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much rather, then, when he says to you, Wash and be clean? Then he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, as the man of God had said, and his flesh was restored like that of a little child, and he was clean.

I think one of the most frustrating things for me is when I think I have God figured out and then when I’m not looking, He jumps out of the little box I’ve so carefully crafted for Him.  I can give you a great example.

I knew when we welcomed our new Pastor that God was getting ready to lead us into the promised land.  I knew we were going to grow and that the mortgage would be taken care of and we would grow to a strong congregation of 300 dedicated warriors for Christ ready and able to take the devil’s territory and hit him in the eye with a very sharp stick.  I knew it.  Boy, what was I thinking?

The story of Naaman should have been a tip off. 

The selection of David as king should have given me a clue.

I should have picked up on it when God said in Isaiah 55:8-9 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, says the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.

God simply doesn’t see things like I do and He doesn’t think like I do.  Yet, He always gets it right while I struggle with the most basic of things.

Who would have thought that our Mission Statement “Helping people experience God” would have applied to our helping a fine man and his family experience God under the most stressful of conditions.  I sure didn’t see it coming.   When we prayed and asked God to provide the right guy for us, we all believed He did.  We simply didn’t have a clue that we were to help them experience God.

The prophet Jonah was provided a shade tree for a short period of time to help protect him from a difficult situation.  Gateway was a shade tree for a short period of time.

Now we regroup in faith and thankfulness.  We move forward in faith that God will continue to guide and lead us into the fulfillment of the ministry He’s called us to do, “helping people experience God”.

We move forward in thankfulness that we have such a creative God that meets peoples needs in the most wonderful ways!

Lord: Thank you for your creative wonder!  We look to you for sustenance, comfort and guidance as we move through the selection process again.