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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: Encouragement

As I began my trip this week I am flying for the first time in many years.  I don’t like flying anymore for a number of reasons, but this week, I fly.  So while I was at the Atlanta airport I prayed and asked the Lord to show me someone today I could minister to or pray with.  Fast forward to Houston airport.

I was wandering around waiting on my connection when I walked past a shoe shine place.  My shoes needed a shine so I saw a guy on the end and went over to his chair.  He didn’t say a word and immediately left.  A young lady was taking his place and I asked her if she could do these shoes.  “Sure, please sit down.”  So I did.  I noticed she had a smile from here to there and I was immediately caught by her joyful personality.  Then I looked down and saw a small, leather Bible.  I asked her if this was her’s and she said it was.  I opened it and noticed a ton of underlining in it.  I also noticed she was a big reader of the prophets, Samuel, David and old testament history.  I asked her about her reading and what was her favorite scripture.  At that point God took over and I simply sat there transfixed as I believe God spoke to me while He shined my shoes!

Her name is Tina and she is from Nigeria.  She told me her favorite Scripture was John 5, the story of the beggar being healed at the pool of Bethesda.  Then she told me of her journey to the US.  She and her husband went to Nigerian embassy to get Visa’s to come to US in 2003.  They were rejected for no reason, but she told me when they stamped her application rejected, it was a final action, there was no appeal.  Her husband was crushed, but not Tina.  Tina told her husband that they were not rejected until God said they were rejected.  She pointed out to me that as she read John 5, the Lord showed her that she and the beggar and been rejected because the process had broken down.  The process for healing the beggar broke down because people would not take him to the pool when the water stirred.  Jesus bypassed the process there and He would bypass this process too.  She told her husband who immediately told her she was nuts.  She told him she was not nuts and they were going to an Assembly of God camp in the mountains to pray.  They went to this camp for 5 days and prayed about this and read scriptures.  When they came back it was new years eve 2003 and she had not looked at e-mail for a long period of time so she checked her e-mail.  There was an email from a person she didn’t know but when she opened it there was a letter she was to print out and take to the embassy giving her authorization for a Visa.  What did Tina do?  She grabbed her husband and went back to the Assembly of God camp for a full week of fasting and prayer over this letter before she took it to the embassy.  She told me they didn’t even drink water until 6 pm in the evening.  She went back to the embassy with the letter and was sent to the exact person that had rejected her the first time.  She gave him the letter and (as much as is possible for a Nigerian) his face turned “white” and he started mumbling about “why didn’t you tell me you knew this person”.  She was given a Visa and is now an American citizen as is her husband.  She is in school to be a teacher and as she told me this, they called my flight and I stood up.  She looked at me with a smile only God could give and said “Andy, with God NOTHING is impossible!”  I was overcome with the emotion of the moment and as I started to leave I asked her if I could pray with her.  She said yes and I prayed with her and I left assured of God’s wonderful provision.

There is a lesson here for both Gateway churches.  Our’s in Athens and our sister ship in Shreveport.  That is the overwhelming importance of prayer.   This little lady just grabbed God and said I need a Visa and God said “Well ok, you’ll get one!”  As we move forward under the Gateway team leadership, we will see God do miracle after miracle if we dedicate ourselves to prayer.  Steve Brown’s book “Approaching God” has given me some real encouragement about how to be a person of prayer and I hope to finish the book while I am on this trip so I can get the information down on paper for us to review.

God answered my simple prayer to provide me someone to pray with.  He answered Tina’s prayer by providing a way for her to get a Visa.  He will answer our prayers for souls for the kingdom as well.  We simply have to make it a priority above all things.  He’s just waiting on us.

Lord: Give us the courage and perseverance Tina showed as she waded through her Visa application “process”.  Thank you for her and her husband coming to America and I pray for her schooling and ask you to bless her studies and her faith.  Give us a heart to pray for those who like Tina want to come to America but are blocked by the process.  Show us how we can help those you lead to us understand that “with God, NOTHING is impossible”.

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As I sit here on a rather balmy new years morning I contemplate 2011 and reminisce on 2010.  Last year was certainly a year to remember.  Think about it: we had one pastor for 25 years and now we are on our 4th pastor in 6 months.  When I look back at Gateway’s progression through 2010 and see a church that has withered storm after storm in leadership.  Yet the core of believers that has stayed has been faithful and even though our numbers were reduced, we are still standing.  God has brought us through event after event.  You each know what I am talking about.

I want to encourage each of you to look forward to 2011 with great anticipation.  There are many good things on the horizon.
To start with, we have a spirit filled pastor as our lead pastor.  We have a very creative team approach to ministry with Joseph Slife, Tom Atkins, Bob Beckwith and Gene Acuff.  All of these men are well known by the members of Gateway and are men of God we have asked for time after time to preach for us.  Our prayers have been answered.  Hallelujah! 

A significant event I believe has been the request by Tom Atkins for us to read “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala.  It is a book full of encouragement about God’s faithfulness in difficult times.  I also encourage each of you to review the story of Gideon in Judges chapter’s 6,7 & 8.  If you tie together the prophecy the Lord gave us in 1998 concerning Gideon and Cymbala’s book you can see that God can and will do a lot with a small group of believers that trust Him.  I would remind everyone that Gideon lost over 99% of his church before he was ready to take on the overwhelming odds against him.  “Fresh Wind” shows how God can and will do the same type of things today.

It is with that background that I want to launch into 2011.  We have started our Wed night prayer group.  I want to encourage everyone to join us on Wed night to pray for one another and our sister church Gateway of Shreveport.  Also Latina Mission in Athens.  If prayer is what the Bible says it is, then nothing we can do is more important than praying.

I want to share something I read in “Approaching God” by Steve Brown: “I’m often asked about the purpose of prayer before a sovereign God.  ‘If God knows what I’m going to ask before I ask it, why pray?’  It’s a good question, but it misses the point.  We pray not to get what we want, but to want what God wants, and we do that with the awareness that He is sovereign and that He knows best.”

For me, this puts into perspective why I pray.  It’s not for me to clarify to God but for God to clarify to me.  This means prayer is a two way street: me talking to God and then listening.

Let me show you how I put this into practice. I have prayed about God “fixing” my past.  It sounded something like this:  “Lord, fix this, make it go away, PLEASE!”  (This sounds similar to Paul’s prayer in 2 Cor 12).  I wanted help.  I didn’t know how or what that would entail, but I prayed as best I knew how.  Through “listening” to God in all the ways He speaks to us, I discerned through my counseling sessions that I needed to attend Onsite.  I did and I received much more than a simple “fix” like I wanted.

Steve Brown has a very common sense approach to prayer that I understand.  I believe his approach will help me be a much more effective lay leader and man of prayer.

I also want to mention what I believe is a budding relationship with Latino Mission.  I sense the Lord wants us to engage in dual ministry with them.  I want us to pray about a Sunday night praise, worship and healing service.  If you carefully review the Gospel of Mark chapters 1-3, you will see that Jesus did what He was called to do.  He was a man of prayer.  He was baptized in the Holy Spirit.  As a result, He had more people coming to his services than they could accommodate.  I believe this Sunday night service will have the same effect, IF (NOTE ALL CAPS!)  we diligently pray about it.

I want to add this note.  I spoke to a pastor friend of mine and shared with him about the possibility of a prayer and healing service.  He immediately warned me that all healing wasn’t from God and that many of the healing services aren’t from God.  I nodded and quickly left the conversation.  I felt as if the Lord was telling me the people that will be drawn to the services will not be religious folks.  It will be the exact persons He talked about in Luke chapter 4 18-19: The poor, the brokenhearted, captives, blind, oppressed and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord!  He came to heal the sick, not the healthy.

I sense God is getting ready to blow the roof off the place (so to speak).

Lord: Give us boldness to speak your word fearlessly and to be willing to go where others are not going and to be willing to do what others will not do.

As I sit here on Christmas day enjoying the bounty God has been so gracious to give Julia and I, I think about 2010 and how it has impacted Gateway.  On January 2nd, we will have our new pastor, Tom Atkins.  Since June 2010 he will be our 4th pastor.  There were times I didn’t know if we would make it.  There were times I didn’t know if I would make it.  Yet, here we are at the end of the year.  The smoke has cleared, the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared and we are still standing.  Praise God!

Over the last year, God has been stirring my heart.  I have sensed the Lord showing me bits and pieces of my personal calling at Gateway and a picture of the impact he want’s Gateway to have on our community.  Let me talk of the last two months and their impact on me.

In November I spent a week at Onsite.  A week in which the Lord gave me courage and delivered me from fear.  A week that forever changed my life.  Then I learned our new pastor would be Tom Atkins.  That filled my heart with hope and anticipation.  Julia and I left for Las Vegas for my company’s annual meeting.  On the way I spoke with Tom and he told me he wanted everyone to read “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” by Jim Cymbala.  Julia and I had read the book years ago, but since we were on the road, we downloaded the audible version and listened to it.  As John Wesley stated, “My heart was strangely warmed.”  This book provided the Biblical model I was searching for.  We don’t need a church growth seminar, a church growth program or pledge drives to grow Gateway.  We need the Holy Spirit to move in the minds and hearts of men and women.

I announced at church I would be at the church Wednesday night to pray.  A group showed up and we prayed.  As we prayed we asked the Lord to show us how we can minister and to whom.  “Send us who you want us to minister to Lord!”  This was our prayer.  As we were praying, we heard a knock on the front door and we looked up and pastor Efrin Diaz was there.  His daughter had just died from cancer and we were offering our church to them as a place to hold her memorial service.  As he came in we started praying for him.  Freida prayed with strength for him as she and Alton both know the pain of losing a child.  I agreed to help with the meeting and since it would be a Spanish speaking affair, I grabbed Roque and we went.

Wow is about the only way I can describe the event.   The place was packed wall to wall with every chair we had being occupied and there were still people standing. The service started and I was in the sound booth with the pastor and as the service progressed.  The singing was anointed as none I have heard for years.  The Holy Spirit moved and I was able to see God at work in the life of believers as they mourned the loss of a loved one, yet rejoiced at her grand entry into her eternal home.  I saw the dignity of a family of Christians as they portrayed her life on screen.  I began to weep as I saw them show her at her peak and then as her health and body declined, they showed that as well.  Finally they showed a picture of her in her bed just before she passed away.  I saw how they faced death with courage and faith.  I saw their tears and I wept with them for a young woman I had never met.  Her impact on the world for Jesus Christ was obvious.  I saw the joy of Jesus Christ as they worshiped Him for a life well lived and the victory of the cross.

The next morning Rusty, Caleb and I cleaned up for the Christmas Eve service.  We found a sweater and hat left over from the service.  So we closed up and I went home.  Efrain called me and I told him about the sweater so we agreed to meet at the church.  I got there and Efrain and his wife Haydee came in the building with me.  They expressed a great appreciation for our help and then as we talked, the Holy Spirit hit the place and Haydee shared with me a vision her daughter had that no one understood at the time.  As she shared the vision, it was obvious it had been fulfilled at the service the previous night.  She began to weep and I began to pray in the spirit as did Efrain.  Waves of the Holy Spirit’s love and strength rolled over us as we prayed.

As we left all three of us had an unmistakable impression that the Lord has a plan for both churches working together.  I believe the Lord has been preparing the ground for this relationship for a long time.  He certainly has with me.

I ask you to pray for this relationship.  They have a wonderful worship team (that’s what his daughter did, teach music and dance) and with our music and their music, we could see a Sunday night healing and worship service at Gateway.  With Tom and Haydee praying and ministering to people and the laying on of hands for healing, I can see Mark 1-3 becoming a reality in the life of our church!

Lord: Please keep our hearts open to your leading.  Give us boldness to step out and walk places you direct us with confidence and courage.  I pray for Efrain and Haydee and their family for their loss at this most sacred time of year.  Thank for helping us get through 2010 and thank you ahead of time for the miracles you are going to do in our midst in 2011.

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.

Today is Monday the 6th of December.  Julia and I are on the very last leg of a 4500 mile 2 week trip.  We are literally out of gas.  Yet we are encouraged by the events of the last several days.  By now, everyone knows about our new Pastoral appointment, Tom Atkins.  I have spoken to Tom several times while on the road and I am incredibly excited about his arrival.  Several things have happened to give me great encouragement about our church.

Tom asked us to read “Fresh wind, Fresh fire”.  Since we were on the road I downloaded the audio version of the book.  We listened to it as we were passing through the various moonscapes of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico.  Like many of you, I read the book years ago, but had forgotten it.  Well as we listened to the book my heart was stirred with passion for the mission I believe God has asked us to complete: Helping People Experience God!

Over the last year I have been asking questions of God, Tom, Frieda, Hope, Missy, Julia and anyone else that will listen to me.  I’ve been trying to see how we accomplish our goals.  Who is our target audience?  Who will lead us?  How do we get there?  I’ve not felt comfortable with the various “program” approaches that have been suggested.  While these were not bad in and of themselves, I knew our growth and success would not be because we did so many mailers to such and such neighborhood with a given response and we would get “X” number of members.

I am reminded of one of my favorite scriptures, 1 Corinthians 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. 

My question concerning this scripture has been “What would it look like today if a Christian resolved to do the same thing Paul did?”  As Julia and I listened to “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire”, I saw it clearly.  The growth “model” I have been looking for is in the book.  It is called Prayer.  Wow, Tom Atkins was telling me that upon our first conversation and as the book unfolded, my heart was saying “yes, yes, yes ..  This is what we’ve been looking for”.

It is 05:30 in Meridian MS as I write this.  Julia and I will be leaving in a few minutes to head home.  I have much more to write and tell you about, especially from yesterday’s meeting at Gateway of Shreveport.   This church is a special church and will be intimately involved with us as we go forward.  In the meantime, please look at their website:

http://www.gatewayshreveport.com/

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Learn about them.  They are standing with us shoulder to shoulder as we weather the storms and they are praying with us.  Their church is a praying church.   The youth of the church came forward during worship and raised their hands and praised God!

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The leadership of the church called Julia and I up on the stage and they prayed for us, anointed us with oil and there were encouraging words of prophecy for us.  More will be coming later this week!

Please read “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire” as soon as you can!

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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.