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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: Pruning

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.

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“The Goodness of God” by Randy Alcorn is a book that strikes a nerve deep within my heart.  He dives into a subject that has long been one of the most perplexing to mankind, “Why is there suffering and evil”.  My own testimony as well as that of so many others at Gateway is one where this question has more than passing relevance.  Everyone we know deals with this problem.  Some more than others. While we can always find someone who has experienced more or less than we have, the question always comes back to the big “Why”?

The author lays a foundation for us in the introduction to the book:

To come to grips with the problem of evil and suffering, you must do more than hear heart-wrenching stories about suffering people.  You must hear God’s truth to help you interpret those stories. … You will not find relief unless you gain perspective.

Before I started this study, these scriptures from Isaiah were forefront in my thinking:

Is 55:8-9 Amp 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.

The ideas that God “allows” suffering or the companion thought of God “causes” suffering to teach us are prevalent thoughts that I want to understand.  God “allows” everything, so for me, the idea that God “allows” my suffering is a non starter.  You will either go crazy trying to think your way around that particular thought or end up in a place that is unscriptural.  But the idea that God causes suffering and pain in order for us to learn about Him is difficult for me to accept.  Yet there are many great thinkers and Christian writers who seem to think that exact thought.

The purpose of this study is to get some of these ideas out in the open and wrestle with them.

There are a couple of other really good points in the introduction I want to touch on.  First of all, how we answer this question will radically affect the way we perceive our world and God’s place in it.  The problem of evil and suffering is the basis the “new atheists” claim they don’t believe in God.  So as Christians, we need to study and understand what God says about it.

2 Tim 3:16-17 Every Scripture is God-breathed (given by His inspiration) and profitable for instruction, for reproof {and} conviction of sin, for correction of error {and} discipline in obedience, [and] for training in righteousness (in holy living, in conformity to God’s will in thought, purpose, and action), So that the man of God may be complete {and} proficient, well fitted {and} thoroughly equipped for every good work.

The second benefit of this study will be in exposing what the author calls “inadequate theology”.  When evil and suffering show their ugly heads, you may discover (as I have) that your theological underpinnings simply won’t hold up under the weight of life.  This process of learning can be extremely difficult and painful.  It can then become a turning point in your Christian life.  The destruction of weak, inadequate theology is a good thing.  It is important that the foundation of our life is built on the solid ground of God’s word and not the shifting sands of popular ideas.

The idea of this study is for us to be able to understand the character of the Gateway community.  We have seen suffering and pain and God seems to send us those who need ministry in the difficult situations of life.  I believe in pursuing this study, we will see more clearly where God wants to take us and who we are a a body of believers.

I plan on supporting the book with other ideas and thoughts from many other authors.  I find this study is an ever expanding one for me.  I want to know what the great thinkers thoughts are on this subject.  Of course, what God says about it is what really counts.  I think following the paths and rabbit trails of life will give God plenty of room to work with as He teaches us more about His good character and His love.

One last thought, this blog will be less than effective if you don’t participate.  Please comment and post your thoughts.  Only in that way can we learn what God wants for us.

Tom called me the other day and told me he wasn’t going to be able to be in class on Sunday. We talked about going over the last chapter of the book but he basically told me to do whatever the Lord and I decided on. So I’ve been thinking about it and mulling over Sunday and suddenly, a thought came dancing across the fertile fields of my mind. Get people’s input and feedback on the class by giving them a couple of questions to ponder.

Good idea Lord, bet you wish you would have thought of it first huh?

So I have some questions for you to ponder. The goal here is to pick one and plan on sharing on Sunday your answers.

  1. How has your life been touched by the class?
  2. How has your life been changed by the class?
  3. Were there any tough places the class touched in your life? (Did the Lord touch some really sore areas)
  4. What is the one thing you took away from the class that you will remember the most?

I personally am going to answer question 4. I thought about doing it here, but I’m going to wait until Sunday. In order for this to work, we all need to be there and start on time. If you are late, come in anyway, you are among friends! I plan on starting at exactly 09:30, give or take 15 minutes. That will ensure we have time for all to speak. For example, let’s say there are 15 people there. Then each would get about 3 minutes. We all know it won’t be this structured, but humor me and let me think it will until Sunday.

Personally, I want to thank Tom Crane for his faithfulness in teaching this class. He has been a faithful friend and servant of the Lord whose heart reflects the Love of Jesus and a desire to be the best he can be for Christ. It was a wonderful class full of challenges and the love of Christ.

I will see you all on Sunday!

The Lay Leader

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.

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.