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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: Testimony

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.


Tonight we had the first prayer gathering since we started reading “Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire”.  There were 7 people and while we really didn’t have a schedule or structure, we just started praying.  We prayed for our Sister church Gateway of Shreveport first and then the Lord opened our hearts and I started “scribing” the prayers.  It became apparent that no one was going to be able to read my writing so I decided to type the summary and then post it on our blog. 

We have taken some steps to encourage our young prayer ministry.  We have established a  prayer journal at the front of the church on the communion table.  In it will be the summary of the weekly prayer time and a place where you can write prayer requests.  In addition, there will be 3X5 cards you can take and write prayers for us to pray over or use it to copy a prayer request and take home to pray for.

This ministry is just beginning.  As the old saying goes a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  This is a first step of what will be many steps as we move into the fulfillment of the ministry God has called us to.  Our partnership with Gateway of Shreveport is really important as we have a sister church fighting with the same issues we are and they too need our help and support.

Here is the summary of our first meeting:

I.    Gateway of Shreveport – 5 Things
     .    Finances
     .    Annual Business meeting January 26th
     .    Pastoral Staff Wisdom
     .    Annual missions conference in February
     .    Increase in souls saved
II.    Gateway of Athens
     .    Pastoral team: Wisdom, vision and leadership
        1.    Tom Atkins (Lead Pastor): Both houses will sell.
        2.    Bob Beckwith
        3.    Joseph Slife
        4.    Gene Acuff
     .    Finances
     .    We gave thanks for Dr.  Whetstone and his leadership and sensitivity as we finish this very difficult year of 2010.
     .    Remnant of both congregations: The people that stayed in both churches would find strength and help as they move forward in faith and remain faithful the calling God has laid on their lives.
     .    Tom Atkins: Tom has a heavy travel schedule due to his evangelistic association.  We pray for God to protect him and keep him safe.
     .    Holy Spirit: We pray for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit.  We give Him permission to convict us of the things we need conviction of.
     .    Christmas Eve Service
     .    Alex and Audrey and entire music team: We asked the Lord to guide Alex and the music team to minister as He wants them too.  We prayed for special anointing for all members as they play and worship.
     .    Rudy and Martha Baker: We thanked God for their ministry in the role of interim pastor.
     .    Fresh wind, Fresh Fire: We thanked God for guiding us through Tom to this book.  We asked for wisdom and vision for Tom Crane as he works through this book.
     .    Show us how to minister the way you want us to minister Father.
     .    Alton prayed for both churches and their general business needs.
     .    Alton prayed for prosperity to our homes.
     .    We asked God to guide us in Stewardship.
    ♡.    We prayed for the Lord to guide us to opportunities for ministry as we go through our daily schedules.  We asked for boldness to speak when God leads us to new opportunities.

Special Note:

The pastor from the Latina Mission (our old Boggs Chapel building) showed up towards the end of our meeting.  His 37 year old daughter just died from cancer.  Their church needs a much bigger building for the service and through Dr.  Whetstone’s leading, he suggested we offer Gateway.  We agreed and pastor Effriam came over to look at the building.  We invited him in and we started to pray for him.  He sat in a chair and we gathered around and prayed.  Frieda was weeping and asked God to minister as she knows the pain of losing a child of that age.  After a time of prayer, we suggested perhaps we could do joint services.  He was overjoyed with the idea.  So the Lord may well have opened an opportunity for us to have a combined service with the Latina Mission.  How exciting is that!!!!

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:

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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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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 …

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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!

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

Recently I read an article in the USA Today called: The game-changer: spirituality.  The article is an attempt to prove that in order to be “spiritual” you don’t have to be religious.

As I read the article I was struck by two specific thoughts.

The first thought was this is designed to confuse people and make them “feel” good about life without having to deal with God.  Dennis Dennet (so called “new atheist”)  was quoted in the article: “I have times when I am just transported with awe and joy and a sense of peace and wonder at, whether it’s music or art or just a child playing or some other wonderful thing off of my sailboat, being amazed at the beauty of the Ocean.  I think people make the mistake of thinking that spirituality, in that sense, has anything to do with either religious doctrines or with immateriality or the supernatural.”  Romans address this very thing in chapter 1:

Rom 1:19-22 For that which is known about God is evident to them {and} made plain in their inner consciousness, because God [Himself] has shown it to them. For ever since the creation of the world His invisible nature {and} attributes, that is, His eternal power and divinity, have been made intelligible {and} clearly discernible in {and} through the things that have been made (His handiworks). So [men] are without excuse [altogether without any defense or justification], Because when they knew {and} recognized Him as God, they did not honor {and} glorify Him as God or give Him thanks. But instead they became futile {and} godless in their thinking [with vain imaginings, foolish reasoning, and stupid speculations] and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools [professing to be smart, they made simpletons of themselves].

Mr. Dennet and his ilk miss the point so badly.  God is all around them and showing himself strong on their behalf, yet (as Jesus said concerning Jerusalem) “Ye would not!”  This is sad not only for Mr.  Dennet, but for those who WANT the truth, yet in searching for it are led astray by this “spiritual” type of thinking.  That leads me to the second thought.

This is exactly the position Gateway was designed for.  We can be that safe harbor for people that are desperately in need of finding God.  Our mission is to help people experience God.  People are in a mess and need to find help in the storms of life.  Gateway understands storms.  Gateway and the people that worship God as members of Gateway are storm tested veterans that know how to negotiate difficult waters.  Our position is unique among most churches.  Gateway is not the Church you go to “feel better” about yourself.  Gateway is a church you go to to meet with God, get healed and wrestle with life changing issues.  Gateway is a shelter in a time of storm.  The people of Gateway model John 13:34-35 I give you a new commandment: that you should love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you too should love one another. By this shall all [men] know that you are My disciples, if you love one another [if you keep on showing love among yourselves].

As the storm rages and the winds of discouragement, doubt and unbelief blow with hurricane force, it is our assigned task to stand strong and be on the lookout for those who are caught in the ravages of sin and the worlds system.

Lord: Help us to keep our focus on you.  Help us to keep our eyes open for all who need shelter from the storms of life and welcome them with open arms!

Julia and I will be gone this Sunday so we are going to miss our adult class and the council meeting on Monday night.  I was going to try to have something prepared for handing out that will give you some guidance in the upcoming overview of Jack Hayford’s book “Rebuilding the Real You”.  But since I can’t do that, I thought I would blog it for you.


The first class (Sept 19th) will set a background for the book.  I am going to give a brief testimony to tie together why I think this book is so powerful.  It is a very powerful book.  The concepts Jack brings forth are life changing and I want to give you a brief backdrop about why it is so important to me.  It will be very important for you to read the book of Nehemiah before you come to class.  If you are really ambitious, you could also read Ezra.  If you haven’t read these two books recently it would be a  good background for you.  Ezra will provide background for Nehemiah.  Depending on what type of Bible you use, you may have a good introduction about the book of Nehemiah.  If you don’t have a good introduction, then here is a link to a good overview of Nehemiah.

The reason I like the book so much is simple.  Jack Hayford addresses questions I’ve had and not been able to adequately answer.

If I’m saved, then why am I having so much trouble with issues from the past that seem to defy solution?

What is my responsibility in dealing with past issues and what is God’s responsibility?

Nehemiah has been a favorite book of mine for many years.  Charles Swindoll wrote a definitive management study of Nehemiah  “Hand Me Another Brick”.  His book made a very good analysis of Nehemiah’s management style.  (This is still one of my favorite books by Swindoll).  Jack Hayford however goes in a completely different direction.  Jack Hayford sees Nehemiah as a Holy Spirit “type” and the book is a picture of how the Holy Spirit works to rebuild your life after you experience the new birth.  This book is some 25 years old.  Evelyn told me last week that she was a member of Jack’s church for 8 years and she heard him do this teaching.  Talk to her on Sunday and ask her for her input.  She has a set of tapes that she says is completely worn out of Jack’s teaching on this.

I will have two weeks to communicate what’s in my heart about this important subject.  Join with me in prayer and ask God for guidance and an anointing beyond the normal for this very key study on September 19th and September 26th.