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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: The Unexpected

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!

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. 

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!

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.

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.