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Wit and Wisdom of Gateway Church Athens GA

As we begin our new church life … so too a new blog!

On Feb 6th I was the guest speaker at Mision Latina in Athens.  My good friend Roque and my “should-have-been-my-daughter” Claire came along for the ride.

The entire experience was enchanted.  From the moment I walked into the building I was warmly greeted and I felt as if I belonged there.  A little more than 22 years ago was the first day I stepped into this ancient edifice.

Sunday represented a full circle for me, and I might add a very emotional one.  Mision Latina has taken this building and done about all they can with it.  As my good friend Joseph Slife once said, “It’s hard to do 21st century ministry in a 19th century building”.  Yet, Mision Latina is doing just that.  As the service opened, there were testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love.  One particular testimony stood out to me.  (I will get back to this testimony in a little bit.)

As the singing opened, the Holy Spirit touched my heart and I simply drank in the love and worship these brothers and sisters in the Lord offered to God.  The more they sang, the deeper I was drawn into their lives.  Since I don’t understand Spanish and I don’t sing well I was able to enjoy the worship time in a special way.  I closed my eyes and began to sing in the spirit.  It sounded a bit like Spanish, so I blended right in.  As they progressed through the songs I watched each participant as they played their instruments and they danced and worshiped and sang to the Lord.  I was so overwhelmed by the love and mercy of God that I understood why Peter said at the Mount of Transfiguration, “Let’s just build a house and stay here.”  It was that good.

When it came time for me to speak, Haydee introduced me and Efrain was the translator.  While I don’t speak Spanish fluently, the 4 years of Spanish 1 I flunked in school has left its mark on me.  I can read Spanish and not do too bad a job of pronunciation.  Using Google translator, I developed some phrases that spoke of the desire of my heart.  We prayed and I launched into my talk.

I spoke of Mark 4:35-41 and Acts 12:1-8.  The term that developed from this talk was “La Pista de la vida” or the “Life track”.  Basically the idea is in the book of Mark, Peter saw Jesus asleep in the back of the boat during a life threatening storm.  In the book of Acts Peter had learned how to be peaceful in the eye of the storm as he slept soundly the night before he was to be executed.  I wanted them to experience this type of peace in the storms of life they face.

I told them how there were issues we needed to deal with up-front.   They are my born again brothers and sisters in the Lord and they have documentation problems.   How do we deal with it?  Not all of them have documentation problems, but many do.  So the question is what do we do as Christians to walk in God’s love and help one another?  I saw how these dear friends live in constant fear because of these problems.  What do we do?  I told them I didn’t care what the democrats say or what the republicans say.  I want to know what God says about it.

One of the basic elements of the Christian faith is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.  When I do that, I see things in a completely different light.  As I said earlier, one man spoke of how he came to the United States.  He was from El Salvador.  He was working there and making $270 a month.  He wanted to send his kids to college and needed a better job, so he came to the United States.  When I heard his testimony I was cut to the quick.  He was making $270 a MONTH!  I reflected to the Lord quietly my shame.  I am quite capable of going into Best Buy and blowing $270 on some electronic gizmo I don’t need simply to have a “new and improved” version, and to my eternal shame, I wouldn’t think twice about it.  Oh God forgive me please!

1st Samuel 18:1 As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 

This is what has happened to me.  Efrain Diaz is as Jonathan unto me.  I love this man and I thank God daily for bringing him into my life.  I thank God for bringing the plight of my Hispanic/Latino brothers and sisters in Christ into my heart.  There is nothing I can do at this time more important than to help them alleviate fear and walk in peace.  This will be a tough road though, yet I am in the boat with them.  Where their boat goes I go.  Their storms are my storms.  Their victories are my victories.

Lord: I have no answers to the difficult questions we need to answer, but you do.  Help me to listen oh so carefully as we move forward.  Give me courage to act on what you tell me to do and go where you tell me to go.  Bring across our paths the resources and ideas you want us to pursue.  Help my brothers and sisters in Christ and use me anyway you want to help them Lord.


What a wonderful meeting we had at Gateway last night.  The weather didn’t hold us back from meeting with Mision Latina to discuss going forward with our joint healing and praise service on February 13th.

In attendance for Gateway was Roque, Nancy, Andy, Tom A & Tom C and Rusty, with Frieda in the bullpen praying for us.

In attendance for Mision Latina was Alex, Carlos, Angela, Haydee and Efrain.

Tom A opened with prayer and we opened discussion with how to proceed with our Feb 13th prayer, praise and healing service.  We discussed other points of common interest such as children’s Easter egg hunt, homeless ministry and common interests.  There was such a wonderful spirit of love for each other that I simply can’t find the words to describe how I felt.  Haydee prayed to close and Efrain translated.  This is the second time I have been in Gateway when Haydee prayed with me.  The Holy Spirit shows Himself strong when this lady prays.  Tom C spoke to me last night and commented on the power of her prayer.

I sense as I haven’t sensed before this is where Gateway begins a new phase of ministry.  2011 will be a year of wonderment at what God will do.  People are going to be healed, saved and delivered from demons.  This is what we are called to do.  All of the work Jerry and Beverly did built a strong foundation for us.  They got us ready to go forward and now, as a group, as a team we go forward to fulfilling that which God called us to do, “Helping People Experience God!”

It is vital that we pray for the Feb 13th meeting.  The enemy will do all he can to stop this joint effort.  I believe the Lord is going to use our partnership with Mision Latina to begin to heal the rift between the Anglo and Latina communities.  God is in the healing business.  I believe this will be the start of a work in the Athens area that will spread to Atlanta and other communities as a model of how to work together in Christian love to honor God, each other and overcome cultural barriers that have long separated us.

Efrain and I were talking the other day.  He told me the Lord laid a specific scripture on his heart and he wanted me to look at it.

Revelation 5:8-13 (ESV)

8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” 11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” 13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

He pointed out to me that the prayers of the saints are being presented to God in golden bowls that are FULL.  That means they have been going on for a while.  He also pointed out that Jesus’s blood ransomed EVERY tribe and tongue.  That would include Latina and Anglo as well as German, Russian, Abyssinian, Arab and anyone else in the world!

I believe the Lord is giving us an opportunity to do something special.  We are going to walk hand in hand with the Latina community to worship God and to love and help one another to become the people of God He desires us to be.  We as a body will experience God as we reach out to others who are different and realize they worship the same Lord we do.  They are not different from us nor we from them in the crucial elements of the faith.  Oh there are differences for sure.  I am excited to experience those differences under the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ.  I am even more excited to see people in the community come for healing and be healed as Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the risen Lord and Saviour does in 2011 what he did in the new testament, “destroy the works of the devil!”

Lord: We love you and each other.  Help the love we feel for one another grow.  In areas where we don’t love one another, give us courage to bring those areas to you for healing.  Thank you for what you are doing in our community.  Help us to go forward together as one under the strong banner of the Lion of Judah!

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”.

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.

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!!!!

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.