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Wit and Wisdom of Gateway Church Athens GA

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

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.


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.

I was on a trip this week and had to pick a colleague up at the airport.  While waiting on him, I engaged in one of my favorite past times, watching people.  I noticed a young man with a t-shirt that had a slogan in bold on the back.  “Engage the culture” and then there were a couple of scriptures backing it up.

When I had the chance I asked him “Engage the culture, what does that look like?”.

“Huh?” he mumbled in surprised response.

“I noticed the back of your shirt and I wondered what engaging the culture looked like.”

“Oh that was a slogan from our church conference.”

Then he went on about his business and I went on about mine.  But I couldn’t shake the incident.  Here was a young man that boldly wore a shirt proclaiming the more than noble goal of engaging a corrupt culture for Christ and when asked about it, didn’t have a clue what it meant, let alone what it was.  To him, it was a shirt from a church conference.  Now I don’t want to be too hard on the young man and base opinions about him on one chance encounter in an airport.  Yet there is something about the encounter that disturbs me.  It’s not about the young man either.  It’s about me.

I hope that I don’t represent to God that I am willing to engage our modern culture for Christ and when an opportunity to do so arises, I miss it.  If I am going to “wear a shirt” proclaiming my willingness to engage, I better be ready to engage, or don’t wear the shirt!

Over the last couple of days my colleague and I have had ample opportunity to discuss Christ (he’s also a Christian) and I listened to his testimony.  He had a great statement that I think is worth holding on to.

He starts his day with this simple prayer: “Lord, I invite you to be a part of my life today.”

With that simple prayer he launches into the stress of corporate life, (no easy task I might add).

I think that’s a great prayer for me and I intend to use it each day as I launch out in my little boat into the deep waters of daily life.

Lord: I invite you into my life today.  Help me to be ready to engage the culture when the opportunity is presents itself.   If I am not ready, help me to get ready.

I have been very busy this week, “back on the road again” so to speak.  I had a an interesting experience that I wanted to share though.  I think it is rather pertinent to our discussion on the “Secrets of the Vine”.

As I was headed towards Greensboro on I 40 and I saw a sign that said “RayLen vineyards and winery – tours this way.”  So … I went “this way”.

What a great experience.  It was exciting to shut off the phone and do something I wanted to do.  Especially since it was associated with our Sunday school class.  I stopped on the road as I went in and took this picture.  This was a row that hadn’t been pruned in a while as far as I could tell.  It was in need of pruning.  I was excited wondering if I would be able to see one in the mud on the ground but no such luck.

The Vineyard 007

I went up to the main office area and low and behold there was a wine tasting going on.  I walked in and met 4 of the friendliest people you could imagine.  They were delightful.  I told them I was there to learn about vineyards and that our class was studying John 15.  At that point I learned the make up of our little group.  There was a Baptist pastor and his wife, a Catholic lady that moved in from California and the man serving the wine informed us all that he was a reformed Presbyterian!  So add a Methodist and you have the makings of a fun wine tasting experience.

The Vineyard 005

I must admit I did taste the wine and I will also admit it was very good!  But the interesting part was the answers to the questions I asked.  I asked about vines growing along the ground.  I was told that wouldn’t happen there because they simply wouldn’t allow that to happen.  However he did tell me something interesting.  He told me that from the time things start happening in April until the harvest time in August/September they have problems all the time.  Insects, mites, fungus, rain and on and on it goes.  I think there is a good lesson here and I would love to talk about it in class on Sunday.

The Vineyard 011

Here you see the results of pruning.  I was quite interested in this because of the contrast with the first picture of the un-pruned first rows I saw coming in the vineyard.

The Vineyard 013

Here is a close up of the pruned branches.  (I wondered if it hurt when it saw the foliage on the ground?)

The Vineyard 009

Here is a section of grapes (can you see them there?) that hasn’t been pruned.

The Vineyard 008

Here is a section that is growing fruit and still to be pruned.

The Vineyard 013

Here is the closely pruned branch with grapes clearly showing.

Before I left I mentioned I was from Athens and they told me that Chateau Elan would be a great resource for us to talk to.  I spoke to Tom and I think it would be a great idea for us as a class to plan a Saturday trip to Chateau Elan and find out about growing grapes from the people that do it for a living!

What think ye?????

Rom 11:24 For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and against nature grafted into a cultivated olive tree, how much easier will it be to graft these natural [branches] back on [the original parent stock of] their own olive tree.

In yesterday’s class, we talked about John 15:1-8.  As I began to think about that, I was drawn to Paul’s comments in Romans 11 when speaking of the grafting in process.  I think there is much gold to be mined in this subject.  I went back and read the verses in Romans just to put a framework on my thoughts.  Paul was speaking of gentiles being “grafted in” to the Jewish nation as a wild olive shoot.  The point is that God took a wild olive and grafted it into a cultivated plant to produce fruit.

When I look at the two passages and compare them I notice something striking.  It seems Paul is talking about the process of conversion while Jesus is assuming conversion has already taken place.  Jesus speaks of the plant processes AFTER the grafting in has taken place.  He speaks of producing fruit.

Paul on the other hand is speaking of the process of grafting in of a wild olive.  This is the conversion process.  Without the grafting there would be no possibility of producing fruit.

I have a background and training in growing things.  I understand fertilization and how plants grow.  I’m from Indiana and I understand corn.  I grew up surrounded by corn fields (although I did live in a house … I don’t want you to think I grew up in a field!).  As Gene rightly points out, there is a lot of work in farming corn.  But Jesus addresses an important point about this:

Mark 4:26 – 29 And He said, The kingdom of God is like a man who scatters seed upon the ground, And then continues sleeping and rising night and day while the seed sprouts and grows {and} increases–he knows not how. The earth produces [acting] by itself–first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe {and} permits, immediately he sends forth [the reapers] {and} puts in the sickle, because the harvest stands ready.

The farmer plants and harvests, but God gives the growth.  The growth happens based on God’s time table not because of anything we do.  You don’t’ have to do anything to corn for it to grow. 

This is not so with the vine.  It has to be attended to be fruitful.  Jesus points out that without Him, you can do nothing!  The fruit God wants you to bear is not something you can gin up with your own efforts.  This growth requires effort by the master of the vineyard.

As I think of this I am reminded of Peggy Jo and here recent testimony.  God has been working her vine, pruning and dressing it and helping her to produce fruit.  I know in my life, I’m experiencing some of the same things.  All of us are.  Close your eyes and think back to the last year in our class.  You can see the hand of the master gardener in all of our lives.

Lord: The process of pruning and cultivation of my vine is difficult.  I don’t like it at times.  Then there are times I don’t see any value in the work that has been done.  I don’t see grapes.  I think I should see grapes all the time, but I don’t.  I know you see my life differently than I do.  You know the beginning and the end.  Help me to relax and know that you know what you’re doing and according to Phil 1:6, you will complete the process!

I read the first chapter of the book “Secrets of the Vine” this morning.  Ok I must admit I was wrong about it.  Perhaps because of my background when someone starts writing a book about abundance I see dollar signs.  Ok I was wrong.  This book doesn’t APPEAR to be about the prosperity Gospel.  (I’m still from Missouri on this though!)

In the preface the author speaks of abundance and how badly God wants it for our lives.  Then he makes a rather incredible statement:

“And you’ll be relieved to know you never need to misread his ways in your life again.”

Whoa!  That’s a mouthful.  Does the author really believe I can hear and see that clearly after reading his book?  While this is certainly a lofty goal, you’ll have to excuse me if I seem a bit skeptical about it.

I have a Barnes and Nobel “Nook” (E-Book reader) and I purchased a bible study book to go along with the main book.  It’s a 4 week course you can stretch to 8 weeks and it covers the main points of the book.  I read the book and then went to the bible study.  He asks a couple of really important questions right up front.

1.    What do I believe about what my life should “produce” for God?
2.    What have you accomplished in your life so far that might be eternally important from God’s point of view?

These are great starter questions.  If the book helps me answer these questions accurately, then this is going to be one great class!

Because of my “Law Guy” background, I can give you a list a mile long on the first question.  If I answered it honestly I would be say that my life should be somewhere between John the Baptist and Billy Graham.  There would be no small number of people saved through my ministry and I would have a number of qualities that would draw people to Christ.  Those qualities would be a great orator, a great writer (so I can write books like “Secrets of the Vine”), a great teacher (so I can teach about the great things I write about), a great theologian (so I can theorize about how God is pleased with the great things I write and speak about) and finally I would be a great preacher (so people can hear the great things I write and teach about on a weekly basis).  So much for the first question.

Now on to the tough question.  What have I actually done.  In this case I feel I am somewhere between Ralph Cramden and Archie Bunker.  Ralph is a rather common fellow with big ideas yet he can never actually pull them off.  Archie Bunker is … well Archie Bunker. 

For my life, bringing these two questions into some type of meaningful balance is the challenge.  I am neither of the answers above.  I am somewhere in between and I need to judge correctly how God sees my life.  My honest hopes are this class will provide a framework for an honest evaluation.

We’ll see!