Friday, March 30, 2012

Mega Millions doesn't equal Mega Wealth

  At some point tonight, a computer will pick some random numbers, and an individual, or perhaps several individuals, may find themselves elated at the reality that they are $640 million richer.  Well, they'll have $640 million more money--whether their lives are any richer depends on how you define wealth.  There are scores of tales of woe associated with large lottery jackpots--tales of lives ruined, destroyed by the sudden accumulation of wealth.  Just google 'lottery winner horror stories' and you'll quickly find countless stories of how money corrupted people's lives.  Here is a link to some short examples.  

  It's amazing to see the pictures of people lined up outside grocery and convenience stores waiting to buy their tickets.  I wonder what it is about the astronomical jackpots that brings people out--when the jackpot is $5 million, wouldn't that be similarly life-changing?  My dad and I were talking last night, and he mentioned that it would be far more beneficial to society if 1,280 people won $500,000 rather than 1 person winning $640 million.  

  But the success of the lottery is based on dreams.  And I'm not going to pretend that I'm above dreaming--I'm sure I could come up with plans for $640 million, or whatever it ends up after taxes.  I could have fun spending $20 million a year for the next 25 years--and I can even pretend that I'm stable enough that it wouldn't ruin me, that I could spend it for good causes and spread it around to help those in need.  Oh, I'd certainly take some luxurious trips, and I'd fly first class, discovering what it's like to sit in those cushy seats up in the front of the plane, where legroom isn't just something to dream about as you cram your bag under the seat in front of you.  

  But I'm aware enough of my sinfulness to know that it would corrupt me, just as it has so many others--for money has such a powerful influence in our lives, in our society, in our world, that I wouldn't be immune from its power.  I'd begin to believe that money could solve any problem, and I'd listen to the siren song of riches corrupt the relationships in my life.  I know that, despite every good intention, sudden wealth can be far more of a curse than a blessing.

  In 1 Timothy, Paul writes to Timothy that we should be exhorted to 'be rich in good deeds'.  I think this definition of wealth is far richer than one that defines it solely based on money.  Having money allows us to be fiscally generous, but I think that when we look at wealth as the sum of all the blessings that God has put into our lives, be it family or friends or a church community, gifts that allow us to work and share with the community, love and laughter and beauty, we begin to see a more full picture of what it means to be wealthy.  A community of people to dwell with us in the darkest parts of life and celebrate with us on the mountaintops is a far greater gift than a vast sum of money.  When we measure wealth with an eternal view, one looking at God's kingdom rather than this world's kingdom, we begin to see wealth defined as how we live and interact with others, and we see relationships as far more valuable than money.  Someone who loves us through thick and thin is far better than a fancy car.  Faith in a God who is willing to die for us can never be replaced by the nicest mansion.  Trust that death is only a shadow through which we pass gives us a peace of mind that money cannot purchase.  

  Money can do wonderful things in this world.  The lack of it can cause stress and anxiety that can affect every part of life.  But money cannot solve the deepest questions of life, and it cannot replace the relationships that matter most.  Money cannot buy us God's love--for that is given freely, and the ability to accept that and live within God's grace is far more valuable than anything that can be won in a lottery drawing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

3/29 E-News


Announcements

Easter Party—Saturday, March 31 there will be an Easter Party for the kids here at church from 12-3.

Concert Tomorrow NightAndy Davis will be at Track 29 tomorrow night to put on a benefit concert for Chattanooga's Habitat for Humanity Young Professionals. Come and enjoy some great music for a great cause!

The Westside Community Association invites your church to march with us in “The March to Support the Right to Housing”. On Tuesday, April 3 beginning at 5 PM, public and subsidized housing residents, family, friends, and supporters will be marching to the Chattanooga City Council to demand that they make the right to housing a priority for our city and that no more of our homes and communities be destroyed!

New Hope News

Holy Week Schedule:
Maundy Thursday: 7:00 service @ New Hope.
Good Friday: 12:00 at Coolidge Park.
Easter Egg Hunt: 9:30 on 4/8
Sunrise Service: 7:15 @ New Hope.
Sunday Worship: 10:45

Sunday School—We'll be diving into Ruth this Sunday morning @ 9:45 in the McMillan Building.

Outreach Committee—Meets at 6 on Wednesday, 4/4


Pray for:

David Smith

Madeline Sims, who is back home after falling on Tuesday evening.

Alex Meulenberg—only a week until he is confirmed!


Links







Text for Sunday, April 1

Psalm 118

A Song of Victory


O give thanks to the 
Lord, for he is good;
   his steadfast love endures for ever! 

Let Israel say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let the house of Aaron say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let those who fear the 
Lord say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’ 

Out of my distress I called on the 
Lord;
   the 
Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the 
Lord on my side I do not fear.
   What can mortals do to me?
The 
Lord is on my side to help me;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the 
Lord
   than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the 
Lord
   than to put confidence in princes. 

All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the 
Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the 
Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
   they blazed like a fire of thorns;
   in the name of the 
Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the 
Lord helped me.
The 
Lord is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation. 

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the 
Lord does valiantly;
   the right hand of the 
Lord is exalted;
   the right hand of the 
Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the 
Lord.
The 
Lord has punished me severely,
   but he did not give me over to death. 

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the 
Lord

This is the gate of the 
Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it. 

I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the 
Lord’s doing;
   it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the 
Lord has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O 
Lord!
   O 
Lord, we beseech you, give us success! 

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the 
Lord.
   We bless you from the house of the 
Lord.
The 
Lord is God,
   and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
   up to the horns of the altar. 

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God, I will extol you. 

O give thanks to the 
Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.



New Hope on Facebook & Twitter
New Hope on iTunes

3/29/2012

Lord,
  I pray that I might be able to see the world this morning with kingdom eyes--that I might not see as rich and poor, as powerful or meek, but rather that I would see all people as beloved by you.  I know that your son perished on the cross for each one of us, and yet I will confess that I often do not give my full attention to some.  Perhaps I am too busy, too distracted, or too caught up in what I am doing--my priorities are often not your priorities.  Help me to live a life that is centered on a deep and abiding selfless love, that all I do might proclaim your glory.

Amen

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

3/28/2012

Holy God,
  I give you thanks for the day you have made.  I give you thanks for the love that you pour out upon your creation--it's a free gift, one we haven't earned, one we don't deserve.  You didn't have to make this day, but you do so and give it away, in the hopes that we might see its beauty and celebrate your name.
  You call your people to live a life that is rooted in gratitude, and you long to bless all the people of the world through your faithful ones.  I pray that this life might be a window to the cross, that the light of your love might shine through me today.  You are my God and my Savior, and I hope that I might be able to live in such a way today that others might see your love working in and through me.  Perhaps they may come to know you through my words or my deeds.  May my heart beat only for you, Lord, and may I give thanks for the way you reach out to me in love.

Amen

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Oh No!


Do you know what isn't cool?

Other than taxes, tornadoes and turmoil?

Ear infections.

And Caleb has one.

  As I mentioned in my last critically-acclaimed post, Caleb stayed home on Friday for the purpose of keeping him healthy.  In this attempt, we completely and utterly failed.  For this failure, I blame the cats.

  By Saturday, Caleb had a nasty cough.  It wasn't one of those cute coughs, either, but the type of cough that sounds like there is something more than air coming up.  Sounds disgusting, right?  Every time he coughed, Rachel and I would look at each other with feelings of sorrow upon our faces--it sounded so sad and, more importantly, so not healthy.  I thought that my attempt to keep him healthy by keeping him home had failed, so I kicked the cat.  (editor's note:  Keith didn't actually kick the cat.  No cats were harmed in the writing of this post.)


  By Sunday, it wasn't getting any better (the cough, not the Republican primary), so we decided to take him to the doctor on Monday morning.  Caleb wasn't running a fever (he can't run at all, actually, now that I stop to think about it.  I suppose we could say that he hadn't caught a fever, but anything his hands intersect with is just as much dumb luck as it is concerted effort on his part.), and he was smiling and playing at church, but the cough sounded serious.

  So Rachel took him to the doctor on Monday morning, and the doctor was pleased that he didn't have a fever, looked in one ear and saw that it was fine, looked in the other and promptly declared, "Oh.  I think I see the problem."

  Turns out Caleb has an ear infection.  Luckily, we caught it before it got too painful for him, meaning that he's asleep right now, rather than awake and screaming in pain, which means we'd probably be on our way to the hospital because, well, what else do you do with a screaming baby at midnight?  (editor's note:  Keith never even thought the word 'Benadryl' as a possible response to that question.)  The doctor said that while fluid was building up in Caleb's ear, it hadn't yet started to exert pressure on the eardrum, meaning that it wasn't causing much pain, only making fluid drain down his throat, leading to the cough.

  The downside is that we have to put Caleb on antibiotics.  I hate the thought of putting him on antibiotics at such a young age--I know how harmful they can be to your digestive tract.  While they kill the bad bacteria, they also kill a lot of good bacteria.  (While 'a lot' is not a very scientific number, it's a rough estimate)  I worry that they may harm his stomach for the time being, but there's no alternative that doesn't end in screaming baby, pain, and a trip to the hospital.  The infection needs to be dealt with, so we'll do this and move forward, hoping that the antibiotic doesn't do too much harm.

  So we're grateful to have caught it in time, to spare him the pain as well as sparing us the 3 a.m. screaming baby problem.  (Note:  this is when you know your doctor understands children--when he states that Caleb won't start crying at four in the afternoon or 8 the next morning, when the solution is fairly easy, but at 3 in the morning, when nothing else is open)

  Hopefully, in the morning Caleb will be cured, the sun will be shining, Rachel will have had a full night's rest, Keith will have determined how to be a faithful pastor, the world will be at peace and Uncle Sam will offer to give Keith a red, white and blue Ferrari to help spread the spirit of patriotism in our fair country.

  (I will be perfectly happy if only the first three happen.  The fourth and fifth are dreams of mine, and I don't really want a Ferrari.  I'd just feel guilty driving it.  Although the first week would be glorious.)

3/27/2012

Dear God,
  I give you thanks for another morning, one in which you reach out to us in love and forgiveness.  I wake this morning knowing that I have a Savior who died on the cross for me, knowing that I am washed clean in the blood of the lamb, knowing that without you intervening I would be destined for destruction.  Without you, I have no hope for my future--without you, my sins overwhelm, and I drown in an ocean of despair.  But with you, I am renewed, reborn, washed clean, and my hope is set on high, for the light has burst forth from the empty tomb, and new life springs up from the soil that surrounds the cross, watered by the blood of the one who came to save, who came to give life.  May gratitude wash over this soul, and may it guide my every breath, my every thought, that this day might be an offering to you.
Amen

Monday, March 26, 2012

Budgets

Since it was handed to me some months ago, I've been struggling with this chart:


  Now, I want to confess now that I don't pretend to have any answers, that I don't believe that New Hope is a church failing in the calling that Christ has given to us, or that we need to change things.  But I've been staring at this chart for months, and it leaves me deeply uncomfortable.  Why?

  I'm glad you asked.

  67% of our budget is spent on payroll and benefits.  For those of you without a calculator handy, that's roughly $114,000, spread (unequally) between six individuals (nursery worker, youth director, secretary, music director, organist, pastor).

  19% of our budget is spent on utilities, insurance/taxes & maintenance.  Stuff that comes with having a building.

  8% of our budget is spent on benevolences, from missionaries to Madagascar to local mission and various things in between.  I'm pretty happy with this--if every individual in the church gave 8% of their budget to mission, I imagine that would be an improvement.  I'd like to see this number be 20% of the church budget, but 8% is a good start.

  6% is spent on committee work.  This includes everything from stamps for cards that an elder sends out to funding Vacation Bible School.  I think we are good stewards of this 6%.

  I'm wrestling with the overall picture of this chart.  Maybe that's the most faithful way to spend this money.  Maybe we're doing everything we should be, and I'm just feeling guilty, since I'm the largest line item in the budget.  Maybe it's part of my anxiety because I don't see new faces in the pews and so I put pressure on myself.  I believe that a portion of that 67% of our budget is part of our outreach, part of our equipping of the disciples.  I don't at all believe that it is wasted or misspent.

  Or maybe the way we need to think about how we do church needs to change.  Maybe we need to flip everything on its head, to reverse those numbers, so that the largest portion of our budget is money that leaves the church and goes out into the community.  Now, giving money blindly doesn't do a whole lot of good if it's not followed by new relationships and deepened fellowship.  But maybe we need to think about how we're investing ourselves in our community.

  I don't know what the answer is.  But I believe it's good to ask questions.  Should some 21st century churches consider all-volunteer staff, people who have different vocations but are called to lead the church in teaching and preaching, leaving some of the other work of full-time ministry to those called with certain gifts and time to do them?  Does the church simply pay some people, like a secretary and perhaps a few others, while asking others to serve bi-vocationally?

  Does this make us the best stewards of our resources?  Or is it doing something different for the sake of change?  I don't pretend that any one model is the most faithful--but I do believe it's important for each church to consider what is the most faithful.  Christ gives individuals as well as churches different gifts, and we are called to discern our own path with honesty and humility--and maybe we need to change.

  Or maybe we don't.  I'm not sure.  I do believe that this congregation, like all the others on the planet, is imperfect and sinful.

  I just want us to be as perfect as possible.  And to do so may require asking some tough questions, and the answers may be even tougher.  But that doesn't mean they're unnecessary.

  I've just been wrestling with it all.

3/26/2012

Lord,
  This world is moving quickly.  We race through life, and while we often decry how fast it is going, we often end up speeding it up by our decisions.  We look for faster ways to get places, faster internet and faster methods.  Speed is addictive.

  While we're moving so quickly, I pray for the courage and wisdom to slow down, to play in your wondrous creation, to rest in your marvelous grace, and to acknowledge that you lead me in paths that are healthy and faithful.  Because I choose not to follow them, I suffer the afflictions of being disconnected and frantic.  You call me to another way of life, one not pursuing a restless busy-ness for the sake of my own confusion between busy-ness and importance.  You call me to a life filled with Sabbath rest, with trust in you, with listening to your voice.

  Thank you, Lord, for the grace to not give up on me, for hope and light for the dark valleys of life, and for the Word to which I cling.

Amen

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Remember your Baptism!


Psalm 1:1-3

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

The Psalmist talks about how the one who follows the Lord is like a tree, planted by streams of water. I think of my baptism like I think of the planting of a tree—no one plants a tree and hopes that it will never change, but the act of planting a tree is a radical act of hope. The planter is daring that in spite of the storms and droughts of life, this tree will sink its roots deep into the ground and dare to reach for the heavens.

Just as many of us do not remember the planting of the trees that surround our lives, I don't remember my baptism. I am told it was a beautiful day in Austin, but it scarcely matters—what matters is that, on that day, a course was set for my life, a commitment was made, and I began to grow. I began to grow slowly, and sometimes I still grow very slowly. My roots were put into the ground, but there was much work to be done, just as there still is, in sinking those roots securely, in learning about God, in growing in Christ. Much of my life of faith is done below ground, where it cannot be seen. But I grow in visible ways, too. With each passing year I hope to stretch myself a little closer to God, to reach for the heavens that linger beyond where I can ever grow. But I strive nonetheless to grow in my faith, to let my whole life be growth toward God.

That is my baptism to me—a planting of a life near the river of life, where true life alone can be found. It is a recognition of Christ's claim on my life and a promise, made on my behalf, that I will live a life in response to God, one that will bear witness to the world that I live according to God's grace. Hopefully, this life will bear fruit for God's glory, that others may yearn to sink their roots near the same river of life and stretch for the same heavens. Not only do we stretch upward, but we stretch out as well—reaching out to our neighbors, testifying to the goodness of God, proclaiming that this water of life is richer than anything we could imagine. My baptism was a beginning for me, and I trust that when this mortal life is over, I will complete my baptism and pass through the shadow of death into life more beautiful than I can imagine. I will not cease to grow—rather, I believe that as a tree sheds its leaves so that it can burst forth with life anew in the spring, I will be transformed by the selfless love of God.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Toys!

  In the first of what I'm sure will be many attempts to keep Caleb away from any possible harm, we decided to keep Caleb home from daycare today.  A few kids in his class have RSV, which I discovered last night is basically a cold, although it has the rare chance of developing into something a bit more serious, so we figured that we'd just keep him at home today.  I didn't have much to do today, since I don't have to preach on Sunday, so I thought it would be a nice break to have Caleb at home.

  It's tempting to say that I don't accomplish much when Caleb is at home.  By the standards of the working world, perhaps that is true.  But when I stop and consider it, I think what I do on days like today is far more important than anything else I could do--on days like today, I'm doing my part to help Caleb grow up knowing that he is loved, that he is valued, that he has my full support.  On days like today, I'm reveling in God's amazing gift of Caleb, giving thanks for the chance to love a child.  On days like today, I can simply sit in wonder as this boy grows up before my eyes, playing with toys and focusing intently on whatever it is I set before him.  It's tempting to hope he falls asleep so I can be 'productive', but the time I spend with him is far more productive than I may ever know or understand.

  It's been a tough go around the Jones household lately when it comes to Caleb.  We don't know if he's teething, but something in his life has caused him to decide that sleeping through the night, while enjoyable, isn't nearly as cool as getting the chance to see mom or dad in the wee hours of the morning.  When we hear the monitor click on the soft wails come through, we just sigh, wondering what on earth it could be.  It's frustrating and tiring, but we continue to remind ourselves how blessed we are that he has been such a great baby.  We're exhausted, but trying to be grateful.

  And one more thing... if you're driving by our house and hear a repeated thumping sound, those are Caleb's legs flailing against his mattress.  I don't know why, but he pounds his legs up and down on the mattress, even when he's sound asleep.  You can hear it in every part of the house when he really gets going.  It's just strange.  But we love him anyway, and are fairly certain at this point that we're going to keep him!

Sermon Things

  For those of you waiting with bated breath, wondering why no sermon was posted last Sunday, I offer relief.  Here's a link to the sermon that was never posted.  Also, there won't be a sermon posted this Sunday, because the service will be led by our youth director.

March 23, 2012

Lord,

  This day is filled with possibility.  You have created and called it good, and I rejoice in the beauty you have made.  From the pollen to the tulips, Lord, it all belongs to you--and while I suppose there are moments when I am not grateful for pollen, I am trying to accept it as a necessary part of spring!

  I don't know what this day will hold, Lord, but I pray that the Spirit might give me the strength to resist the devil's temptations so that I might stay faithful to you.  May I not get caught up in countless little tasks, but rather find a way to focus on you in all that I am doing.  I believe that everything, even relaxation, brings a chance to focus on you, so I pray that I can do that today.  May this blessed day be an offering to you.

  Amen

Thursday, March 22, 2012

March 22 E-News


Announcements

Easter Party—Saturday, March 31 there will be an Easter Party for the kids here at church from 12-3.

Men's Breakfast This Saturday, 8 am. We'll have some pancakes, and then we'll pull some weeds in the garden to try and prepare the garden for our gardeners.

New Hope News

Worship this Sunday—This Sunday, we'll be focused on baptism and confirmation as Mandy prepares our worship for the youth.

Easter Schedule:Maundy Thursday: 7:00 service @ New Hope. Good Friday: 12:00 at Coolidge Park. Sunrise Service: 7:15 @ New Hope. Sunday Worship: 10:45

Sunday School—We'll be diving into Judges this Sunday morning @ 9:45 in the McMillan Building.


Pray for:

David Smith

Josh

Alex Meulenberg—we celebrate his being approved by the session for confirmation, and we pray to support him throughout the process.


Links






Text for Sunday, April 1

Psalm 118

A Song of Victory


O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
   his steadfast love endures for ever! 

Let Israel say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let the house of Aaron say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’
Let those who fear the Lord say,
   ‘His steadfast love endures for ever.’ 

Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
   the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.
With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
   What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
   I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to put confidence in mortals.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord
   than to put confidence in princes. 

All nations surrounded me;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
They surrounded me like bees;
   they blazed like a fire of thorns;
   in the name of the Lord I cut them off!
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling,
   but the Lord helped me.
The Lord is my strength and my might;
   he has become my salvation. 

There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous:
‘The right hand of the Lord does valiantly;
   the right hand of the Lord is exalted;
   the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.’
I shall not die, but I shall live,
   and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has punished me severely,
   but he did not give me over to death. 

Open to me the gates of righteousness,
   that I may enter through them
   and give thanks to the Lord. 

This is the gate of the Lord;
   the righteous shall enter through it. 

I thank you that you have answered me
   and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
   it is marvellous in our eyes.
This is the day that the Lord has made;
   let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
   O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! 

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
   We bless you from the house of the Lord.
The Lord is God,
   and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
   up to the horns of the altar. 

You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
   you are my God, I will extol you. 

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
   for his steadfast love endures for ever.



New Hope on Facebook & Twitter
New Hope on iTunes

April 1865

  If you want to learn more about the conclusion of the Civil War, this is a great book for that.  Jay Winik writes April 1865: The Month That Saved America, a book that captures the precarious place in which America resided in the month that saw the cessation of hostilities as well as the assassination of the president, Abraham Lincoln.  Winik argues, and does so well, that this month was a pivotal month in the country's history.  By the end of the book, it's hard to disagree with him.

  Throughout the book, Winik lifts up people, often in positions of leadership, who turned out to be the right people in the right place at the right time.  Had another person had their responsibilities, we can't say that the end result would be the same.  Had they not faithfully executed their tasks the way they did, the country might be radically different today.  They did what they thought was best, but often there was conflict swirling around them.

  When I think about my life in the church, there have been countless individuals around me who have helped me throughout my life.  They have lived their lives, as faithfully as possible, and in so doing set an example for me to follow.  Several of them encouraged me and helped me develop as a man of faith.  They were pivotal in my life--had they not showed up at just the right time and been a person of integrity, I don't know if my life would be the same.

  Often, I believe we undersell the importance we have in the lives of those around us.  We don't realize how important our example, our friendship, our encouragement is.  May we seek to lead lives of integrity, and in so doing, may we encourage those around us in their own journeys, that they may recognize the importance of faith and be inspired by the light of Christ shining through us.

3/22/2012

Gracious God,

  I am not worthy of your love.

  But it's not about me.

  This is about you--and it's about the way you reach out to us.  If I focus on myself and my unworthiness, I miss out on an amazing story--a story you have penned from the beginning of time.  You write in the heavens and the earth the tale of your love, the truth of your generosity and grace, the way you pour yourself out for the sake of your creation.  You do not withhold your love because of our sin, but rather find new ways to reach out and unveil your love for us.  You long for us to live in communion with you, and when we do not, you love us still.  You do not destroy creation because of our sin, but rather you send your Son so that we may have life through him.

  Time and time again, you give grace and hope where we would expect darkness and despair.  You are an awesome and generous God, and I pray that I might focus on you, rather than myself.

Amen

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

McDonald's

  You may know that I have strange dreams.  I often have dreams about people I knew in high school--sometimes we'll be going through strange museums, and the other night a bunch of us were in a minor fender bender in my car.  Often, I wake up wondering exactly what God meant by that.  Recently, I had a dream that I worked in the Apple store in Maastricht, Holland.  (I have never been there and have no idea if there is an Apple store there.  Perhaps God is calling me east?)

  Last night, I had a dream that dealt far more directly with the church.  I had a dream that every time you placed an order at McDonald's, you had to give them the name of the church to which you belonged, and then the church was informed of who was eating at McDonald's.  Believe me, this created quite a stream of information into the church office, with which we were uncertain as to what to do.  Also, confusion was caused by those who simply said "New Hope" and did not specify whether they meant New Hope Baptist or New Hope Presbyterian.

  My first thought, when I woke up, was that I have strange, strange dreams.  The second thought was that my dream was ridiculous.

  But then I started thinking--wouldn't it be amazing if we lived the kind of faith that led us to believe that God cares so much about every aspect of our lives that even our orders at McDonald's (or whatever your dining establishment of choice is--I would choose Zaxby's) were seen as a part of our life before Christ?  Wouldn't it be amazing if we were so aware of God's presence in all that we do that whenever we ate, wherever it was, it was recognized as food that was a gift of God, and that Christ was present with us as we ate?

  I believe that God cares about everything we do, and he wants our hearts and minds to be always focused on him--so that every breath is a prayer, so that every thought is about him.  I believe that what we do at work is just as important as what we do at church, because God is working in and through us in each place we go.  I think what we eat at a fast food location matters to God because everything we do matters--maybe it's not earth-shattering and a critical step in discipleship, but it matters to God because God wants to be a part of every moment of our lives and every beat of our hearts.

  It's ridiculous that a restaurant would ever ask for our church membership.  But maybe we need to think about how we are living as disciples when we are at McDonald's, just as much as when we are at church.

3/21/2012

Holy God,

  It's amazing to read about the way you have been involved in human history.  Time and time again, you have reached out in love to a people who have turned away in sin.  At times, your anger was raised, but you always seem to have a well of compassion from which to draw.  When the people deserved destruction, you chose to offer life.  When the people sinned, you offered redemption.

  In Christ, you came into this life--you became fully human--and experienced temptation, experienced the people's sin directly.  And yet, in the midst of our sin, you brought life.  You brought hope.  In the crucifixion, the height of sin, you found a path to life.

  And you continue to reach out to us, even now.  We still sin, knowing full well that we shouldn't, and yet your Holy Spirit is reaching out, drawing all people to you.  You long for us to live in communion with you.  Be at work in our hearts, Lord, that we may recognize you reaching out to us, and that we may be transformed by your love, so that we live for you alone.

Amen

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

3/20/2012

Gracious Lord,

  I come before you flawed and imperfect.  You have made me in your own image, and yet I have invested so much time and energy in putting on masks and living a life that masks that image.  I don't know that my life glorifies you.

  And yet, in the midst of my sin, you pour out grace.  You offer love and forgiveness that I do not deserve, that is given freely, without condition.  You only ask that I accept your love and live in a grateful response to it.

  Thank you.  Words can scarcely express what an amazing offer, what incredible love, you give.  May my whole heart gives thanks.

Amen

Monday, March 19, 2012

3/19/2012

Dear God,
  I thank you that you have kept me through this night.  I will confess that I am sometimes filled with fear and dread at the thought of sleep, and yet my body slips so willingly into slumber--perhaps it is reminding me that I should trust you more.  You watch over me every night and day, and for that I give you thanks--without your gracious outpouring, I would not survive another minute.  I pray, Lord, that your Spirit gives me the wisdom to follow you today.  I cannot say I always do so well, but I continue to come back in repentance, asking for grace and for strength to live as your child on this day.  Forgive me for the areas in which I have failed, and strengthen me to live in your service on this and every day.

Amen

Sunday, March 18, 2012

March 18 Sermon

Judges 7:9-23 
  9 During that night the LORD said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. 10 If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah 11 and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp.” So he and Purah his servant went down to the outposts of the camp. 12 The Midianites, the Amalekites and all the other eastern peoples had settled in the valley, thick as locusts. Their camels could no more be counted than the sand on the seashore.

  13 Gideon arrived just as a man was telling a friend his dream. “I had a dream,” he was saying. “A round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into the Midianite camp. It struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” 14 His friend responded, “This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands.”

  15 When Gideon heard the dream and its interpretation, he bowed down and worshiped. He returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The LORD has given the Midianite camp into your hands.” 16 Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside. 17 “Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. 18 When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the LORD and for Gideon.’”

  19 Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. 20 The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!”

  21 While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. 22 When the three hundred trumpets sounded, the LORD caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. The army fled to Beth Shittah toward Zererah as far as the border of Abel Meholah near Tabbath. 23 Israelites from Naphtali, Asher and all Manasseh were called out, and they pursued the Midianites.




I am afraid of heights. Well, it would be more accurate to say that I'm afraid of falling from such heights.
I have also been to the top of the Eiffel tower.

Now, at first, these two ideas seem to be at odds. But it's easy to decide to go to the top of a tall structure when you're on the ground. From below, it doesn't seem so tall, right? But once you're on the way up, you tend to realize exactly what you're doing. This particular trip, I was with a few friends, none of whom were afraid of heights. So when we got to the top and the elevator door opened, they decided to drag me out of the elevator, despite my very strong wishes to remain in the elevator. Some friends, right? Well, they were right and I was wrong—I did appreciate the view, once I overcame my fear.
Of course, this also wasn't the real Eiffel tower. It's the one that sits on I-71 north of Cincinnati that's only 1/3 as tall as the real thing. But if I told you that at the beginning you wouldn't have been nearly as impressed. Rachel isn't afraid of heights at all—so if we ever end up in Paris, she's going to be the one pulling me out of the elevator at the top of the real Eiffel Tower, while my fingernails leave marks on the walls as I try to resist.

Sometimes in life, it just takes a little encouragement. We put ourselves in the right place, have a great opportunity before us... then we freeze. It happens. So we need a friend to help us out.

It's not unlike what Gideon experienced in our text today. He was in a great opportunity. The Lord had whittled his army down to 300 people, going up against more than 30,000 Midianites, but God had promised that if Gideon followed his orders, everything would turn out well—the Israelites would prevail. So Gideon followed his instructions, but let's all be honest—if we were the head of an army of 300 going against an army of more than 30,000, we could have all the promises from God we wanted, but we still might be nervous.

So God provided a little encouragement, using a Midianite soldier and his friend. God calls Gideon, If you fear to attack, go down to the camp, and you shall hear what they say, and your hand shall be strengthened to attack the camp.
Remember, God has already proved to Gideon three separate times that this call is legitimate. But Gideon is still afraid, so rather than banish him and choose another, braver leader, God provides some much-needed encouragement. God sends Gideon into the Midianite camp, and there he overhears a conversation between two Midianite soldiers. One soldier is telling the other about a dream he had, one in which a cake of barley bread tumbles into the camp and destroys the camp, sending a clear message that Gideon will defeat the Midianites.
Gideon overhears all of this and in response, worships God. He returns to the camp and immediately goes about following the plan of God to defeat the Midianites. He takes his 300 soldiers and seizes the opportunity God has put before him, and they rout the Midianites.
All Gideon needed was a little final encouragement.

Encouragement is a powerful thing. Think about the nature of encouragement for a second. When someone needs encouragement, they usually have an opportunity before them, and they have the gifts necessary to seize that opportunity, but fear seizes them. They're stuck in neutral, and what they need is someone to remind them of the gifts they have and their capability to seize the opportunity. They just need a little help. Think of the baby bird, standing on the edge of the next, unfolding its new wings, uncertain that it can fly, afraid of falling and being eaten by the cat. The bird just needs some encouragement from its mother, often in the form of a swift kick off the ledge. Now, I will add an important note—it's the encourager's job to ensure that whatever they are encouraging someone to do, be sure that you believe they can actually do it. If you encourage someone to go and do something you don't think they can do just because you think they should feel better, you're only setting them up for failure. If God had sent Gideon this message and not been in a position to help him defeat the Midianites, it would have been a cruel joke. But God knew Gideon just needed to overcome his fear.

Friends, often we're in need of encouragement. Perhaps we've been working on a project for a long time, or waiting for a certain thing to happen or arrive. Maybe you're ready to give up hope. We've all been in a position at some point or another when we needed some encouragement. Just like I once stood in an elevator, afraid, needing someone to pull me along, you have probably experienced fear and uncertainty before an opportunity. And there is probably someone you know that needs that encouragement. I believe it is a gift that we can give to others to encourage them.

When we encourage other people to take advantage of the opportunities God has placed before them, we are helping them be more faithful. We know that God gives us gifts to use—and we know that the devil puts fear into our hearts and keeps us from seizing those opportunities. We can get paralyzed by fear, often irrational fear, that prevents us from turning into the people God wants us to be. God will continue to put opportunities before us, continue to give us the gifts we need to seize them, to reach out to the world in love... and often fear will prevent us from acting on those opportunities.

When we encourage others, we foster a community that turns from fear and looks for opportunities. When we encourage others, we are helping them use their God-given gifts. When we encourage others, we're helping them join in with what God is doing in the world. They see the world in a unique way—and God has probably given them the gifts to minister to the world! But fear can often hold people down from growing up in faithfulness, from reaching out.

So we need to be encouragers of one another. Let us turn from fear, and help one another seize the opportunities Christ has placed before us. How many Gideons are there in the world that have never attacked because they were afraid that the odds were too long, that it just wouldn't work, that it could never happen? How many simply needed to hear someone else say that they believed in them? How many unique and amazing ministries are dormant in people's hearts because fear is holding them down?

May we encourage one another to not be afraid, to set down all of our worries and deepest fears, and to take bold chances, to seize the opportunities God places before us, that the world may know God's power and God's love through our human actions.

Let us pray



Friday, March 16, 2012

3/16/2012

Holy Lord,

  I am surrounded by stuff.  I can't help but wonder what kind of life you would lead if you were alive today, and what you would say to me, surrounded by stuff, owning all of these things that often consume my time and attention.  I have a pretty good hunch as to what you would say, but I freely admit that I cling to them, and I am afraid of losing many of them, as ridiculous as that sounds.  My heart seems unwilling to serve you fully, and I am sorry.  I am sorry for the materialistic side of me that strives for more, that doesn't listen to your voice.  I pray, Lord God, that you Spirit might wash over me and help me see the world properly, and help me see how to live.  I'm not certain how all of your commands translate to the 21st century--I read them once, twice and again, but I wonder how to be faithful in the American life.  What does it mean for me to be a good steward?  How might I serve you by serving others?

  I don't have the answers to so many of these questions, Lord, but I trust that you do, and that you will illumine my heart over time, that I might walk more faithfully along the path you have set for me, in the hopes that I might glorify you with all of my life.

  I love you, Lord.

Amen

Thursday, March 15, 2012

3- 15 E-News (Celebrate the Ides of March!)


Announcements

Easter Party—Saturday, March 31 there will be an Easter Party for the kids here at church from 12-3.

Snack PacksThank you for your generosity! Thanks to your help, 50 snack packs are being delivered to East Brainerd Elementary each Friday of March!

New Hope News

SessionThe session meets this Sunday. Please be in prayer for them as they discern how best to lead the church.

Sunday School—We'll be diving into Joshua this Sunday morning @ 9:45 in the McMillan Building.

Russ Mabry's address:

Manorhouse
Room 209
1148 Mountain Creek Road
Chattanooga TN 37405

Pray for:

John Brandon, as he performs Friday night and Sunday afternoon

David Smith


Links









Text for this Sunday

Judges 7:9-23

 That same night the Lord said to him, ‘Get up, attack the camp; for I have given it into your hand. But if you fear to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah; and you shall hear what they say, and afterwards your hands shall be strengthened to attack the camp.’ Then he went down with his servant Purah to the outposts of the armed men that were in the camp. The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore.When Gideon arrived, there was a man telling a dream to his comrade; and he said, ‘I had a dream, and in it a cake of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian, and came to the tent, and struck it so that it fell; it turned upside down, and the tent collapsed.’ And his comrade answered, ‘This is no other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, a man of Israel; into his hand God has given Midian and all the army.’

 When Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshipped; and he returned to the camp of Israel, and said, ‘Get up; for the Lord has given the army of Midian into your hand.’ After he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and put trumpets into the hands of all of them, and empty jars, with torches inside the jars, he said to them, ‘Look at me, and do the same; when I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then you also blow the trumpets around the whole camp, and shout, “For the Lord and for Gideon!” ’

 So Gideon and the hundred who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch; and they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. So the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars, holding in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow; and they cried, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’Every man stood in his place all around the camp, and all the men in camp ran; they cried out and fled. When they blew the three hundred trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his fellow and against all the army; and the army fled as far as Beth-shittah towards Zererah,as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after the Midianites.





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3/15/2012

Holy God,

  This morning, I offer it to you.  I pray that it may be acceptable, that it will be worthy of you.  I know that it belongs to you, and I look forward to having my eyes opened to see how you are working in this day, so that I might know who and how you are called me to be today.  May I follow your Spirit and join in with your work on this day.

  I pray for the wisdom to see the opportunities that surround me, to trust in the gentle nudgings of your Spirit, to live this day as a prayer, constantly seeking to listen for your voice and offer myself to you.  May my soul sing of your praise in all that I do.

Amen

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Time

  I went to visit Russ today, and he said something that made me think.  When telling a story (if you're ever in need of a good story, just go listen to Russ!), he mentioned a guy who was just living in his own time--the kind of time, he described it as, 'you can't tell with any clock from the jeweler'.

  This got me thinking about a conversation Eugene Peterson had about the difference between chronos time and kairos time, the latter being God's time.  Our chronos time, the time we're used to here on earth, is time we just use up.  Often, we fill it with things to do, some meaningful, others not as much, but overall a day slips by and we wonder where it went.

  Kairos time is God's time.  This is time we don't have a say in.  This is time we experience.  It's God at work in the world.  It's much bigger than we are.

  The problem is, we so often orient ourselves by the world's time, rushing to meet the demands of a chaotic world, that we don't pay attention to what God is doing.  We get so caught up in our own schedules, we don't notice that God has a different schedule.

  We need to slow down, to reset our clocks, so that we're oriented to God's time, rather than our own.

  I think about time spent watching Caleb.  He's 5 months old now, and still doesn't move around much on his own--but I can only experience him growing up.  I can't slow it down, can't freeze him, can't keep him at this stage--he'll grow up before my very eyes, and all I can do is wonder at the process and join in, being present with him every step of the way, loving him for the child of God that he is.

  What else in the world am I missing?  Where is God at work that I'm too busy to see?  Where is God leading the church, only we are so busy with our things to do that we can't see it?  How has God been speaking in such a way, but my own life is so loud that I can't hear him?

  For the wisdom and courage to slow down, to live a life that seeks to pay attention to God, rather than myself, I pray.

3/14/2012

Gracious God,

  You have blessed us with another beautiful day.  Your grace is beyond what I can comprehend--you pour out love upon a people who so often turn from you and seek out easy entertainment rather than growth in you.  We try to be disciples, but we so often fail--and still you abide, and still you offer us love.  What an amazing God you are--so filled with love and patience.  I give you thanks for the way you treat us, for the way you bring us back to you, for the way you reach out to us.  Thank you, Lord.

Amen