January 2009

Throughout this past week I have heard story after story of how the people of Hickory Creek Community Church are being challenged and changed by God’s Word and the ministry of the church. As we continue to read through the New Testament as a church, the transforming power of Scripture is evident in so many testimonies, not to mention the stories I don’t hear. Not only is God’s Word having a profound effect on lives, but the people of our church are opening their hearts and using their gifts to minister to individuals and families at Hickory Creek and beyond. All of these evidences of God’s grace have been a great reminder to my soul that ministry is about changed lives, not numerical growth. In church ministry, it is hard to measure effectiveness, given that life change is our goal and life change is hard to measure at times. So we count people. Counting isn’t all bad – more people means more lives to minister to and more people to share the good news of Jesus with. However, numbers don’t always mean effective ministry – again, attracting a crowd isn’t our goal; the furtherance of Christ’s kingdom is. With all of that said, when the numbers were down this week for one reason or another, God saw fit to pull back the curtain and reveal the work He is doing through us in the people of our church and community. We’ll still count this Sunday, but we will always look beyond the numbers to the lives they represent. Praise God for using weak and broken people to accomplish His will and bring Him glory.


As I was thinking and reading about this being Sanctity of Human Life Week, I was reminded of an article from the November 2005 issue of Christianity Today that my wife and I found extremely influential in our thinking. I know many will disagree with the conclusions made for logical and/or emotional reasons, but to ignore the questions posed by this research is to put our heads in the sand regarding the life or death of a human being. There are also some interesting links at the end of the article, and here’s a link to a youtube video that focuses on some of the research presented in the article. Join me in praying for the unborn around the world and that the church would take action against this evil. May it start with me.

I look for them in a clean house, a meal at a restaurant, well-behaved children, a healthy family, leisure time. They are sucked from me by a pile of clothes to fold, a strict budget, a child’s whine, sickness, busyness.

I find them in weakness, because He is strong. I find them in sickness, because He is sovereign and in control, whether He heals or not. I find them in a roof and a meal that only He could have provided. I find them in God alone. He comes to me in the storm and lets it continue to rage, because His presence is peace. My daughter has been sick the past two days, and she continues to say, “Daddy, I need you.” I ask what she needs. “I just need you.”  She just wants me there; my presence.

Psalm 73:28 says, “The nearness of God is my good.” He alone can satisfy the desires of my heart, for He is the desire of my heart. Other things may bring joy, but unless I seek out “the presence of God” in them, they will soon disappoint. The reality is that His nearness is found in unlikely places. Places I don’t think to or want to look. He is often found in the place He seems furthest away.

This past Sunday our church began a 9 week journey through the New Testament called the “New Testament Challenge.” Over the course of 63 days, each person who has committed will read 4-5 chapters, usually from 2 different New Testament books. I am excited to see what God is going to do in my life and the life of the church as we seek God through His Word. Reading seems like such a simple, mundane task, but when the words are those of God himself, extraordinary things can happen. Andrea and I read the chapters together today and plan to do so as much as possible, reading on our own when it isn’t. That community aspect of joining with my wife and church family is almost as exciting as the reading itself!

I had revisited Mark Dever’s message from Together for the Gospel 2008 a few weeks ago, wherein he issued the challenge of reading the New Testament with the goal of discovering what the gospel is. So I have combined the church’s New Testament Challenge with Dever’s. After one day of reading, I’m praying for some wisdom. My fear is that I will simply pull out those things that I understand the good news of Jesus Christ to be and not allow Scripture to teach me. Is my understanding too broad or too narrow? I’m really not sure what I’m looking for, but I’m excited to see what God has revealed to me after nine weeks.

If you want to join the challenge, it’s never too late! Check out Hickory Creek’s website for a reading plan and some helps.

This past weekend I packed my duffle bag with sweatshirts and long johns, grabbed a sleeping bag, and headed out to Frankfort’s Camp Manitoqua with 40 other youth and youth leaders for a Winter Excursion. Our Hickory Creek student ministry joined with the student ministry of Palmer Park Baptist Church for this first ever retreat organized by their youth pastor, Justin, and myself. Justin’s brother, Ryan, came along as our special speaker, and we were also blessed to be led in worship by another friend, Chad, and his band. After all of the organization and planning, it was great to get in the car on Friday to drive to the camp and simply release the rest of the details to God.

Once we arrived at the camp, four worship/teaching sessions, meals, skits, board games, night games, an afternoon at a local fitness club for swimming, rock-climbing, wallyball, and basketball, not to mention staying up fairly late, made for a non-stop weekend. Yet we took time to pause and consider the theme of the weekend – “Imagine… moving beyond mediocre” – and I guess I’m still considering what that means.

What is mediocre in a general sense? Synonyms might include ordinary, average, middle of the road, second-rate. So to move beyond the mediocre Christian life is to refuse to accept the average, second-rate, ordinary, middle of the road Christian life that so many do… that I often do. The mediocre Christian life is the life consumed with self, ignoring the greater purposes and plans of God in the world. The second-rate Christian life ignores the opportunity to joyfully live to make God great and settles for the frustrating life of seeking joy in all the wrong places. It is a lot like life apart from Christ, except for the awful truth that the mediocre Christian life says, “Though I am a child of the King of kings, I’m going to willfully choose to live in the slums of earth rather than enjoy my present and future inheritance with Christ.”

I was given a Rich Mullins CD for Christmas – I figured that since all of the Christian artists I love always talk about his music and because our worship leader, Simon, is always talking about him, that I should follow their lead. I keep thinking of a line from the song “If I Stand” that says, “The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to the Giver of all good things.” The mediocre Christian life lets the stuff of earth win. It bows in worship to gods who can not answer and seeks to drink from cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:12-13). I’m praying for the students who went and for myself that 2009 involves less worship of the “stuff of earth” and more bowing humbly at the feet of Jesus, who has bought all good things for us through his death and resurrection. I can’t begin to imagine what God would do in my life, the lives of our students, and the life of our youth group if we truly refused to accept the cheap, second-rate Christianity that simply adds Jesus to the sum total of a person’s life and, instead, chose to make him the all-satisfying center and source of joy and peace in our lives. With God’s help, we will move beyond the mediocre.