Sunday, August 30, 2009


I have just about completed my Sabbatical -- will be back in the office on Tuesday and in the pulpit on Sunday. It has been an incredible summer with the Lord. I am amazed at how run-down I was... I knew I was weary, but I was really sucking eggs. I have had some good rest, lots of exercise, lots of quiet, good times with the family, some vacation-time, lots of challenging reading, and I have visited many churches of various types.

I have learned much about myself, the Lord, and about ministry in the Kingdom of God. I have been working toward a new hobby with my son -- kite-boarding! I ran the Peachtree Road Race (6.2 miles) with my wife (it was her 29th in a row).

I feel like I am heading back to Holy Cross with a fresh perspective on the church's ministry, my ministry, and where we are headed as a church. I have been able to review my personal life-mission statement, values, and my goals for the upcoming months and years.

The Lord has been gracious to me -- pointing out my sin, areas of growth, reminding me of his love for me, and giving me a new appreciation for his death on the cross. He is SO faithful, even when we fall short. He is absolutely intent on working out all things for good in our lives and for His ultimate purpose in the kingdom.

For those of you who prayed for me during this time, I am so grateful! Thank you!!!!

Now, I need your feedback. I set up this blog for my Sabbatical. Shall I keep it going? Has it been helpful -- not just in letting you know what I am doing, but in sharing some truths about the kingdom and following Jesus?? Please send me your feedback as to whether or not I should continue in the "blog-a-sphere"?

Proverbs 3:5,6 -- "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What Do You Say

Theodore Roosevelt... "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly... who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat."

Rocky Balboa... "The world ain't all sunshine and roses. It is a downright cruel place and it will knock you down and keep you on your knees... It is not how about hard you get hit, it is about how hard you get hit and keep moving forward. It is about getting knocked down and then getting back up."

The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey...

"Keep in mind that whatever your role at work or at home, you are an influencer. You are a leader, even if only of yourself."

Joe Patterno (Penn State) -- "Whether you are on a sports team, in an office, or a member of a family, if you can't trust one another there's going to be trouble."

"If you think the problem is
out there, that very thought is the problem."

Booker T. Washington... "Few things can help and individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let know that you trust him."

"People want to be trusted. They respond to trust. They thrive on trust."

"If we can't trust ourselves, we'll have a hard time trusting others."

"We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their behavior."

Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount...

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:14-16, NIV)

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." (Matt 5:43-45, NIV)

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
(Matt 7:3-5, NIV)

"By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matt 7:16-20, NIV)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Visiting a Church

Sometimes visiting a church can be quite a challenge. Today I set out to visit the Church of Jesus Our Shepherd in Norcross, Georgia, a northern suburb of Atlanta. I looked up the website and clicked on the "get directions" tab and printed out directions to the church. I timed my drive so I would arrive about 10 minutes early, leaving time for traffic or other distractions.

When I arrived at the address, it was an office complex in an old warehouse district -- it was not the hotel where the church meets. It was not even the office of the church. Turns out it was the address of the office many years ago. I called the number listed on the website and it was disconnected! (take note any pastors who may be reading this -- make sure your website is updated!) Fortunately, I remembered that it was meeting in the Hilton in Norcross, but I had no idea where that was. After calling 411, then the hotel, and then after a couple of wrong turns, I arrived 25 minutes late. I almost didn't go in, but I am glad I did.

The Church of Jesus our Shepherd is an Anglican congregation with the Anglican Mission in America. They meet in a hotel and have no plans to build a building. Instead, they want to be able to support missions and start new congregations with their offerings. They proclaim on their bulletin that they are "Spirit-led Anglican Worship" and have "Bible-based preaching, prayer and healing." The service was all of that. When I arrived, the singing could be heard down the hall so I knew exactly where to find them. About 40-50 folks had gathered in a meeting room which had been set up to look like a church. Most of the congregation was in their 60's and 70's although there were a handful of young people present.

The service was a charismatic worship service with Anglican liturgy. It begins with about 30 minutes of praise music and I arrived during the last song. So actually, even though I was late, I didn't miss any of the liturgy! The congregation has an incredibly sweet spirit which was exhibited not only in their worship, but in conversations after the service. The service was 2 hours long and included a sermon by the Rev. Tom Belt. Tom is an old colleague from ministry days about 20 years ago. Much of the liturgy was sung to arrangements by Tom and was quite worshipful.

A couple of quotes from the sermon which spoke loudly....

"God knows all about us; we all need help; we all need healing; we all need direction. And God is hanging in there with us."

"When you fail, when you sin, just keep on coming to Jesus. He has the words of life. He is life."

"Sadly, too often we like what God gives us rather than liking God Himself."

"We like our opinion of who Jesus is rather than what the Bible tells us about who He is."

We had communion as part of the service, and after receiving communion, people were invited to go to one of two prayer teams if they wanted prayer for healing or had other needs. It was a wonderful time of worship, and encouraging to see the vibrancy and confidence the congregation has in the Lord. One surprise for me was the number of people who said, "I heard you on the radio this morning." Evidently, quite of number of these folks listen to
A Word from the Lord on the Atlanta station.

One last comment... I was able to see Helen and Tom Boyd. Helen was my senior honor's English teacher in high school over 30 years ago! She has a vibrant and strong faith and witness for the Lord. It was truly a blessing to see her again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Avoiding Burnout

In the previous post I wrote about Reggie McNeal's book on 7 Diciplines of Spiritual Leaders. I thought this paragraph was very well-said to clergy and those in lay leadership positions in ministry...

Our strengths are also our needs. Said another way, we each need to do what we do well. If we don't get a chance to perform in the area of our talents, we feel cheated, grow frustrated, and court burnout.

Most ministry burnout among spiritual leaders is not the exotic type (usually involving some egregious moral failure) that garners all the press and gossip. Instead, it is typically the common garden variety of burnout that results from leaders day in and day out with stuff that brings them no energy and does not play to their talents. Eventually, leaders run out of emotional, psychological, and spiritual reserve.

A strong sense of call or commitment or a highly developed sense of responsibility may keep the leader in place, but only a shell of the formerly vibrant person remains. This happens far too frequently in spiritual leadership circles to be ignored. Moving toward areas of strength, including talent and passions, provides one clear strategy for avoiding burnout.

7 Disciplines of Effective Leaders

In his book, Practicing Greatness, 7 Disciplines of Extraordinary Spiritual Leaders, Reggie McNeal writes of the "disciplines" which a spiritual leader should have in his life. Buy the book!

1. The Discipline of Self-Awareness
2. The Discipline of Self-Management
3. The Discipline of Self-Development
4. The Discipline of Mission
5. The Discipline of Decision Making
6. The Discipline of Belonging
7. The Discipline of Aloneness

Some quotes worth reflecting on....

"The greatness he is talking about is not a position or a destination, but a quality of leadership that blesses other people." -- Ken Blanchard

"Deliberate mediocrity is a sin."

"Greatness is not just about character. It's also about effectiveness. When Jesus talked about serving others as part of his definition of greatness, he assumed that the service would actually be helpful to its recipients and the leaders would be accomplished."

"Genuinely great spiritual leaders do not do what they do for themselves or even as a way to become recognized as great leaders. The end game for spiritual leaders is about expanding the kingdom of God."

"Although many leaders may come to recognize that alcohol or drug abuse is a problem, legions of others are unaware they are using food or work to anesthetize their heart pain brought on through loneliness or their inability to experience intimacy though surrounded by admirers. Other leaders have no idea that their need for approval drives them to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual exhaustion. They are just dying (literally) to hear, 'We don't know what we'd do without you.'"

"Bless your children. Leaders with children have one primary responsibility toward them beyond the inherent tasks of protection and provision: children need our blessing."

"Nuclear physicists now say that inner space is as infinite as outer space... In quantum spirituality, post-moderns (pre-Christians) assume they are connected to God and to other people. This poses an intriguing dilemma to spiritual tribes whose evangelism strategy begins with the declaration to people that they are separated from God!"

"Your best shot at making your greatest contribution in the world is for you to get better at what you are already good at. Instead of focusing on weakness, focus on improving your strengths. Remember, your strengths are also your needs, meaning that you need to develop and use your talent in order to experience deep satisfaction at an emotional and spiritual level."

"God has not called you to your life mission in spite of who you are; he has called you precisely because of who you are."

I could go and on!! I have most of this book underlined. I recommend this to anyone in a spiritual leadership role, whether employed or volunteer.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christ Church, Highlands, NC

Allison and I were invited by some dear long-time friends to spend the weekend with them at Highlands, NC. Being with them is like going home. The hospitality, the good food, the fun fellowship, and our common bonds in Christ. The husband gave me an incredible compliment: "Foley, I tell people you are the only person I can call my son, my brother, and my father." The feeling is definitely mutual. Isn't it great to be able to walk with special friends for decades and have the relationship grow more special as time goes on??

On Sunday we attended Christ Anglican Church in Highlands. A dear friend from seminary is now the rector, the Rev. Jim Murphy. Jim and his wife, Sharon, are god-parents of our daughter, and it was GREAT to be with them and their daughter. He has been the rector for a little over two months so he is still getting oriented to the parish and the community. Christ Church meets in the local community center and the members have to set up each Sunday and break everything down after the service (brought back lots of memories!).

We attended the Bible study class before the service with about 14 other folks. They are studying Genesis and we got to hear a teaching on the end of Chapter 4 and all of Chapter 5. I heard something I had not reflected on much before: blood calls out with a voice. Focusing on Abel's blood which was calling out from the ground, we did a quick walk through the Bible about how blood belongs to God and life is in the blood, and culminating with the blood of Christ.

Christ Church uses the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and sings traditional hymns. We joined in worship with about 40 other folks. The music, the liturgy, and the sermon were quite alive and full of the Holy Spirit. A couple of quotes from the sermon which jumped out to me...

"We may have the Spirit, but we can ignore the Spirit which has been given to us. If we do this, we miss the power, the gifts, and the fruit of the Spirit. Our witness is a sham."

"King Saul was anointed as king and was empowered by the Spirit of God. 'Saul, you will be a different man.' And he was, until he took matters into his own hands. God removed His Spirit from him, and he ended up doing unspeakable things even taking his own life."

"Luke 11:13 - 'If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"

Christ Church has a fine pastor and he has a super core group to grow a parish. They are dedicated to the Lord and willing to serve. Their big challenge is that Highlands in a resort community, and Christ Church is a Mountain Resort Church (my term). Where most churches in the U.S. flourish from September to April, Mountain Resort Churches flourish from near Memorial Day to near Labor Day. This is true for Christ Church as many of their regulars move South in the winter. If you are in the area, go visit. You will be inspired to follow Christ!
Jim, Sharon, and Charissa Murphy

Friday, August 14, 2009

Empty Nest

As much as Allison and I have prepared to take our youngest daughter off to college at Valdosta State University four hours away, we still wept and cried all the way home. We had taken our son back to UGA ten days ago where he is a junior. But this was different. This was our little girl!

James and Allison at UGA

Don't get me wrong, we are grateful to the Lord that our kids are able to attend college, have the opportunities they have, and are fine, decent, moral, and spiritual individuals. But we like being with our kids. We have good relationships with them. They are fun. From the day they were born, we both have been hands-on parents. We have attempted to raise godly, principled, and self-sufficient human beings. And we know this is good!! But....

it doesn't remove the pain
it doesn't take away the necessary grieving
it doesn't remove the reality of letting go

Rebekah and Dad in her Dorm Room

I was mostly weepy on the way home, but when I walked into the house and saw an item of Rebekah's that she always had on her key chain, I broke down and cried like a baby. I know this is part of life and that we will get through it. I know that that Lord has GREAT things in store for Allison and me during this next phase of our lives.

Allison and Rebekah in her room at VSU

And I know that our kids will be o.k. But right now we are both praying for the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) to fill the empty spot in our hearts and home now that the smiling vessel of joy which hung around our house is four hours away.

Psalm 127:3 -- "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children are a reward from Him."

Publish Post

Monday, August 10, 2009

Are You Ready?

One of the books I am reading this week is Crazy Love, Overwhelmed By A Relentless God by Francis Chan. He was writing about how life "vanishes like a mist" and the story he shared really got to me...

One of the most powerful examples I've seen of this was Stan Gerlach, a successful businessman who was well known in the community. Stan was giving a eulogy at a memorial service when he decided to share the Gospel. At the end of his message, Stan told the mourners, "You never know when God is going to take your life. At that moment, there is nothing you can do about it. Are you ready?" Then Stan sat down, fell over, and died. His wife and sons tried to resuscitate him, but there was nothing they could do -- just as Stan had said a few minutes earlier.

I'll never forget receiving the phone call and heading over to the Gerlach house. Stan's wife, Suzy, was just arriving home. She hugged me and cried. One of her two sons, John, stepped out of the car weeping. He asked me, "Did you hear the story? Did you hear? I'm so proud of him. My dad died doing what he loved the most. He was telling people about Jesus."

I was asked to share a word with everyone gathered. There were children, grandchildren, neighbors, and friends. I opened my Bible to Matthew 10:32-33: 'Whoever acknowleges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

I asked everyone to imagine what it must have felt like for Stan. One moment, he was at a memorial service saying to a crowd, "This is who Jesus is!" The next, he was before God hearing Jesus say, "This is who Stan Gerlach is!" One second he was confessing Jesus; a second later, Jesus was confessing him!

It happened that quickly. And it could happen to any of us. In the words of Stan Gerlach, "Are you ready?"

Sunday, August 9, 2009

New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

I continued my visitation of various kinds of churches today as I visited New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, an African-American church which is the largest church in the Atlanta area with over 25,000 members. Bishop Eddie Long has been the pastor for 23 years and has grown the church into the large church that it is. They have three Sunday services: 7:00 a.m., 10:30, and a 2:00 Latino Service. No, I did not attend the 7:00 service, but I did ask how many people attend each week -- Between 3000 and 6000! at 7:00 in the morning. New Birth has a variety of ministries for discipleship, evangelism, outreach to the needy, and for children and youth. As a fellow pastor, I noted that Bishop Long does not receive a salary from the church. He lives on the "love offerings" he receives from the members (on the offering envelope is a place to note what the offering is for -- tithe, love offering, missions, the building campaign, etc.).

As I entered the front doors of the 10,000 seat sanctuary, I was immediately greeted by several folks welcoming me to the church. The lobby was a large spacious area with many booths and various kinds of information desks available to help people with their needs and concerns. I sat about half way back, but even with the many large video screens, I felt close to what was going on up front and wanted to keep my eyes there rather than the screens (unlike other churches which use the screens). I was one of about 8,000 people present for the service.

The service began with 17 baptisms and then incredible praise music (the same as our contemporary service), but when I say incredible, I mean people sang, sang loud, and it was led in a key which invited you to sing LOUD to the Lord. They had a 150-member choir, an orchestra, a praise singing group, and a band which all played and sang together. We held hands and spoke to our neighbor at least four times during the service including what they call "passing the peace" in which everyone around wanted a hug and said: "God bless you!"

The sermon was given by a white guest preacher, Rev. Gary Oliver, a "prophet" from Texas. He also writes and records music. The title of his sermon was "Let Everything That Has Breath" and was based on Isaiah 61, Genesis 2:7, and Psalm 150. He spoke about "activating" worship from within you. He said that to activate blessing or curses in our life, we must speak. Following God's example, God spoke and it was so. "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Prov.18:21). What are we speaking with our tongue? Life or death? Using the example of voice activated computers, he said some things in heaven are voice activated. They are released by our voice. "If something needs to happen, your voice activates it." "Don't voice what you see going wrong in your life, voice what you recognize God is doing."

He went on to say one's voice is like a finger print. Each of us has unique sound waves and frequencies -- our voice is different from everyone else's. "Your voice is unique to God." He then took us to the creation story where God created the first man. God took dirt and created man, THEN he breathed on him. "Your breath activates your voice." "You can't talk unless you breathe over your voice box." "The breath released in man is part of God." "Nothing moves God like God." And who is the breath of life who enters us when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior? The Holy Spirit. So pray in the Holy Spirit. "Activate your voice and let everything that has breath praise the Lord." He ended the sermon in leading us in a rousing song which tied into his sermon and went on for about 25-30 minutes while we were exhorted to praise the Lord with our voice.

One thing that was special in the service was they invited all the children, youth, and college students to come forward that they might be "covered" as they begin a new school year. At least 2000 young people came forward and were prayed over and "covered" in the Name of Jesus by the pastor and the congregation. It was powerful!

The service lasted exactly 2 and 1/2 hours. It then took me into another 55 minutes TO GET OUT OF THE PARKING LOT (I guess I parked in the wrong place!).

It was obvious from this service that New Birth is not just another church. It is a place which is reaching people for Jesus Christ and discipling them to go back into their communities and serve the Lord. From the pastor through all the elders through members of the congregation, they are involved in thousands of lives in nearby communities loving, serving, teaching, and sharing Christ. Their website is

My son asked me if I would be willing to go back. I said "Absolutely yes!", but I would park in a different place!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Getting Alone

For the past three days I have been on a prayer retreat in the mountains of North Carolina. A precious couple offered to let me use their cabin, and I finally said yes. Well, I should have said yes earlier. I could have sat on their porch for days enjoying and reflecting on their view of God's incredible creation. I had numerous hours alone in solitude and in silence. I went on some long hikes. Enjoyed picking delicious wild blackberries growing along the way. Read much from my Bible and out of several books I am currently studying.

I try to take one of these retreats once a quarter, but always seem to have a good excuse to not go. Sometimes I go to a nearby monastery, and other times, to various places where I spend time alone with God in silence and solitude. It never fails that I am glad I take this time, but like this time, I know why I resist it. Being alone with God can be very intimidating! After the noise and the voices of the world, worries, concerns, job duties, and personal temptations die down, the Lord lovingly confronts me with myself -- my shortcomings, my sin, my disobedience, my lack of trust, my faithlessness and my religiousity. Once I am honest before Him about these things in my life which are interfering with our relationship, He pours out his forgiveness, his love, and the sweet freshness of His Holy Spirit. This happened during these past few days as He brought me face to face with myself.

I spent most of the remainder of my time during this prayer retreat listening and seeking clarity about what I am doing with my life and ministry. He showed me many things which opened my eyes to how much His Grace has abounded during the past six months. Without being too public about all He showed, let me just say that I was overwhelmed at how blind I have been about some things, how the enemy had clouded my perspective on how I viewed my ministry at our church, with A Word from the Lord, and in the broader church and community. I am SO THANKFUL for His guidance and leadership!!

I am back off the mountain now and am returning to my sabbatical studies. For those who read this who pray, I ask you to pray for a friend of mine who is living and stuck in a BIG FOG. Pray that he will be delivered from this bondage soon as it is affecting his family, his job, and his relationship with the Lord.

Some quotes to consider from Carson Pue's, Mentoring Leaders....

Calvin Miller: "God does not shout his best vision through hassled Christian living. It's in the quiet that he gives the most delivering visions of life."

"We must choose to develop the discipline of silence."

Eugene Peterson says this: "Step out of the traffic! Take a long loving look at your High God."

Chuck Swindoll says, "Noise and word and frenzied, hectic schedules dull our senses, closing our ears to His still, small voice and making us numb to His touch."

Carson writes... "Many leaders feel too busy to take time away to listen. They have mind traffic that both distracts and exhausts them. Good opportunities continually present themselves or people continually cry out for their attention -- keeping them from spending time in quiet. Many leaders are actually ambivalent about solitude. Many leaders are afraid of being alone."

"Solitude and silence balance out the noisy, public, hectic lives most of us live. It is an excellent way of regaining internal balance and of mending the confusion caused by a harried and distracted existence -- and yet it is within this fertile soil of quiet that vision begins to grow... ask yourself, 'Doesn't it make sense to invest a relatively small amount of time in solitude in order to make the rest of my leadership more effective?'"

Frances Chan in Crazy Love writes... "What if I said, 'stop praying?' What if I told you to stop talking at God for a while, but instead to take a long, hard look at Him before you speak another word? Solomon warned us not to rush into God's presence with words. That's what fools do. And often, that's what we do.... The wise man comes to God without saying a word and stands in awe of Him. It may seem a hopeless endeavor, to gaze at the invisible God. But Romans 1:20 tells us that through creation, we see His 'invisible qualities' and 'divine nature."

R.C. Sproul writes. "Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignficance, until they have contrasted themselves with the majesty of God."

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Navigating the Spiritual Life

Terry Walling in his book, Stuck, Navigating the Transitions of Life and Leadership, says: "There are three defining moments critical to the development of the Christ follower. God often uses three transitions in particular to interrupt the normalcy of life, and shape life in new ways to count for the extension of his kingdom." He calls these transitions Awakening, Deciding, and Finishing.

Awakening "It embodies the ascent to purpose. At some point, Christ followers must step over the line and believe the truth that there is something more to life. They begin to believe that there is more to life than day-to-day existence. In fact, there is a God-embedded purpose in each life, including their own. But this purpose requires a pursuit."

Deciding "involves the push and the rush of propelling one's life of self-imposed boundaries out into an intentional life of meaning and service to the King. Life is now viewed differently -- it is viewed from God's perspective. The Christ follower joins the grand narrative. Life lived differently now becomes the consuming passsion of life. But it is not just about a contribution; it quickly evolves into a journey about intimacy. The knowledge of God and the pursuit of the Holy now become an even greater passion than the pursuit of a task."

Finishing "can only occur because of the first two. This transition involves a release from all that is familiar, and the convergent life that culminates in the knowledge that 'for this I was born.' It is about courage and trust. It is not about imitating the successful, but about being content with being fully a person God has known since before birth (Psalm 139)."

Isn't that good stuff? I usually want to run from the transitions life brings my way rather than facing them. But if I will just let go, God will direct me to the fulfulling of His purpose for the Kingdom. When I don't let go, it just takes God longer to get me to let go!!

Quotes to reflect on....

Psalm 104:13 -- "I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to Him, as I rejoice in the Lord."

C. S. Lewis -- "We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to attend. In fact to come awake. Still more, to remain awake."

Dietrich Bonhoeffer -- "The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus. Unless a definite step is demanded, the call vanishes into thin air."

Oswald Sanders -- "The difficulty with the majority of us is that we will not seek to apprehend the vision; we get a glimpse of it and leave it alone... It is not a question of intellectual discenment or of knowing how to present the vision to others, but seeking to apprehend the vision so that it may apprehened us."

Oswald Chambers -- "The bravery of God is trusting us! You say -- 'But He has been unwise to choose me, because there is nothing in me; I am not of any value.' That is why He chose you. As long as you think there is something in you, He cannot choose you because you have ends of your own to serve; but if you have let Him bring you to the end of your self-sufficiency then He can choose you to go with Him to Jerusalem, and that will mean the fulfillment of purposes which He does not discuss with you."

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Can You Say Wow?

Today I visited the church of one of my long-time friends, Andy Stanley. Andy and I went to college and church together (about 30 years ago!). I was privileged to participate in his ordination service by saying the ordination prayer. When I was a youth pastor, he also served as a youth pastor and we strategized about reaching the youth of Atlanta for Christ. When I left the Episcopal Church in 2004, Andy offered me some wise and needed counsel.

Andy's church, Northpoint Community Church, now has four worship locations on three campuses along the GA 400 corridor in North Atlanta. The central campus is in Alpharetta with the Buckhead Church 20 miles south and Brown Bridge Community Church 20 miles north in Cumming. For traffic reasons I decided to visit the Brown's Bridge Community Church at the 11:00 service.

I arrived by having parking volunteers direct me to the nearest available parking place. On the way into the "auditorium" I was greeted by at least 4 different people welcoming me to Brown's Bridge and "thanking me" for being there (they did not know me or my name; they were just being friendly). The auditorium seats (my guess) 3000 and is just that -- a stage with seating. Warm upbeat music was playing and slides were changing on the video screens. Soon we were asked to scoot to the middle of the row as people were standing in the back without seats. Today was "Promotion Sunday" for the children -- over 9,000 children at the three campuses.

At precisely 11:00 the Worship Band begins to play a hit from the 70's and on the corner of the screen, it says 'live from Brown's Bridge Community Church.' As soon as the song was over -- without missing a beat -- on the screen we see "live" the band from one of the Alpharetta campuses playing the next song yet the music is just as loud and just as clear, and then the band from Buckhead Church, and then the other campus at Alpharetta. At the end of the song, all four bands from the four different locations all play together - in tempo - with all the voices coming through the sound system -- ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It sounded terrific. The congregation erupted in a standing ovation. As it turns out, this was the first time they had done this via symucast with the music. All I could say was "wow!" Technology is being used in great ways in this church.

The service continued with a few worship songs and then, while the offering was being taken up, the band literally disappears and a large screen the width of the stage is lowered. Out onto the stage walks Andy, but he is not there, he is in Alpharetta. The two regular video screens on each side of the stage show close-ups of his face like you would expect, but the center screen shows the whole stage -- so when Andy gets up, it looks like he is walking on the stage. Amazing use of technology. Here is the fascinating thing for me: it didn't matter that he was not there; the technology made it feel like he was there. So much so that people laughed at his funny comments and responded to his questions.

I picked a good Sunday to attend as Andy was speaking on the vision of the church. He recounted the start of the chuch 14 years ago. He said they never sought to establish a big church. They have from the start attempted to be the best church they could be at reaching people who are unchurched or have been dissatisfied with their church and stopped attending. (I think they are definitely succeeding in this mission!!!). He reminded the church of their mission statement which is not too different from the one at our church: to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus. He said two basic principles have kept them anchored through the years: Who is Jesus? (Matthew 16:16-18) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19f). With these two principles in mind, they have tried to "reinvent church in a relevant way."

After his sermon, he prayed and that was it. 60 minutes sharp. It then took me 20 minutes to get out of the parking lot (and that was with the help of the local Sheriff's department directing traffic). Check out their website at

On a personal note: we took James back to UGA today to start his Junior Year. I thought it was supposed to get easier to let them go!!

Quotes worth reflecting on...

"Never once did it occur to me that when I found the trail again, it would ruin my life forever. For once you feel the breath of God breathe on your skin, you can never turn back, you can never settle for what was, you can only move more recklessly with abandon, your heart filled with fear and your ears ringing with those constant words, 'Fear Not.'" -- Mike Yacconelli

"Our first most spontaneous response to pain and suffering is to avoid it, to keep it at arm's length; to avoid, circumvent or deny it... Befriending it at first seems masochistic. Still my own pain in life has taught me that the first step to healing is not to step away from pain, but to step toward it." -- Henri Nouwen