Reunion Time

8 08 2010

If you’ve followed this site at all, you know that over the past year and a half, I have attempted to locate the almost thirty individuals who worked with me at the Agape-In in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire during the summers of 1977 and 1978. Most of them have been located, and in addition, I’ve located a few others who worked at the Agape-In during the other ten years or so of its existence.

Staff 1977; all accounted for except Charlie Westbrook (4th from left & Debbie Johnson, last on right)

Each summer students from schools across America–mostly in the south–would spend the summer in groups of about fifteen at the beach. We had amazing, life-changing experiences as we shared life together and saw hundreds of people commit their lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Staff 1978; all accounted for except Beth Browning Hamilton (3rd row on left), Charlotte Ragland (2nd row middle) & Kevin Turner (3rd row right)

In the midst of all the investigative work to find these individuals with whom I served during these two years, we also “found” our host pastor/supervisor for the summers, Rev. William T. Jenkins, formerly pastor at Screven Memorial Baptist Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the sponsoring church with the Home Mission Board for the work we did. “Brother Bill” as he was known to us is living with his wife Hellen in Lebanon, Tennessee now. Both of their children also live nearby.

Brother Bill, taken in front of the Agape-In, 1977

All former staffers of the Agape-In have been invited by “Brother Bill” and his wife, Hellen, to a REUNION at their home in Lebanon, Tennessee on the weekend of August 14-15 next month. Many have already indicated they will be there. I will, too. Others of you may find this post and wonder if you can attend. Please consider this your invitation to join us for this special event. If you want to connect with more of us, you can find Agape-In ’77 and Agape-In ’78 groups on Facebook. Or if you prefer, contact me through the comments below and I’ll give you the other details for the reunion event.





Monday Morning Rewind: Family Values

2 08 2010

The church of Jesus Christ is defined in Scripture as “the household of faith” and “the family of God.” As such, the apostle Paul lays out for the community of faith foundational pillars that are to govern its behavior in the beginning verses of Ephesians 4.1-16. In the previous three chapters, he’s given the clearest theology of the church found anywhere in the Bible. Now, beginning in the first verse of this fourth chapter, he provides the activity or behavioral imperative that this theology places upon the church. “We have been bought with a price; we are not our own” anymore. We are to live as God’s people before a lost and dying world. These pillars, or values within the family of God, are to show themselves in our behavior.

What are these values that we are to demonstrate? The first is unity (v. 3). It is interesting to note that we cannot “create” unity; we can only break it. Unity is a part of the organic nature of God. His Spirit gives it and we are to keep it, according to the Scripture. Paul highlights our “oneness” as he elaborates on our unity. Seven items are mentioned: the Triune God: Father (Creator,) Son (Lord) and Spirit (empowerer), along with our past (baptism), our present (faith and family, the Body of Christ) and our future (hope). These unite us as one people. Note Paul does not say we are “equal” or the “same.” He emphasizes unity, not uniformity. His focus is on our interdependence. I need you and you need me. We are all integrally connected within the family of God. As such, Paul emphasizes our first priority is to its unity.

Second, he points out its diversity (v. 7). Previously he focused on our collective identity (unity); not he highlights our individuality (to each one of us, he says). Every single one of us in the family of God have been given a gift (s) for use in the Body. God has sovereignly chosen these gifts and has given them freely to us. This, Paul says, is guaranteed by the prophecy of the Psalmist (Ps 68) which indicated Jesus came to this earth, then ascended back to heaven “giving gifts to men.” These gifts are to be used, not ignored or neglected. We are to discover and be equipped to use them. Church leaders are responsible to make sure the Body is prepared to do “works of service” as intended by God. Without such diversity, our service would be “lopsided” and some services or people would be missed in the process. We need to value such diversity (rather than seeking to clone or wish that others will be like “us.), because such diversity reflects the depth of God’s grace and wonder.

Third, the outcome intended is maturity for us all (v. 13). We are to grow through love (mentioned three times in this section of Scripture) and responsibility (as each one does his part). Only God’s kind of love will be selfless and persuade us to act as we should. When we reach relational (unity in the faith), intellectual (in the knowledge) , and emotional (in the love) maturity of Christ, we will attain to the full measure of Him, our Lord. That means we will not settle for comparing ourselves in our growth and development to our spouse, our parents, our neighbor, our pastor or any other believer. Rather, we will measure our maturity as we compare to Christ alone. When we attain this level, we will no longer be anxious with doubts when assailed by the waves of life; rather, we will be a witness to the people of God and to the world of what God alone can do in and through us.

So, walk worthy of the calling you have received (v. 1)! Your live should–and must–carry weight and influence with others around you so that they too will see Jesus in and through you. When that happens we will be portraying the kind of values the family of God needs to live out before the world.





Monday Morning Rewind: Responding to the Word

20 07 2010

Sunday we looked at the central message in the book of James: “Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only” (1.22). Scholars suggest that his readers were scattered believers across the Diaspora after the early persecution came to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 8.1). James, who is called the first pastor of the Jerusalem church, wrote to remind them to practice what they preached. He challenged them get rid of hypocrisy and apply themselves to the practical outworking of the Scripture in their own lives.

In essence, here in the early portion of his letter, he is reminding them that the Bible primarily exists for your TRANSFORMATION, not simply for your INFORMATION. Knowledge can’t (and won’t) save; only Christ in you, the hope of glory.

James insists that the Word of God demands a response. You cannot ignore it. God’s Word lays claim upon your life and mine as followers of Christ. Hence, in Scripture the tension between the indicative and the imperative moods, grammatically. The indicative states the facts of what have happened, specifically in Christ’s work for us. The imperative declares the claim it has upon our lives, for “we have been bought with a price.”

So how are we to respond to the Word? What difference is it to make in our lives?

First, we are to receive the Word (v. 21). Implanting the Word in our hearts is God’s work, but we are commanded to “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent” first. The writer uses the analogy of shedding a dirty set of clothes here as a preparatory act. Moreover, in doing so, along with being in “listening and learning” mode as he mentions at the beginning of this paragraph, we demonstrate humility. This is the key to receiving the Word, that we submit to the authority of its source and its import upon our lives. In fact, James reminds his readers that this very Word is able to “save you.”

Second, we are to remember the Word (v. 25). James uses the analogy of a mirror to assist his readers in understanding the value of the Word in their lives. They are to “let the Word of Christ dwell richly within” them. Three times he emphasizes this by using words like “look intently,” continue to do,” and “not forgetting.” All of this reinforces the importance of letting the Word of God invade our lives. It’s more than just receiving or even reading…we must contemplate it regularly. By that I mean, we are to meditate on it, revisit it through the days, let it “transform our minds” as we stoop down and look carefully into it. The blessing we receive in so doing is to find ourselves aligned with our Lord’s will and Word.

Third, we are to reflect the Word (v. 22). When we live out His Word, we “reflect” it–and its source, our Lord–to the world around us. Our light TO them is a reflection of our life IN Him. In living out His Word, we proclaim His truth (1.18). James actually pits two categories of people in contradistinction to each other here in this verse: hearers (in the ancient world this referred to those who attended lectures but never joined the group) and doers (in the ancient world this was a word used for poets and orators, those who’s identity and meaning were shaped by words). He suggests to his readers that they were in one category or the other. The key to being a doer was to implement its commands in life, to apply and live out the Word personally.

In responding to the Word, we are constantly asked the same, in fact, perhaps the most important, question of all: what will we do with “the Word” now that we know what it says? This is the “so what” of the Scripture. God has said such-and-such; how will we respond? The challenge of James, even with the practical applications he mentions toward orphans and widows, is to live it out daily…to be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

(Due to my illness yesterday, these notes from my message are a day later than usual.)





Monday Morning Rewind: Surviving the Fires of Our Lives

12 07 2010

Yesterday we studied chapter 3 in the book of Daniel.  It’s the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, confronting King Nebuchadnezzar and his image of gold.  The consequences for their refusal to bow down and worship him (or “it,” the idol) would be severe…death in a fiery furnace.  Yet, they refused to lower their belief in an Almighty God and his directions for their lives (“no other gods before me”).  They knew that commitment to the eternal values of their great God would make the difference in surviving the fires of their lives.

So, what can we learn from their experiences that will help us in facing the fires of our own lives today?

First, cultivate character. By character, I mean “the stuff we’re made of.”  It’s the internal fortitude and workings over time that prepare us for events like this.  These men had prepared for years, probably a couple of decades, for the adversity of such a day…and they were ready because they had allowed God to build His character and strength into them.  Someone has said “unless you know what’s worth dying for, you’re really not able to know what’s worth living for.”

Second, establish priorities. Do you know what’s the most important thing in life?  These guys did; their devotion and commitment to God came first.  They were unwilling to let anything else rival that.  They sought God’s will and believed that they had discerned it…and that can only happen when we are aligned with Him.  He must come first; these guys knew that.  When He does, everything else makes sense and falls into place as it should.

Third, don’t compromise with the crowd. It would have been easy to give in and do like everyone else, but these three men refused to do that.  They really had no “plan B,” though they recognized that God might have a plan to which they were not privy.  Regardless, they refused to let the “world squeeze them into its own mold.”  They stood fast and let their testimony ring in the ears of those who commanded they conform.  It would later make a tremedous difference in the lives of those who’d heard it!

Finally, walk with God in the midst of the fire. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were joined by a fourth man in the fire and “the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” So said Nebuchadnezzer, as he noted the presence of God with them in the fire.  Note that God does not remove us from the fire; rather, He chooses to walk with us through the fire, and to bring us out of it unbound and unharmed.

Malcolm Muggeridge, the British journalist who came to know Christ late in life, wrote this in one of his final books (Homemade, 1990):

Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.

You see, fire shapes us, marks us, motivates us, prunes us, simplifies life for us.  It is not God’s intent to let the fires of life destroy us; they are there rather to refine us. In this summertime season, let’s remember our God, who is always able…as He in fact enables us to survive the fires of life.





Checking the Foundation

7 07 2010

It was recently pointed out to me that a building I was visiting had a telltale crack that had appeared in one of the corners where two of the walls came together. The building was older, perhaps a hundred years in age, and from all appearances on the outside, was quite beautiful and impressive. However, I was told that the crack—visible only from the inside—indicated a more serious problem than was even evident to the naked eye. The foundation was flawed, cracked as well, and that this would eventually bring about the demise of the building itself.

Can I state the obvious? Church planting doesn’t always encourage the construction and building of the planter’s own spiritual life. In fact, ministry in general often fights against the necessity of personal spiritual formation in the life of all Christ-followers. I find this especially true, at least anecdotally, among leaders in church life.

I have no doubt that the Enemy is behind a lot of this. He is “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Sometimes it’s an all out, frontal assault, but often times it’s not. He’s usually subtler than that. If he can get church leaders to focus on “the good” rather than “the best,” he can neutralize their development or at least encourage a crack to appear in it.

In church planting this is often compounded by the fact that egos are large and resources are small. Planters sometimes think too much of themselves or they have limited options to assist them in the work of ministry. In either case, they often try to do it all themselves. Since everyone, including the planter, has the same amount of time, then something has to give. Unfortunately, it’s often their own spiritual development that suffers as a result.

This past month, the BCM/D granted me a sabbatical, for which I am thankful. My intended purpose for this experience was to retreat, reflect, renew and re-engage, all in the midst of life and ministry learning with family and friends. During this time I was reminded of several keys that are essential for church planters—and all Christian leaders, in fact—to remember as they seek to build strong, healthy spiritual lives while ministering.

Being before Doing. In God’s eyes, who I am is more important than what I do. If I forget this, I negate the work of grace in my life and attempt to earn God’s favor through my service. In addition, who I am (or may not yet be) will directly impact what I do. If I am to develop as a leader like I should, I must cultivate my spiritual walk with God; it will affect everything else.

Relationship not Religion. Christianity is not a bunch of rules, tasks and obligations. It is a relationship with the living Lord. Our Father desires to develop intimate communion with His children, but religious responses crowd Him out and make the “forms” more important than the “function.” In other words, relationship makes it personal; religion, impersonal.

Love trumps Duty. What motivates you in your Christ-life? While responsibility rightly ought to move us to behavior in our ministry, the ultimate motivator in our lives should be love. Jesus taught us the importance of such love in our walk with God and in our connections with others (Matthew 22:37-39; John 15:12-13). Love is a relational motivator and thus, nurtures our life in Christ. Duty alone, on the other hand, brings burnout and a judgmental heart.

Priority above Activity. To put this another way, quality is more important than quantity in our lives. Even Jesus didn’t try to do “everything.” He instead chose to do what was most important at all times. He reminded busy, hard-working friend, Martha that her sister Mary, who sat at His feet, had “chosen what is better” (Luke 10:42). Doing the right things is always more important than doing more things.

People over Assignment. With so many needs in ministry, it is easy to forget that our assignment is not just checking off everything on our “to do” list. Tasks are not the objective; they are means to an end. The end in our service is always people, God’s choicest creation. Every job and assignment we have is done for the purpose of helping others and the calling God has placed upon their lives. If we forget the objective, our hearts become pharisaical and will harden.

Community rather than Isolation. You can’t be a solitary follower of Christ and grow your soul. The Godhead experiences community; Jesus exemplified it here on earth. We are created for community and need it desperately to thrive spiritually. While leadership in ministry often wars against close “common unity” with others for a variety of reasons (most are self-imposed), the growing disciple will allow “iron to sharpen iron” and will learn the necessity of interdependence in the Body of Christ.

Oswald Chambers reminds us all, “The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him…The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him” (My Utmost for His Highest, January 18). In fact, if not careful, we can all too quickly neglect this essential foundation to work on the superstructure. And while superstructures can impress those who view them, the ultimate ability of the building to accomplish its intended purpose depends on what is inside and more specifically, what is unseen.

(This article is an “advance peek” at what I have written for the next edition of the PlantLIFE section of the BaptistLIFE newsjournal, coming out later this month.)





Monday Morning Rewind: In God We Trust?

5 07 2010

In 1956, by an act of Congress our national motto became “In God We Trust.” It has adorned all our money since that time, and in some instances even before (back in the Civil War days). But regardless of what our money “says,” the ultimate reality of our trust is seen in our behavior…the things upon which we build our lives. In the final analysis, that foundation has to provide us with purpose and meaning. Consequently, whatever it is will shape our present moments as well as our destiny.

Solomon knew something about all of this. Having followed his father to the throne as king of Israel, he watched and heard David declare that “in Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name” before the nation (Psalm 33.21). Acknowledged in Scripture as “the wisest man who ever lived” (1 Kings 4.31), Solomon nevertheless had to come to a place where he personally professed his allegiance in God, not because his father did, but because he knew it was right. The book of Ecclesiastes tells of that personal, existential journey. As “the Teacher” for Israel he shares the lessons of his journey, a journey littered with many wrong turns and mistakes along the way. One commentator even calls the message of Ecclesiastes “the art of staying off dead-end streets.”

Where did Solomon “journey” to try and find meaning in life? In what was he willing to place his trust and allegiance in hopes of discovering a purpose for living?

He looked for knowledge to provide meaning in life (1.17). He sought out a cognitive form of mental gratification that helped him grow and increase the accumulation of wisdom. He experienced and applied what he learned. But he came to realize it was an unending battle to master information that was multiplying too fast to grasp. On the one hand, knowledge adds to arrogance (“I’m better than others”); on the other hand, it adds to frustration (“I can never know it all”). As a result, it was unsatisfying; Solomon’s word is “vanity,” emptiness, meaninglessness. It was like trying to catch the wind!

He looked to pleasure to bring meaning in life (2.10, 1, 11). 1 Kings 11.3 actually tells us how this was manifest in his life: he had 300 wives and 700 female concubines. In his own words, he says he denied himself nothing his eyes or heart desired; he sought to provide for himself a form of physical and emotional gratification. John later on helped us realize that the source of temptations come to us through the lust of the eyes, the pride of life and the lust of the flesh (1 John 2.16); Solomon apparently succumbed to all of these temptations in another vain attempt to find meaning and purpose in life. He discovered two things: first, this desire for pleasure is insatiable and second, that this too was an empty foundation upon which to build the stability of life.

He looked to “success” to provide meaning in life (2.4-6, 8-9, 11). This took the form of work, projects, etc., supposedly for the benefit of others (but in reality to boost his own ego and self-importance…he uses the words “for myself” five times in this section). This led to the accumulation of wealth as a source of meaning, and when that didn’t satisfy, he tried the authority of power, but this too left him empty. He fell prey to “the myth of more.” All of these things that so many of us long for, and feel like if we only had “this,” it would make everything alright…well, Solomon found them all to be just as meaningless and unsatisfying as knowledge and pleasure had been.

But Solomon made a great discovery! The source and foundation of meaning and purpose in life is God! (2.24-26) He came to realize that only God can provide meaning in life, only He can be the foundation upon which to build a life worth living. Why chase after the by-products (happiness, peace, etc.) that will be here today and gone tomorrow, instead of chasing after the source of it all, God? He alone can provide contentment and enjoyment in life. He alone can give the wisdom and happiness we need and so eagerly desire. In this discovery, Solomon had come “full circle” from what his father had taught him long before: in God we trust. He came to own this truth for himself personally, for only God can provide you and me with the satisfaction and fulfillment that we seek in life.

For many of us, we’ve been on that journey and come to realize the very same truth. Some are still seeking. I pray that if you are searching, you will consider the wisdom and experiences of Solomon and look to God as the source of your life, too. Jesus said, “I have come that YOU might have life–life in all its fullest.” Why not discover the reality of this truth for yourself? You’ll be eternally grateful that you did.





In God We Trust

3 07 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

Another year blessed with God’s grace and favor.

Tomorrow I will preach on the topic “In God We Trust?” and we will explore options that many Americans pursue in addition to God Himself. When it’s all said and done, all other anchors will fail us; only God can sustain us. May we recognize once again, our need to keep on trusting in Him, our faithful and mighty God.

Happy Independence Day, everybody! Enjoy the video…








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