Saturday, March 24, 2012

What a Day!

There are some days when it just seems impossible to get everything done that needs to be done. You know how that feels, right? Today we started with a scheduled work day at the facilities of our church, Grand View Baptist in Mesquite. From the time the workday was planned until this morning a number of things changed…that impacted what those gathered would do.

Our peoples were so flexible. Instead of preparing and planting in flower beds, they ended up repairing shingles that were blown off the root during high winds this week, replacing light bulbs high up in the worship center, punching holes and attaching rubber bands to 1800 Easter invitation cards, walking streets hand delivering invitations to our neighbors, and practicing all the events that children will participate in during our Egg Olympics on Saturday, April 7. What may have seemed unorganized to some, resulted in significant accomplishment.

Following the work day, I came home and cleaned up before going to visit members who are in the hospital. In one room, four generations of one family were enjoying just being together. Great-granddaughters who had played in soccer games earlier were now quietly encouraging great grandmom. Praying together with this family, awaiting the outcome of tests ordered to learn her prognosis, was a sweet moment with God – one of those times when His presence is powerfully evident.

Then it was by the house to pick up Pam and make our regular trip to Whole Foods in Arlington. Why, oh why, can our city not land a Whole Foods Market? But since there is not one in Irving, and since we have no comparable stores either, we drive into the next county to buy organic produce, meats, and personal favorites that are not available elsewhere! Today, it seemed everyone else from nearby counties decided to come at the same time. There were no cheese samples left in the displays! (one of the first places I go when I get in the store)

When we got home, it was then time to complete and send promised information for our church’s new website. Finally, before spending a final few minutes prayerfully reviewing tomorrow’s message, I made sure the PowerPoint files were ready for the studies that I will be leading this week at First Baptist Church of Hillsboro. So, why am I writing this at 10:30 PM when it doesn’t have to be done? I guess I just wanted to take a moment to assess the day and celebrate its completion. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Death to Life as One Church Brighton

Early up and off on Sunday morning to Brighton, seaside town of 250,000 which is in man respects culturally similar to Austin, Texas. In fact, the community has unofficially adopted "Keep Brighton Weird" as a tag line. One t-shirt was seen with the tag line on the front, and on back, "I'm doing my part!"

Greater Brighton is one of the most unchurched towns in Britain, with about 54% of its residents claiming atheism. In this environment, Dave Steell and family sensed God's leading to serve the Gloucester Baptist Church, a dwindling center city congregation. Within a brief period of having come to Brighton, Dave had a vision that Gloucester Baptist and another dying church, Florence Road Baptist, might come together to become one new church.

Space does not allow me to describe the entire process that led to the new church, but our team was privileged to worship with One Church Brighton, a part of the Body of Christ in the city. Where there were formerly two congregations that were close to death, the decision was in fact made to die. From the death of the two, one new church has been birthed.

For one year, the two congregations met together, heard the stories of those who were members of both congregations as Steell interviewed them week after week during worship. Then, on Easter Sunday, the formal launch of the new church saw the property filled with worshippers. While some members of the former congregations were not able to "make the journey" to become part of a new church, most have remained. Additionally, during the year of preparation for starting One Church, others who were not part of either church have come to identify One Church as their faith community.

Today, there is the critical mass for a healthy winsome church meeting at the Florence Road facility each week for worship and teaching. The center city facility, formerly Gloucester Place, is used for offices and public meetings of the community. Because of its location, plans are for it to become a ministry center for the city.

Our team had lunch with Dave Steell to hear him tell the story of two churches dying so that One Church could be born as a new healthy infant, with a vibrant future ahead. Just hearing the story brought us great hope.

Across America there are many places where the potential exists for similar death to life stories to be written. Pray for One Church Brighton, for Pastor Dave Steell and his family, and for the faithful congregations who are investing themselves to love Brighton in fresh ways. Pray for their effective service to the diverse and spiritual distant population of the city to which they have committed their lives.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Arrival, Underground, Fish-n-chips

Upon arriving in London, the tube system quickly became a lifeline for our team. We connected at Heathrow with Phil Young, who had arrived a couple of hours before us as he flew direct from Chicago. As we prepared to exit the terminal, I gave an Oyster card to each team member and welcomed them to life in London. Oyster cards are loaded with cash value and then swiped for access to trains, buses and the underground.

We caught the Picadilly Line at Heathrow and exited at South Ealing Station in southwest London. There we were met by car to transfer our luggage to the rental that would be our "home away from home" for the week. Through the online service, Vacation Rental by Owner (, I had located a home with sufficient bedrooms and baths to accommodate our team.

After dropping our luggage, we walked to Northfields Station where we caught the tube to King's Cross St. Pancras Station, one of the oldest and most ornate tube stations in London. From there, we took the bus north to the studios of More than Gold. After the briefing and sight visit to Olympic Park,, we tubed to Victoria Station to enjoy our first dinner at St. George's a traditional English pub.

Most of our team were ready for the first serving of fish and chips. While we were waiting for our meals to be served, Henry Deneen, Bryan Doyle and other GEM staff joined us. By we were finished, more than fish and chips had registered in the traditional english food category, as we splurged and had sticky pudding as well!

It was well after dark before we boarded the tube for "home" and the short twelve-minute walk to our rental property. After the overnight flight and a very full day, the team were ready for a good night's rest.

Friday, June 10, 2011

More than Gold - London Learning Lab

For the last week, I have guided our first Learning Lab in London. Our team of four church leaders left the US on Thursday, June 2 and flew home yesterday. Team members were Danny Gilliam, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hillsboro, Texas; Dean and Austin Meade, pastor and worship leader from Calvary Baptist Church in Brenham, Texas; and Phil Young, staff member with Tennessee Baptist Convention. These friends joined me to visit with church leaders in the United Kingdom who are developing creative ministries to reach out to those living in a post-christian culture.

Today in Britain, less than 7% of the population regularly attend any kind of church. In a nation that was once the center of the modern missionary sending movement, God's story is rarely known. Young adults may be compared to third generation immigrants who know longer speak or understand the language of their grandparents. They do not know the story of Christ or why the church even exists.

In 2012 the world will come to London for the Summer Olympics. The global games provide a unique opportunity for churches to serve and share with athlete families and fans from virtually every nation. After our overnight flight from the US, our team hit the ground running by visiting the offices of More than Gold. Begun during the Olympics in Atlanta, More than God is the umbrella under which churches come together to minister during major sporting events. In this case, the Olympic Committee has asked More than Gold to provide host homes for incoming athlete families.

During the games, More than Gold has committed to provide thousands of Christian volunteers who will serve in more than 200 various ministry roles. Filling those roles will require volunteers coming from around the world as short-term missionaries during July and August, 2012. Team members were briefed on the opportunities and invited to bring mission teams to serve during the games.

John Burns, of the More than Gold staff, led the briefing while we enjoyed lunch. We were also joined by my friend Bryan Doyle, and Henry Deneen, president of Greater Europe Mission.

Following the briefing our team caught the tube and made our way to the Olympic Park which is quickly nearing completion in Stratford. There we prayed that God would get great glory during the 2012 games. I filmed Danny Gilliam as he recorded a video to share with his congregation inviting them to pray and prepare now about being part of the mission in London next year.

Danny pointed to the structure being built for the Olympic flame and challenged his church to pray that the true light that overcomes darkness would be received by thousands who will come to Olympics 2012. Thousands will come from nations where the Gospel cannot be freely proclaimed. Pray that in London they will encounter the Light of the World.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Encouragement When I Fail

The repeated failures of Peter, as he learned to follow Jesus, encourage me.

“Well, that didn’t work” is a practical commentary on failure. Not that failure is accepted. Failure as a follower of Christ is never accepted, but it must be acknowledged. When confronted in repentance, failure gives way to restoration, to a renewed walk that, because of the experience, is better prepared for similar situations in the future. Colloquial wisdom calls it “Learning from our mistakes.”

Peter was exposed to endless hours of instruction as he journeyed with Jesus, living in community day after day, night after night. His instruction clearly included the stories of Israel, the heritage to which his own story was being added. When confronted with the “kill and eat” dream on the rooftop of Simon Tanner’s home in Joppa, Peter’s reaction was informed by the theology that was the fabric of his own story, “By no means. I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.”Obeying God’s direction, Peter went with those who had extended him an invitation to visit a gentile home in Caesarea. As result of Cornelius’ prayer and God’s response, Peter encountered a community of people who were waiting in the soldier’s home to hear good news from God.

At that moment, Peter made an interesting statement, I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality” (Acts 10:34). “I most certainly understand now.” To what did the “now” of Peter’s statement refer? It must have referred to the total experience of the last twenty-four hours: a dream on a rooftop, an argument with God, relinquishing tradition to obey God’s direction, entering a gentile’s home, hearing how his being there was God’s answer to Cornelius’ prayer, responding to people who were waiting for God’s promised message.

The totality of that experience, all the parts combined, became Peter’s “now.” Apart from the “now” Peter had only words of instruction; propositional truth. But as he obeyed God, theological propositions became experiential truth for him. Let me be clear, I do not mean to imply that the theological propositions alone were untrue. Their truth was activated by obedience. As he confronted his own failure to fully grasp the truth of God, as he repented (turned around, going where he thought he would never go), restoration brought him one step closer to being conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. And that is God’s intent for every disciple.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One Church Brighton Launches

Recently I joined our ministry partner Bryan Doyle who serves Greater Europe Mission for a week filled with tube and train travel around London and other UK cities. During the week I had the privilege of meeting Kingdom leaders who are creating new and effective paradigms of ministry.

This is the story of two churches becoming one - not a merger, but a new entity. After two previous conversations about merging, Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church, are about to become a new church. In previous dialogues, reticence on the part of one or the other congregations always led to backing away; the costs were perceived to outweigh the benefits. But when both congregations were willing to die, something new, relevant and exciting could be born.

Gloucester Place Baptist Church and Florence Road Baptist Church officially launch as One Church Brighton this week on Resurrection Sunday. Already the two congregations have becoming one community of faith under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dave Steell. When two hundred plus year old congregations agree to die to allow God to birth one new church, it might just be that a miracle has occurred. Since last July, members of the two churches have been moving toward their launch as One Church Brighton; working through the tough issues of letting go of the old and learning to lay hold of something new.

The facilities of both churches will be utilized in the new mission focus, one as an office complex and community center to serve the center city, the other as the primary worship facility with good access to public transportation hubs in the city. As I worshipped with the congregation, I was in awe of the intentional processes they are employing toward becoming One Body.

In the midst of their identity transformation, this group of believers see themselves as one part of Christ’s larger Body in Brighton. It was a joy to hear the members praying by name for sister churches of various denominational traditions; including very specific prayers for upcoming events which they knew would be taking place over the next days.

In a post-Christian culture, the Body of Christ in Brighton is learning how to release itself to a fresh work of God in this generation. It is a lesson that needs to be heard again and again by churches throughout North America.