Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I (Heart) My Wife

First of all, I apologize for not blogging in 3 weeks. I really enjoyed my family time this holiday and didn't spend much time on the computer...which is a great thing. Speaking of family, I just want to brag a bit about mine. As referenced before, I've gotten to spend some substantial chunks of time with mine recently. I love my wife and kids more and more every day.

I really appreciate the sacrifices my wife makes to keep our home and family operating smoothly. She's smarter than me and could do anything she wanted to do. Yet she chooses to be a stay-at-home mom and raise our children. It's a noble calling for her. She keeps the house up, does the bills, cooks the meals, shops for the household...and the list goes on...all while being pregnant with our third baby. I leave for the day and come in about 2 or 3 hours before our children go to bed. I really enjoy that time, but it's not the ENTIRE DAY with the girls like she has to spend. I know this blows many of your minds, but my children can be a handful. They are cute and sweet, but they also have this little sin nature problem that creates many opportunities for strife and selfishness.

She handles our kids with firmness and grace...true discipleship. I walk in and the kids rush to me for her a respite. But she's been with them for 8 or 9 hours before I come in. Not only is she a great mother, but she's also a trusted confidante and friend. I genuinely enjoy the time we get to spend together. Admittedly, time together...especially alone a precious commodity these days. Anyways, I wanted to brag on Chrissy. I could say alot more, but time doesn't allow this morning.

Monday, December 08, 2008


This past Sunday I continued in our Heroes series with a message on Elijah vs. The Prophets of Baal in I Kings 18. This is an awesome story! King Ahab and his vindictive wife Jezebel had been leading a Baal Revival (no that's not an agricultural movement of God....that would be a "bale revival"...furthermore, a "bail revival" involves prison ministry...setting the captives free...but I digress.) Jezebel had killed off most of God's Prophets in the land and reinstituted idol worship. Elijah declared a drought on the land as punishment for the nation turning its back on God. After 3 years of the drought, God tells Elijah to confront Ahab yet again.

Here's the conversation as they first meet up:

When he (Ahab) saw Elijah, he said to him, "Is that you, you troubler of Israel?"
"I have not made trouble for Israel," Elijah replied. "But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals." - (I Kings 18:17-18)

Isn't it ironic that Ahab sees Elijah as the troublemaker?! To him, Elijah is the reason for the drought when, in reality, it is his own sin that brought punishment upon the land. All Elijah did was to speak up for God. Elijah told Ahab exactly what God told him to do. If that is what it means to be a troublemaker, then so be it. Often people want to shoot the messenger when the news is bad.

As Christians, God has called us to be His voice in this world. We must say what needs to be said...confronting the idolatry of our own culture....defending the defenseless....advocating morality...harboring the widowed, orphaned, and unborn. The world might see us as the problem, and not the glaring sins of our culture as the issue.

But I keep hearing God ask us, "If you don't speak up, if you refuse to say what needs to be said, if you sit idly by, who will speak the truth to this world?" We may be called troublemakers for speaking truth and living with conviction. It would be an honor to be included with that lot.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Chuck E. Cheese

Tonight we celebrated Anna Beth's 5 year old birthday with the family at Chuck E. Cheese. I've never been to this establishment as a parent. In fact, my only remembrance of this place is when I went as a child. Back in the day it was known as Showbiz Pizza. Not much has changed. There is still the cheesy knock-off "Country Bear" animitronic character show. The pizza was okay. And there was still a Pac Man game. The place is just a whole lot smaller...and lamer...than I remember.

It was cool to see Anna Beth discover skee-ball for the first time...and the thrill of amassing gobs of tickets. She had a blast. It was interesting to watch her wonderlust for tickets increase as the night progressed. I took the gob of tickets to the Ticket Muncher, which made a gravely chewing sound as you pushed in the tickets. This contraption was a lifesaver, in that it counted the tickets for you and printed out a receipt.
My only consternation was in that fact that we won all 208 of our tickets in groups of 2 and 3. So here I am feeding this ticket muncher these tickets 2 or 3 at a time. As I was feeding this machine I was thinking to myself, "All of this buzz and excitement and play and all we'll get to show for this time is some cheap-o spider ring." I was also contemplating the Catholic concept of purgatory and how it had to be similar to this experience, especially when 2 impatient teens got behind me in line with their 2,000 tickets which were all connected together from the 3 hours that they sat in front of the Token Tilt Machine.
One of the weirdest moments was watching a grown man....a grown man....fighting with his wife because she didn't want him to waste their tokens on him showing off his basketball prowess in the free throw game. They got downright huffy with each other and were making a scene in front Chuck E. Cheese, God and everybody....all over tokens and tickets! I felt sorry for the kids who have to watch that kind of stuff. This establisment is known as the place "where a kid can be a kid."...and grown-ups can act like kids.
Tokens and tickets and trinkets are part of the fun in parties like this, but they don't amount to much. It's amazing to think that we get so fixated on winning them at places like Chuck E. Cheese. Alot of people spend great quanitities of their life chasing after the tokens, tickets, and trinkets the world has to offer, too. Yes, there is a rush in earning them. There's even some pride in showing off what you've accomplished. But in the end you're like me at the Ticket Muncher questioning the real worth of what you've just spent your life doing. This Thanksgiving, ponder the value of the things you live for. Don't just thank God for material blessings...the tokens, tickets, and trinkets. Thank Him for the spiritual blessings, the intangibles, the invaluables around you. Your spouse. Your kids. Your salvation. And, for the little cheapy spider rings He has allowed you to own along the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Real Source of Change...

I've been doing a lot of personal study in the Old Testament lately, in preparation for a series I'm doing on O.T. Heroes. I'm amazed by the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of God's people we see in these stories. It's really easy to look at the Israelites and their struggles and accuse them of why did you make a golden calf when God is manifesting Himself to you daily in the cloud by day and the fire by night? Or how can Gideon make a pagan idol for his family right after he witnesses the power of God take out 135,000 Midianites with an army of just 300?

The other thing that gets me is Israel's desire for a king. For centuries Israel was a theocracy with the leadership of the country loosely distributed between representatives who spoke for God: the prophets, the judges, and the priests. This loose triumvirate of leadership was tricky because there were times when one or two of this group stunk it up. The elders of Israel would gather and beg for a king...

Judges 8:22-23
The Israelites said to Gideon, "Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian." But Gideon told them, "I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you."

It wasn't enough to have this idealistic, pie in the sky, God as their king. They wanted a REAL king who could speak for himself and look them in the eyes. Besides, His representatives were not God. They were failed individuals with sinful hearts and desires. Israel also wanted one person to make decisions and, consequently, to blame when things went awry. Within the prophets, the judges, and the priests there was a lot of finger pointing. But ultimately, they wanted a human king, because he would surely bring the unity, stability, and presence they desired. People crave strong, tangible leadership.

In I Samuel 8 the elders approach Samuel and demand a king because Samuel had some lousy sons coming down the pike. Samuel goes to God, upset at the demands of the people. God comforts Samuel in verse 7 by correcting who the hurt should be directed toward, " is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king." Israel's hope for real change came in the form of a man and not in God. Israel thought that a political revolution was the answer to their problems. They put their eggs in that basket...and they eventually got Saul, the crazy tyrant. How did that solve their issues?!

There is a lesson to learn here. We, as the people of God, have to be careful that we don't put all the eggs of our hope for societal change in the political basket of our society. No one, no Conservative Right Republican or Liberal Ideologue, can really solve the ills of our society. Only the Gospel will bring the change we so desperately need - change we can believe in. Many people reacted with either uber-euphoria or utter disdain when Obama won the recent election. Both of those reactions are completely wrong. A new president will not save us, change us, or redeem this fallen land. We need real change- spiritual change. We need King Jesus to be the sovereign over the hearts and minds of America. Until that happens, it doesn't matter who is in the White House. The Religious Right sinned by buying into the guise that a "genuine" Believer in the presidency would usher in a spiritual/cultural revival...(How's the past 8 years been under a supposed strong believer in the Oval Office?) The Liberal Left has sinned in thinking "the One" will spark the social justice conscience of our culture and bring about a Utopian society where all Americans are treated equal (both medically and socially). If the Church acted like THE Church, fleshed out the Gospel, and took care of the widowed, the orphaned, and the poor, there would be no need for a Welfare system.

My prayer is for Christians to see the political arena as a peripheral venue instead of our primary means of seeing real change. We can and should be involved in politics. However, we should not depend on the political system to bring the Kingdom revolution we need. Lord bring spiritual revival! Bring spiritual change, instead of political change. Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I (Heart) October!

Here recently I have decided that October is one of my favorite months. Not only is it football season :) , but it's also a great time in the life of the church. Typically I see more new faces at church because people are getting settled into their regular schedules. I love to meet new people at Good Hope! I also get to go to my favorite conference (Catalyst) earlier in the month. On top of that we just had an AWESOME married couples retreat in the North Georgia mountains this past weekend. Last but not least...drumroll...our big Fall Festival outreach is later this week. Wow! That sounds really busy, and it is...makes me tired just typing it out...but it's just alot of fun.

I am very excited about our Fall Festival on Wednesday night. From what I hear over 1,000 people attend this event. We're trying really hard this year to be intentional about presenting the Gospel and to demonstrate a heart of service to our community. My prayer is that people see and hear the Gospel as they walk around the field on Wednesday. If you would, just take a moment and pray for Good Hoper's who are working this week to make this event a success. Pray that people will hear the Gospel and respond. Pray for good weather. Pray that the logistics of setting up and tearing down will go smoothly. Also pray extra hard for the follow-up evangelism after the event. I hope this event demonstrates to our community how much we love them.

P.S. We had one of the FUNNIEST moments at church yesterday. As I was introducing my parents I got a little "verklempt" and had to pause to regain my composure. Right when the pause occurred, the sound system backfired and made a rather loud sound that resembled the violent bodily release of flatulence :). I cracked up with laughter, the crowd roared, and I had to pull it together. I've included an audio file of that moment below.....Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Catalyst Conference Musings

We took our leadership team and a few other interested people from Good Hope to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta a week and a half ago. We had a great time. We got to hear from some awesome Christian/secular/business leaders and we got to participate in some awesome worship experiences. I love going to conferences like this because they inspire and motivate me. The difficulty, though, is in the take away. I struggle with what to do with all of this great info that I've learned. I try to ask myself what are the 3 things I learned that will change what I do from now on. So this little blog has a 2-fold purpose: for me to solidify what I learned and to share with you some tidbits that might help you. Here goes:

1) On a plaque in Andy Stanley's office is the following quote: "To reach people no one else is reaching we must do things no one else is doing." (quote by Craig Groeschel) I want to lead a church that isn't afraid to try new things for Jesus, even if it sounds off the wall to others. We can't just sit by idly and let our community slip away. The real question is, "What can we do that no one else is doing?" Creativity is hard because, sadly, much of what we do in the modern church is copying what worked at someone else's church. We have to really think of what we can do to contextualize and incarnate the Gospel to the greater Hartwell/Starr/Iva area.

2) “If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what would he do? Why shouldn’t we walk out the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?” - (Only the Paranoid Survive, Andy Grove) What changes have to be made now at Good Hope that will make her more efficient and more effective to inact community transformation? Why aren't we doing it right now? We're burning daylight! This really hit me and I'm still chewing on this one. Sometimes you have to be patient with the vision God places in your heart. This statement challenges me, but it is also a secular business philosophy that may not apply always in the church.

3) “When your memories exceed your dreams, the end is near” - (Michael Hammer) We cannot revel in what we've done so far as a church. The best visions, life changes, and history are ahead of us and not behind us. Many churches celebrate what they've done and are satisfied with the status quo. I refuse to be satisfied with where we are. We have never arrived!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Expiration Date

"Now listen, you who say, `Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. " - James 4:13-14

" is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment..."- Hebrews 9:27

For a moment imagine that you have been diagnosed with terminal cancer. By the time the doctors figured out what you had it was too late. The cancer has spread and your options were exptremely limited. I can't imagine how that feels- to know that "your time" is on the horizon. If this were you, what would you do with the time you had left? How would you live today differently?

Not to be a big downer, but we're all "terminal." All of us are going to die. A person with a terminal prognosis just happens to know the window of when it may happen. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. Only God knows. We all have an expiration date, but we live oblivious to when that will happen. How weird would it be if we had an expiration date tattooed on us from birth, like alot of items we buy at the grocery store!? It would probably drive many of us crazy to know when "our time" is appointed. Whether we are 32, like myself, or 80 we never think that we're going to die anytime soon. But wouldn't it make you live with more of a sense of urgency, to take advantage and appreciate every moment? If your date was October 5, 2008 what would you do on October 4? I think we all need to live like that today because it could very well be our last.

If you think about it, we're all on bonus time from God. Life is so short in comparison to eternity. We all need to make sure that we're ready for eternity because our time may come quicker than we know. (Cue "Live Life Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw)

"Live Like You Were Dying"

He said, "I was in my early forties with a lot of life before me

when a moment came that stopped me on a dime.

And I spent most of the next days looking at the x-rays

Talking bout the options and talking bout sweet time."

I asked him, "When it sank in that this might really be the real end?

How’s it hit you when you get that kinda news? Man what’d you do?"

And he said, "I went sky diving.

I went Rocky Mountain climbing.

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fmanchu.

And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter.

And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying.

And he said, "Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying."

He said, "I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t.

And I became a friend a friend would like to have.

And all the sudden going fishin wasn’t such an imposition.

And I went three times that year I lost my dad.

Well I finally read the Good Book and I took a good long hard look

at what I’d do if I could do it all again."

Like tomorrow was a gift,

And you got eternity,

To think about what you’d do with it.

And what did you do with it?

And what can I do with it?

And what would I do with it?

Sky diving I went Rocky Mountain climbing.

I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu.

And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter

and I watched an eagle as it was flying

And he said, "Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying.

To live like you were dying.

To live like you were dying.

To live like you were dying.

To live like you were dying.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Relational Evangelism

I've been both humbled and challenged by the current series we're doing at Good Hope - LOST.

I've been challenging our people to see the "lostness" around them and do something about it. The real question is "What do we do about it?" I preached Sunday on Jesus' Lost Stories in Luke 15.

The passage starts off like this in verse 1: "Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming to hear him. But the Pharisees and the experts in the law were complaining, `This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.'”

What a telling indictment the Pharisees give of Jesus! They are upset that Jesus actually hung out with the people who needed or wanted Him the most. They probably were upset that Jesus wasn't particularly chasing after them to hear their pompous teaching and talk. The Pharisees didn't need Jesus. They thought Jesus needed them. We're like Jesus in that we don't particularly like to stay where we're not needed or wanted. He preferred to hang out with those who needed answers and didn't have it all figured out.

Don't you love Jesus' evangelism plan here?! He welcomed sinners and He hung out with them. No outlines. No string of verses or slick questionnaires. It was all about relationships. I'm sure many of the conversations dealt with spiritual issues around that table and in those parties. I'm sure there were lots of questions asked and answered. The key is that Jesus knew how important it was to look someone in the eyes that you know and talk to them about what matters most to you. Otherwise, it's more like a sales pitch to strangers.

Just yesterday I had a door-to-door salesman knock on my door and offer me a free bottle of dish detergent. Smiling, he tried to initiate a series of questions leading toward a demonstration of his particular brand of vacuum cleaners. I smiled back and politely said, "No thank you. I'm not interested" a few times while he did his best to get the foot in the door. I gave him his detergent back and closed the door. It really made me think about how we present the Gospel. Do we do the "bait and switch" method with our events and carnivals? Do we ask leading questions to illicit the right response so we can get someone to agree with us?

The 2 main ways we think of evangelism in most churches are Events and Gospel Presentations.
Both of these options have their place in the church and can be used within the context of relationships to bring people to Christ. For example, an event gives you an awesome excuse to invite someone to church. It would be awesome if Good Hoper's took the initiative to invite a lost friend to the events we do at the church. The problem is that most attention and effort gets spent on pulling off the event instead of asking our neighbors to come with us. We can't just throw out a blow up jumpy box and expect people to come see us.

Events give us great opportunities to invite friends to come to church and to build upon the relationships we're working on. Likewise, Gospel presentations are important to know so you can simply and easily show someone how they can know Jesus. It's handy to memorize the Romans Road or to practice your testimony so you can be ready to share your faith. What I want to see change is the CONTEXT in which that information is given. Instead of strangers, share with a friend who trusts you and wants to hear what you say. Otherwise, you'll probably get the same response I gave the door-to-door salesman yesterday, "No thanks. I'm not interested."

Watch the video below and tell me what you think!
I've not read the book these guys wrote, but it is on my "Must Read" list. **Disclamer**I don't know if I agree with every premise in the book these guys wrote. However, the insights of Casper, the Friendly Non-Christian, reiterate my point about the importance of relationships in evangelism. Enjoy!

Friday, September 05, 2008

How Important is the Backstory?

Between the Olympics and the 2 political conventions, my sleep quotient has greatly diminished this past month. I enjoy both sports and politics. When you think about it, they are really similar. It's a way for people to compete, hear the roar of the crowd, root on a cause, and pump up the bravado. There's even a little contact if you're in the Taiwanese Parliament (check out the videos below).

Recently, the Olympics and the conventions have taken on a new angle over the past few cycles. Our country is mesmerized by the biographical back stories of the participants. In many cases, the biographical histories are featured more than the real competition at hand.

There's the Somalian runner Samia Yusuf Omar from war-torn Somalia, featured in a recent blog on the Olympics...

"Samia Yusuf Omar headed back to Somalia Sunday, returning to the small two-room house in Mogadishu shared by seven family members. Her mother lives there, selling fruits and vegetables. Her father is buried there, the victim of a wayward artillery shell that hit their home and also killed Samia’s aunt and uncle.This is the Olympic story we never heard.It’s about a girl whose Beijing moment lasted a mere 32 seconds – the slowest 200-meter dash time out of the 46 women who competed in the event. Thirty-two seconds that almost nobody saw but that she carries home with her, swelled with joy and wonderment. Back to a decades-long civil war that has flattened much of her city. Back to an Olympic program with few Olympians and no facilities. Back to meals of flat bread, wheat porridge and tap water."

Then, on the political side, there's Barack Obama who came from a single parent, wandering existence before his meteoric rise to being a community organizer and legislator. There's John McCain who spent 5 and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton.

I guess I would be a really boring Olympian or politician. I can hear Bob Costas now saying my story: "A man brought up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, young Jamie struggled with stuttering early in his life and battled obesity, often suffering the ridicule of wearing Husky jeans...."

My questions are: Are our athletes or politicians in these contests to showcase where they came from, or are they here to show what they can do today? Does your past really matter? Does your past qualify you better than someone who came from a semi-normal background? We Christians are just as guilty when we emphasize the "powerful testimonies" of "really bad sinners" who came to Jesus. You know what I'm talking about. We'd rather hear how God saved somebody from drugs, child smuggling, and other illicit activity than know what God is doing TODAY in someone's life. I've counseled with people who said that their testimony was boring because God shielded them from many of the pitfalls in which many people fall. Which is more important to God- our past or where we are today? Isn't it an awesome story that God shielded a person who accepted Christ at an early age and who lived a beautiful, uneventful life? Our past is important because it demonstrates the powerful work of God in bringing us to our current state. But I'm more interested in what God is doing in your life today. If the past is all we have...if our old life story before Jesus is the most important qualifier for us to share or to minister then I feel we're negating a whole lot of people who have a bland, powerful story to tell.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chrissy and I just celebrated our 8th anniversary last Tuesday, which was fun. I got to surprise her for an overnight excursion to Asheville. We spent some quality time together, which is a premium when you have 2 preschoolers who take up most of the conversation time in your life! On the way back from Asheville we both agreed that we talked more in that 24 hour excursion than we had in the previous month. You know, marriage is one of those great gifts God gave us to both encourage us and to make life interesting. Marriage is like most things, it’s what you make of it. You have to invest time and energy for it to work. Great marriages don’t just spontaneously mature and grow. In fact, if left unattended, married couples tend to drift apart and lose their connection. The reality is that we all want connection. We all want to be loved and to love others. But life happens, distractions take over, and before you know it two people who passionately cared for each other realize they’ve become strangers over time. The cure for this relationship killer is intentionality. Couples have to make time to be together or it just won’t happen. We can get so busy in the day-to-day activity of our lives that we just assume that intimacy will remain.

And slowly we drift…

Quite frankly, my fear is that our church relationships can suffer from a lack of intentionality as well. We get busy with the day-to-day activity of life, whether it be work, or family, or recreation. And before you know it, people at church seem distant. Church just becomes something you do on Sundays. People are friendly to you and you are friendly to people at church, but it’s mostly just an exchange of pleasantries a few minutes before or after service once each week. The Christian life can and should be more than that. It is supposed to be lived out in the context of a community.

Community at most churches is found in small group ministries of various kinds: Sunday School, Bible Study Fellowhip, Home Groups, etc. The reality at Good Hope is most adults who attend our church are not involved in Bible Study Fellowship, our version of Sunday School. Another reality is that if we wanted everyone to be in a Sunday School class we wouldn’t have a place to put them because we are limited in our classroom space! So my conclusion is the best, most reasonable way for us to stay connected at Good Hope is through Home Groups.

As a pastor, I desperately want my people to feel connected and cared for at Good Hope. In my heart of hearts, I know that involvement in a vibrant Home Group will greatly increase the chances of this happening. We have been taking attendance at Home Groups over the past few months at Good Hope. We have come to realize that half of our families are currently not engaged in a home group. I worry about these families. In fact, when I hear that a family is drifting from our church I can almost guarantee that they are not connected to a home group. I worry for these disconnected families much like I would worry for a couple who are not intentionally taking time for each other. We all need intimacy. It’s my heart’s desire that all Good Hopers be connected to other people in the church so we don’t drift and lose our connection with each other, and eventually with Jesus. If you are a Good Hoper and are currently not in a home group I want you to consider the reasons you are choosing to not be in one.

Has it been a matter of family schedule, or of comfortability, or of convenience? Maybe you’ve been disappointed before. Maybe the last one you were in didn’t go so well. Maybe you’ve just not felt comfortable being with people in that kind of setting. Maybe you’ve just not seen the need for it. I am challenging all of us to be more intentional about building community and connecting to each other. Invite another family over for dinner. Check out a home group when we get restarted this September. Let's not take our connectedness for granted. We need each other now more than ever.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Introducing Baby Duncan #3

I experienced a humble moment today as I stared at the ultrasound screen, transfixed upon the 8 week old baby growing in Chrissy's womb at the OBGYN's office today. It confounds me to think that we created this little being. I mean, really, God does the work, we just get to have a small hand in it! We'll know whether or not this little wonder is a boy (who'll have to be named Slam Duncan) or another gorgeous Duncan girl in about 20 more weeks...but who is counting!?! This little 1.6 centimeter long wonder has a heartbeat and measurable brain function. Amazing! I sat there in awe as we watched his/her little heart beat. Just 2 months ago this little one was just a gleam in my eye! People may argue that life begins at birth and not conception, but I sure know it's at least at 8 weeks! "I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well"(Psalm 139:14)