A month or so ago my friend Greg Ducker asked me what were some of my favorite books? What were some books that have influenced me in leadership and personally? I have been thinking a lot about that question recently, … Continue reading
One of the things I believe so firmly is that no church is “better” than another one. We are all different; we have different callings, different visions, different things that we are supposed to be doing.
Those differences aren’t bad, in fact, they are good. It’s good that churches are different, that way we each do our part for the kingdom. It takes all of us. I never, ever, ever want to be the guy that says, my church is awesome, and your church stinks!
So, all that said, I just love my church. I love how open Asbury is, how we try our very best to love everyone, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from. We try our best to love, and leave the judgement stuff up to God.
I love that we are imperfect. I love that we get it wrong. If you aren’t willing to fail; you’ll never do anything big. We make mistakes, all the time. I make mistakes, all the time. And it’s ok. Because God is bigger than our mistakes.
I love that we care. That’s the thing that I just love the most. I love that we care. That we really do want to be Salt and Light, that we really do want to make a difference. That we really want to live out the grace that we’ve been given and love others in the same way.
I love that we believe relationships trump all.
I love my church. I love how we laugh and love and sweat and cry and succeed and fail. I love that we are authentic; we apologize for our mistakes, we try to do better, and we lean on Jesus.
I love that in the last month, our church has replaced someone’s trailer that should have been condemned with a new one, as a gift. Because it’s what Christians should do.
I love that we have jumped at the chance to serve Petal Upper Elementary School. We took up nearly 60 $25 Walmart gift cards to give to the teachers there, we fed them lunch, and I was able to share with the teachers just how much we love them.
I love my church. And I am thankful to not just serve Asbury as pastor, but I am thankful to be a part of it.
Yesterday’s sermon at Asbury was, I think, one of the most important ones that I’ve preached since I’ve been here. If you haven’t heard it, you can listen to it on our website or by downloading our free mobile app.
2012 was, in every measurable way, the greatest year Asbury has ever had. We grew in worship attendance by 12.5%, added 90 new members, had 40 baptisms, started new small group connections, and had our best year of stewardship and giving ever.
It was an amazing year.
And the best is yet to come. I believe that 2013 will be the greatest year in the history of our church. But, for us to live into that great calling that God has for us, we have to know what it is that we are about. And what it is that we are trying to become, through God’s grace.
So, yesterday, I preached on that notion. And I wanted to pass it along and restate it here, to help it become firm in our minds, and help us sharpen our focus in 2013.
First, hear God’s Word from Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV):
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
Our mission here is to be Salt and Light. You’ve heard that said a million times. But, what does that mean? What does that look like? Here it is. Asbury 101 (How to be Salt and Light)
We as church have two primary “goals.” To know Jesus and know Jesus better.
What does that mean? Well, it starts there. Knowing Jesus. Each of us, must first start with making that decision to follow Him. To make Him Lord. To put our faith in Him and follow Him.
But, knowing Jesus is not the end. It’s just the beginning. If we don’t know Him, we need to make that decision to know Him. But, if we do know Him, we need to spend our lives making sure that we know Him better.
Conversion is the start of this journey with Jesus. And we spend the rest of our time here on the earth knowing Jesus better. This is where the angst is satisfied. This is where life is found. Knowing Jesus and knowing Jesus better.
Ok, Andy, how do we know Jesus better?
Here at Asbury, we talk about it in three general ways. We pray, read your bible, and go to church. The first two are relatively self explanatory. In prayer, we open ourselves up to the awareness of God’s presence. We allow ourselves to give voice to God to our concerns and hurts, and we experience His transformative power.
In reading our Bible, we open God’s inspired, revealed Word and are built up, challenged, consoled and we better understand God’s plan of salvation for our lives, and God’s purpose in our lives.
It’s go to church that takes a little explanation. It’s not a perfect phrase, but it’s one that fits us. When I say go to church I don’t mean go to the building, but instead I mean be part of the community. I mean be part of the connection.
By go to church, I mean three things. Weekly worship here with the Body of Christ. You and I were made for worship. We were put here to worship God.
It also means be part of a Small Group Connection here at Asbury. We as a church, and I as a pastor, believe that true life changes happens in Small Groups. It’s where we learn, grow, are challenged, and held accountable. It’s where life change happens.
And, third, it means to serve. We weren’t just put here to receive and receive and receive. Through worship, through Small Groups, we are poured into. We are supposed to pour into others; through service, teaching, giving.
Life is found in giving what we have received.
And we when we do that, give what we have received, we make a difference. We are Salt and Light.
And that’s what we are about here at Asbury. That’s Asbury 101. That’s being Salt and Light.
We know Jesus and know Jesus better.
We pray, read our bible and go to church.
We become Salt and Light. We make a difference.
Today, no matter where you are, and what you are doing, may each of us make a difference for the kingdom. May we each be Salt and Light.
Today was our fifth day in the Holy Land. And frankly, we didn’t do nearly as much as we did the last few days. But that’s ok. And I’ll tell you why in a second.
But first, what did we do?
We spent today around the Dead Sea. Part of what I’m doing this trip is doing things that I didn’t do the last time I came in 2007. All the stuff that I missed or just didn’t want to do, I’m doing this time. I’ll have to say I’m really enjoying it, but I have reached the point where I am missing my wife and kids something awful.
And, I really missed not worshiping with my people at Asbury today. This is two Sundays in a row I was out of the pulpit. I’m going to have a lot to say next week 🙂
Today, through, we started at Massada. This was a palace/fortress built by Herod the Great (or builder, because you have probably noticed all that he has built here). It has one of the most beautiful overlooks of the Dead Sea that you will ever see.
The significance of this site was that during the revolt against Rome around 70 AD, zealot holdouts withstood a Roman siege for 3 years. And as the Roman legion was entering the compound after building a huge ramp, they found that all the people there (except for 3 people) had committed suicide. They has decided they would rather die than be enslaved.
The interesting thing to me is that for the modern state of Israel, this is site is very important. Air Force pilots even make their pledges here, vowing to fight for Israel and never be slaves again.
Next, we went to Quram. This is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. These scrolls go back to Jesus’ day and contain most of the Old Testament, all of the book of Isaiah, and many other things that help us to understand the time of Jesus better, as well as scripture.
It is a truly awesome thing to be in a place where we were able to gain a fuller understanding of God’s word.
This is a picture of our group, and you can see what looks like a hole behind us. That’s one of the caves where a portion of the scrolls were discovered in 1947.
But, as I said early, we didn’t do too much today. And that’s ok. Sam Morris, our leader made a point today that this was the third Sabbath that we had been through since we’ve been here.
Friday was the Islamic Sabbath.
Saturday (technically sundown Friday through sundown Saturday) was the Jewish Sabbath.
And today, Sunday, this is the Christian Sabbath.
I have noticed what a big deal the Sabbath is for other faiths. They shut everything down. The Jewish people aren’t allowed do anything that even looks like work. It’s so detailed that there is an elevator in the hotel called the Sabbath elevator that on that day stops at every floor going up, and going down, so you won’t have to work and push a button.
Now, that’s a little extreme. I’m glad that we are people of grace and not of law.
But, it made me think. Do we rest? Really, do we rest at all? Do we ever stop and take time for sabbath? To stop. Slow. And listen for God?
Listen to what He is saying. Listen to what He may want to say.
Stop. Breathe. Listen.
We were made for this. We were created to do this. We need this. We need Sabbath.
And those of you that know me, know I don’t that well. But, for me, that’s sort of what this trip as has been. I wrote this on Facebook the other night:
the last 2 and half years at Asbury United Methodist Church – Petal, MS have been amazing; 220% increase in worship, almost 200 new members, 80 baptisms, giving increasing by 100%, 15 new small groups and so much more! But I’ll be honest, I was needing chance to unplug and rest a little. Thus far, this trip to the Holy Land has been exactly what the doctor ordered. Have had some time for prayer, rest, and getting refocused. I am already itching to get back and get back to it! As great as the last 2 and half years have been, greater things are yet to come! I can’t wait to see what God does this year!
In many ways, this trip has been that for me. I can’t tell you how great the last two and a half years have been. But, I needed my Sabbath. I needed to rest a moment. Reflect. Slow. Breathe. Pray.
This trip has been a Sabbath for me.
And now, through, I’m ready to get back at it!
So, today, have you taken Sabbath. I’m not talking about taking off work. Or not going out to eat. Or even going to church (though it is Sunday! 🙂 ) Have you taken time to slow yourself?
Rest in God.
Whether you do it today, tomorrow, or whenever. You need to do it. We all do. We were made for it. We need sabbath. Today, no matter where you are, or what you are doing, I pray you find some time of Sabbath.
Someone once said that one of the hardest things to do as a preacher is to read the Bible for yourself, not for other people. What do I mean by this? Well, it’s easy for me, or really any preacher to read the Bible looking for something to preach, instead of reading the Bible the right way.
What is that right way?
Reading the Bible listening for God. What is God trying to say to us in that passage? What is His voice trying to share with us? Listening for what God wants to say.
Not looking for a sermon.
Today was kind of like for me. Every little thing that happened, I thought, oh, I can do a reflection on that. And some good stuff happened today. We started off by a few of leaving a little early to go to St. George’s Cathedral right down from our hotel. It’s the Anglican Cathedral here, and it’s beautiful.
Then with the group, we went to the Israeli Museum where we saw one of my favorite things here, a to scale model of what Jerusalem would have looked like in the first century It shows the scope and scale of the temple. By the way, if you would like to see all my pictures, go check them out on Facebook.
Then, we went to the Herodian. This was one of Herod’s many palaces. This one was in Bethlehem and is quite beautiful. The thing that was impressive to me about it was that Herod moved another mountain to build it, giving a little be of context to Jesus talking about faith that could move mountains.
From there, the first thing that I though I may reflect upon happened. At lunch we ate with some fellow Christians. There are not many Christians left in the Holy Land now. And, after being around so many people of so many faiths, it was something very sweet about being with another Christian. Something you could feel. Something awesome.
Do we feel that way in the States? Or do we compete with each other? Do our churches feel that way in the states? Or do we compete with each other. We need that sweet spirit of realizing that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine if we really felt that way about each other in the States? Imagine if we, if our churches, didn’t compete so much. Imagine if we just tried to love each other as brothers and sisters.
Then, we went to the Church of Nativity. This is the traditional, and authentic (meaning real) spot of the birth of Jesus. We don’t know exactly where it happened in that area. But we know that it happened there. But, here was the problem. This church we were in, they were having church. So, we had to wait until they finished. And we waited. And waited. And waited. And waited.
And it was very easy to get frustrated. There must have been (literally) a 1000 folks behind us. And I thought we would never get it to see what we can to see! It was so frustrating waiting.
And it hit me. There was I was, in a worship service, not realizing that God was being praised right before me because I was tired of waiting. I was so impatient, I had missed the worship of God, because I was not looking. Now, this worship was in another language. But still! I almost missed it.
What do we almost miss because we are tired of waiting?
And this is where God showed me what to share today!
I knew the shepherds were raising sheep, but it never really occurred to me what for. Never really thought about why they’d be raising sheep. Have you?
They were raising sheep for the temple. These sheep they were raising, they were to become sacrifices at the altar. These sheep were to be sacrificed there at the temple.
That’s what the shepherds where doing. That’s what they were raising.
And these are the ones that the angels appeared to. The angels came to the ones that were raising lambs and told them that The Lamb was born. The Lamb that was slain before the foundations of the world.
The lamb that had come to take away the sins of the world, once and for all. The lamb that was to be the perfect sacrifice to pay for our sins.
The first ones to hear the Good News of the Lamb of the New Covenant were the ones raising the lambs of the Old Covenant. God was brining about completion and fulfillment. God’s plan was at work.
And they got to be part of it.
Today, God has a plan that is bigger than me. Bigger than you. Bigger than each of us. God will accomplish His plan, and the great thing is that He wants to use us, me, and your to do that.
The first people to hear that the New Covenant had come where the ones raising lambs for the Old Covenant. God was doing a new thing. Bringing new life. New hope. New peace. New join.
He is at work in your for something good. Look for it. Live into it. He is at work. He has a plan.
Let us take part in it! Let us join in to His amazing life and amazing plan!
Someone asked me before I left for this trip was I nervous. I said no, other than my dislike of flying, travel in general, hotels, and being away from home, it should be fine.
It’s all about attitude, you know!
I really haven’t been sleeping too good, but that’s nothing too uncommon for me. This last night, though, for whatever reason, I didn’t get more than a couple of hours sleep. So, I was dragging when I got down for breakfast. I knew we had a big day. I knew I had to wake up.
Today, we started our day off by taking a boat out in the middle of Sea of Galilee. If you know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of all of water, so going out on a boat is never my idea of fun. But, it was a beautiful day and we even go to see one of the men on the boat cast his net to fish with, just like the disciples would have.
From there we went to Kursi. This is the village where Jesus cast the demons out of man, an into a herd of swine. From there we went to Bet She’am. This was a Roman city, part of the Decapolis. It is one of the most extensive sites that show what a first century Roman town would look like.
After that, we went to Harod Stream . This is the location of Ahab’s palace. From this spot, you can also see the Mountains of Gilgal, where King Saul was killed.
Our day finished at the Wadi Qelt and the Monastery of St. George. This monastery is built along a wadi, which is a cavern. This wadi has a stream, and it is believed that it is in this area that Jesus walked during his 40 days in the wilderness where He was tempted.
But, for me, the thing I took away from today was this. Connections. At breakfast, knowing all this was coming and knowing I didn’t sleep well, I knew this. I needed lots of coffee. So, after drinking my double shot of espresso, along with another cup of coffee, I was looking for at least one my cup of coffee. I walked to the back where the coffee was, and I didn’t see any. As I walked sadly away, I a guy said, hey, we’ve got some coffee. And he offered to share.
I sat down started talking. This group was from Tennessee and asked where I was from. I said Hattiesburg. I assumed most folks that aren’t from Mississippi, if they hadn’t heart of Petal, have heard of Hattiesburg. He said he had family from that area, in fact one of his family members was buried around there.
I said, yeah. I live off her parkway. How crazy is that?
But wait, it gets better. Since he knew the area, I said, well, I’m really from a little town outside of Brookhaven. He said, well, his father was born in Hazlehurst. I was speechless. I said I met my wife in college at Wesson, he said Co-Lin?
I mean, wow. Here I was, halfway around the world, in Tiberias, Israel and I meet a guy whose family is from my neck of the woods and who has family that have the street I live off of named after.
Ok, one more. Walking to Kursi, I see a guy walking out of the church area with a black jacket. And wait, does that say Ole Miss? So, I do what any Ole Miss fan would do. I scream out, Hotty Toddy! To which he responds Hotty Toddy! There I am, in the middle of this holy Christian site, in Israel, and I meet a guy that’s an Ole Miss fan.
But, there’s more! He lives in Jackson, and we were talking about what he was doing there; he said, yeah, my dad is a retired minister that is leading a group here, Willis Britt. I know Willis. Have for years. And what do you know, there is Willis. So, there are three Mississippi boys, in the middle of the place where Jesus cast the demon into swine just standing there talking
Wow. You never know who you may meet, where you may meet them. You never know the people who will come into you life, and you never know the impact you may make on someone’s life.
It is a small world. And we are all connected, through Christ. No matter where you are, through Christ, we are connected. I am typing this out on a laptop on a bed in Jerusalem. You may be reading this on an email, through a blog, or on your phone.
That’s amazing! That’s connection. And through Christ, that’s what we are.
Today, we are connected to each other. I need you. You need me. We need each other. Let’s be there for each other. Let’s support each other. Let’s be as Christ to one another.
I didn’t have to come halfway around the world to know that truth. But today was a great reminder of that great truth.
Through Christ, all of us that believe, we are connected! Go out today, and be salt and light!
Day Two started off really fun. I was running late to the bus, I think I was texting my wife Holly, but not sure what I was doing. As I leaving the lobby, a few minutes behind schedule, I saw the bus pull out and leave. So I started running. Flagging it down. Thinking, oh no! I’m being left behind.
Little did I know that my new friend Mike was playing a trick on me. He stopped the bus, and everyone in the bus was having a big laugh.
I don’t know why everyone’s got to pick on little ole me! It was a really good joke and got everyone off in a good mood.
This second day was a busy, busy day. Lot’s of great things that we saw and experienced We started the day off by going north to Tel Dan. This is the remains of the ancient city of Dan, a northern outpost of Israel. There we saw what their altar looked like, the “seat of judgement” where a king would judge, and a gate that there is a good chance Abraham may have walked through. Dan is also the headwaters of the Jordan River and we were able to see the springs it come from.
We also in this day saw Mt. Hermon, the mountain that some believe the Transfiguration may have taken place upon. Mt. Hermon is also always covered in snow, and the run off from this snow also feeds the Jordan River.
There were three places that really were meaningful to me on this day, through. First, was Caesarea Philippi. Outside of Jerusalem, this is my favorite place in all of Holy Land. I was very, very honored be able to teach in this location. I was able to share with group this story of the site, that I’ll share with you briefly.
On this site, in Matthew 16, Peter confessed Jesus as Lord. And Jesus said, you are right, this is the rock that I will build my church upon. And the gate of hell will not overcome it. On this site, there is a cave that used to be so deep that no one knew the depth of it.
And it smelt of sulfur.
And there was a temple to Pan in front of it. Pan guarded the underworld.
How awesome is that?!? So, for those of us in Christ, we have nothing fear. Being able to teach this was a great blessing and honor for me.
The second thing that really impacted me today was being able to go to Bethsaida and Capernaum. Bethsaida is the village that Peter and Andrew lived in. Capernaum is the town that Peter’s mother in law lived in and was healed. It was also the main “base of operations” for much of Jesus’ ministry.
The reason that is amazing is that in these two places, we walked in places that we know that we know that we know that we know Jesus walked in.
There were places that Jesus had to taught from that we stood upon.
Today, we walked in His steps. Literally. While is two thousand years removed, today, our group walked in his steps.
Today, we walked where Jesus walked.
And finally our day ended walking down the Mt. of Beatitudes. It was on this mountain that Jesus preached the sermon on the mount as found in Matthew 5. I read the Beatitudes and then after a message, we as the entire group took Communion.
I can’t tell you want a holy experience it was to take communion and sing Amazing Grace, in the place where Jesus taught His great sermon.
After it was over, we were standing there and I looked up at the stars. I bent over and told my friend Dawson Wilkerson this – Think about this. These are the same stars that Jesus stood under.
Today, I was able to teach my new friends from Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi about one of my favorite places in the Holy Land. I walked where Jesus walked. Literally. I took communion and stood under the stars that Jesus stood under.
It was a powerful day.
I am in awe of His grace. And thankful for this moment.
But remember, as great as this is, no matter where you are, the same Jesus that preached upon the mountain walks with you and lives in you through the power fo the Holy Spirit.
Today, Jesus walks with you. No matter where you are.
Day one of our trip to trip to the Holy Land started after a good night’s sleep. One of the interesting things about being in Israel is the time difference. Israel is 8 hours ahead of our normal time in Petal, MS. So, I work up at midnight, ready to go.
Because back home, instead of a night’s sleep, your body feels like its just getting a quick nap, and you want to wake up. So, you make yourself sleep, just to reset the clock. So, then you wake up, and you want to go right to bed.
Because back home, it’s bed time.
Anyway, part of the journey of the first day is getting your body clock ready to go!
Our first day had a lot of great things (by the way, you can see all my pictures on Facebook). We went to, Caesarea by the Sea, where Paul demanded to go to Rome for trial; to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah faced down the prophets of Ba’al; to Zippori, a town that was called the Ornament of Galilee, a large town that was being rebuild in Jesus day, it’s possible that He and Joseph worked that, and it is also possible that was the image that Jesus had in mind when He talked about “a City on a Hill.” And last we went to Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, where Mary received the word from God that she would be the mother to Jesus.
But, for me, the thing that was most impactful was my lunch.
Our bus driver this trip is a man named Mike. Mike works with JIBE (the Jerusalem institute for Biblical Exploration). Mike may be the most amazing driver I’ve ever seen in my life. He can maneuver a bus in ways that the typical human being just can’t.
Mike was also our driver when I came to Israel in 2007. I remembered him immediately (a man who can drive that well is hard to forget) but I was sure that he didn’t remember me. After all, he has seen literally thousands of folks the last few years.
But, he remembered me and the folks that I came with last time.
And, over lunch, he gave me one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received.
He invited me to sit down and each lunch with him. I cannot tell you what a big deal that is in this culture. To be invited to share a meal a sign of deep respect and friendship. Mike extended hospitality and friendship to me in a deep and personal way.
To be asked to share a meal in this culture is accepting someone into your life, in community, into friendship.
No matter what happens in my life, or in Mike’s life, for the rest of our lives, we are friends.
I can’t tell you how humbling that is.
To feel that acceptance and friendship is a deeply powerful thing.
And I will never forget it.
Today, may we show hospitality and friendship to all that we meet. And may we love them with the love that God has given us.
Here’s a promo for our Resolutions 2012 series starting January 8, 2012 at Asbury Church.
The sermon podcast for Sunday, October 16, 2011 is up on Asbury Church’s website. This is the third sermon in our series “The Unbaptized Arm.” This sermon deals with “The Unbaptized Mind.” It deals with the fears that we all face, the fears of our head, and the fears of our heart. The texts for this sermon are 2 Corinthians 10: 3-6 and 1 John 4:18. Also by clicking on these verses you can see my notes from the sermon as a note in the YouVersion online Bible. You can listen to it by clicking here, or you can listen to it here on this blog by clicking below. And, as always, you can subscribe to my sermon podcasts through iTunes.