Category: Memories (page 1 of 4)

Following the Light – A Christmas Story

When I was a boy, my dad would load up me and my younger brother in his Ford pickup on cold December evenings and we would go duck hunting in the swamps, sloughs and muddy bayous of Pace Bottom. It was only a few miles from my North Louisiana home, but to me, it was the wildest place on the planet. Pace Bottom was thousands of acres of unspoiled wilderness, ripe with stories of panthers, trophy Whitetail deer and enough ducks flying overhead to block out the winter sun.

My dad would walk us a few miles into these backwaters and position us next to a Cypress tree with my 20-gauge single shot. I was more of a duck terrorist than an assassin. Mostly, I fired at ducks that were flying by at Mach speeds and rarely did I touch even a feather. Once the sun went down, my dad would come back to me and whistle, signaling the end of our hunt.

My brother and I would fall into line behind my dad for the long, cold walk back to civilization. My dad had hunted these lands since he was a boy, so he knew the logging roads and pig trails, but invariably, we would wander off the path, finding ourselves lost. For some reason, we always had just the one flashlight that my dad carried. We would inch our way through the brush thickets as young boys, trying to stay as close as possible, because he was the only one who knew the way home.

If we followed too closely, my dad would forget we were right behind him and  he would let go of the small branches. The tiny limbs were like iced barbed wire strands and would snap back, whacking us across the face and neck. If we lingered too far behind, we could not see the path in front of us and we would stumble in the night. My dad had the only light and he was the only one who knew the way home.

 

Isaiah 9:2 NIV

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

 

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the son of Joseph and Mary, the world looked a lot like the Pace Bottom of my boyhood. Israel was cold and dark, and danger was everywhere. There was no light to lead the people home. Maybe it was God’s intention all along to provide only one light, hoping we would stay close to him and not wander too far away.  He never promised us a pain free journey or a world where we would not stumble. He did promise to lead us though, if we would walk right behind him.

 

Psalm 119:105 NIV

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light for my path.”

 

Jewish people knew this passage well. It had been their song, their want and their hope for a thousand years. In fact, John opens his Gospel story describing Jesus as the Word, becoming flesh.

 

John 1:1, 5 NIV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

 

In this season of Christmas, let’s decide to follow Jesus more closely, to find our way home from the light he has provided. We live in a dangerous world that can easily cause us to stumble. His light is enough, and His light is for us. Jesus is the only one who knows the way home.

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Thankful for 2012

2012 will go down as one of the most memorable years of our lives for many reasons. There was certainly too much violence with shootings in Aurora and Newtown that left scores dead. Our city also suffered through the most destructive wildfire in our history with over 300 homes lost during the summer. Then there were months of political arguing during a contentious election season.

Yes, there was plenty of bad and even horrific news, but I am also grateful for so many amazing things that happened, too.

1. Pam, Abram and Callie are healthy and we love each other.

2. We planted a thriving church in Fort Collins, CO. with our friend Aaron Stern.

3. Our church paid off over $3million of debt.

4. I met Eugene Peterson and I think he liked me.

5. The Mayans were wrong.

6. We leased our first apartment complex to house homeless single moms and their families.

7. Our downtown campus opened at Easter and is doing well under the leadership of Glenn Packiam.

8. Participated and partnered with ministries around the world that saw over 3 million people accept Christ.

9. I survived Disney.

10. We opened our first Dream Center in Swaziland.

11. I released a book called Sons and Daughters

12. We gave away over $300,000 of relief supplies to Waldo Fire victims.

13 We started a Sunday night service led by David Perkins where hundreds gather for worship and prayer.

14. Students from around the world are studying in our School of Worship, the Kings University and our Desperation Leadership Academy.

15. Miracles are happening every week in the lives of women who receive treatment at our free medical clinic.

This list could go on, for sure. I am so thankful that even in the midst of bad news, good news was breaking in all around us. God was with us. This I know.

What are you most thankful for in 2012?

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What I Learned from a Fire

The most destructive fire in the history of Colorado is still burning as I write this post. Thankfully, our valiant fire fighters have most of it contained and many homes that were once threatened with devastation are now safe.

Last week, I watched in awe as gale force winds drove the flames over a ridge, through a canyon and into several neighborhoods across the freeway from our church. Lives were lost, over 350 homes were consumed, and people’s live were spun into chaos. As we scrambled as a church to meet the needs in our city, I learned some important truths.

1. People had already made up their minds to serve

Before I made any appeals, the church community in our city had already mobilized on numerous fronts. People immediately opened their homes to evacuees, taking the pressure off the local shelters. Food banks recieved record donations, animals were transferred to safer pastures, and the fire fighters were inundated with supplies to make their monumental task more bearable. People were not waiting around for me, they were already in action as soon as the needs were known.

2. The big church can be a big family

One of the first things we did as a church staff was to contact people and families in the affected areas. To our surprise, almost all of them had found homes with family or friends, many of them New Lifers taking in other New Lifers. The big church had become a big, welcoming family. Later in the week, we received tractor-trailer loads of food and much needed supplies from Thomas Road Baptist Church and Gleaning for the World. They sent it to us because that is what church families do for one another.

3. Joy can come out of the ashes

This past Sunday, a CNN reporter asked me before the morning services what I expected the mood to be in the New Life gatherings that day. I told them there would many people mourning the loss of their homes and there would be widespread concern for the fire fighters safety. But, I told the reporter there would also be a lot of joy as we worshipped together. I was right. There were those mourning and all of us were concerned, but there was joy amidst it all because we have overcome so much in the past and we were convinced of God’s faithfulness in the days ahead. Joy can come from ashes, and it did.

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Pop Quiz – How Well do you Know New Life?

As a former high school teacher, I love to give pop quizzes. From time to time, I give one to our staff to test them on how much they know about the church where they work. The results are always very surprising and reminds us that we have to communicate clearly and constantly, especially since we are a part of a large and growing church family.

Take the quiz below and see how many you can answer without looking at your computer for help. And no peeking at your neighbor’s quiz, either. I am watching!

 

1.       What is the title song for the new Desperation Band album?

             Answer: Center of it All

2.       What are the Sunday morning service times at our Downtown campus?

Answer: 9am and 11am 

3.       How many years have we had the Desperation Conferences?

            Answer: 10 years

4.       Who leads our children’s worship choir?

           Answer: Amanda Ferrin

5.       In the recent Legends and Misfits sermon series, which one of these three WAS NOT discussed?

a.       Daniel – Answer

b.      Nehemiah

c.       Moses

 

6.       As part of our mission statement, what three words do we use to communicate our goals for each New Lifer?

            Answer: Worship, Connect, Serve

7.       Freely Give and Freely Receive is this weekend. What local inner city ministry are we partnering with for this ministry event?

Answer: Springs Rescue Mission 

8.       Pastor Brian Newberg’s daughter, Tami, just married a man from what country?

           Answer: Egypt

9.       We opened our first Dream Center last July. What is its ministry function? What happens there?

           Answer: It is a medical clinic for women

10.   Approximately, how much debt have we paid off to date through Move the Mountain?

Answer: $1.3 million

Bonus:

Name the three US cities where we have planted churches in the past four years?

Denver, Austin, Tx, and Fort Collins

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Awkward Conversation Starters

I talk to a lot of people as a pastor and it’s almost always a pleasure. However, I can usually tell when a conversation isn’t going to go so well when it begins with any of the following phrases.

1. “I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but …”

Interpretation: “I actually know that I’m going to be rude, but maybe it won’t be as painful if I smile the entire time.”

2. “I know you are really busy, but …”

Interpretation: “Nothing on your schedule is as important as what I’m about to say. Cancel whatever is next, because I am taking this slot.”

3. “This is going to sound weird, but …”

Interpretation: “I have rehearsed this over and over, but I still sound weird, even to myself. However, even my own weirdness will not prevent me from sharing this with you.”

4. “You probably already know this, but …”

Interpretation: “You think you know, but I really have more insight and you need to hear it from me to get the facts straight. This is gossip, but I am going to present it as a prayer request.”

And finally, one of my all-time favs:

5. “I forgive you even though you did not know you hurt me.”

Interpretation: You made me mad, I realized I was wrong, but I still want you to know you made me mad, even though you did nothing wrong. Do you feel better now?

Thanks for letting me have some fun. People are mostly great, even when they stumble with words. What are some of your favorite, but awkward, conversation starters?

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A Beautiful Transition

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

As a pastor, I have been at the bedside of many people who were dying, but last night I witnessed one of the most beautiful transitions from life to eternity that is possible. To respect the privacy of the family, I will not share names, but the wonderful lady who passed away was really special to me for many reasons.

Over four years ago, on my first Sunday as pastor at New Life, I met her at the front of the church. She was with her husband and she was sick with cancer. I prayed with her that day and on most Sundays thereafter. Every week, I could always count on her to be waiting for me after the 9am service, holding a tiny bottle of oil, and a heart full of faith for her healing.

There were seasons where she would rebound with full strength, ready to engage life once again. She was a grandmother and an artist who painted beautiful flowers on porcelain plates that now adorn her modest home. One year, despite the cancer, she helped paint the stage set for our Easter production. She also loved to sing, especially at church with her family and friends around her. Then, the cancer returned, this time attacking her lungs and throat, robbing her of the singing voice we all loved.

A week ago, I was at her home and she was writing personal notes in a huge stack of Valentine’s Day cards for a myriad of family and long time friends. She spoke of her kids and grandkids, her frail voice still strong with hope and encouragement.

At the hospital, on her final night with us, her children and husband gathered with a few of us friends around her bed and we sang “Amazing Grace”. Her breathing relaxed and within minutes a transcendent peace filled the room. Her family wept, but they were also very aware of their mother’s victory. She was no longer suffering and most assuredly, she was now singing the joyful songs of heaven. It was a beautiful transition for a dear saint of a woman, one that I will never forget.

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Guaranteed Predictions for 2012

I know this sounds a bit bold, but I can absolutely guarantee what will happen in 2012. Guaranteed. No doubt in my mind.

1. The Mayans will be proved wrong. No one knows when it will all end, especially the Mayans. There will be a 2013.

2. We will elect a president.

3. 50% of Americans will immediately not like the president elect.

4. New Life will pay off a load of debt and the poor in our city will be served better.

5. The Broncos and Cowboys will both watch the Super Bowl from their couches.

6. I will lose weight or wear out an elliptical trying.

7. I will read more books than any other year of my life, including my college years.

8. You will read my new book that releases in September. (Shameless plug)

9. I will not wear a suit and tie on a Sunday morning at New Life.

10. I will get an angry email from a Mayan.

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We Are Family

My family and I came from Texas to pastor New Life Church over four years ago, not knowing anyone in the congregation except the members of the search committee. Each Sunday, I would look into the faces of thousands of strangers, wanting desperately to be known and to know them and their stories. It was the loneliest time of my pastoral journey.

But then something happened this past summer. We became a family, after four years of intentional plowing. I realize it takes a long time to become old friends. It cannot be rushed, programmed or forced. It simply takes time. I have wondered in the past few months how does a church become a family assembly instead of a gathering of strangers? What is the ground that must be plowed in order for family roots to take hold and ultimately blossom in the local church?

1. Families know how to disagree

This does not sound warm and fuzzy does it? But it’s true. Healthy families have learned to honorably disagree and to defend the unity that is so critical for the long term strength of the home. I see people every week that have disagreed with me, but have decided to persevere and forge a friendship despite our differences. This is why I believe church families and marriages are so similar. No one can stay married if they always need to be right. Great marriages and great church families have learned to love while they are fussing and are quick to offer forgiveness and grace.

2. Families celebrate and mourn with one another

Healthy families embrace the rhythms of each other’s lives, rejoicing when the others are rejoicing and mourning when the others are sad. This past Sunday, I learned of a dear New Lifer who had just been placed in hospice because of cancer. Later, a despondent single mom asked me to pray with her for her prodigal son. Minutes later, a sweet grandmother told me her daughter, son-in-law, and all their children had just decided to follow Jesus. She had prayed for them for 13 years. I was sad, then I rejoiced. That is family.

3. Families make room for new arrivals

When babies are born, the family celebrates the new arrival. No one is sad because more room has to be made at the dinner table. The same is true with healthy church families. They are always ready to welcome the new arrivals at the table. I refuse to apologize that New Life is a large church. I know it can be overwhelming at times to walk into a big building full of strange faces. Believe me, I know. But I have also found that if I simply give it time, people will embrace me if I make room for the embrace.

4. Families serve one another

Healthy church families are keenly aware of the needs all around them. In the early church, it was said “there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:34). What a beautiful picture of family surrounding each other, embracing the broken, and giving generously so that everyone has an advocate and hope.

I am most grateful to belong to a family that can disagree and still love, celebrates and mourns with each other, makes room for the new arrivals and is quick to serve and bless. We are a growing family. Amen.

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Reflections – 4 Years Later

It’s been four years since a young man came on our campus on a Sunday morning, killing two of our young girls and injuring others. Four years ago. Some days it seems like it all happened just yesterday and on others, it seems a distant memory.

So much healing and redemption has happened since that cold, snowy morning in December of 2007. We have planted churches, launched missionaries all over the globe, opened Dream Centers, and seen hundreds come to Christ. We have witnessed a church family literally rise from the ashes and emerge from the valley of the shadow of death.

Often, I go to the two rock benches in our parking lot and sit between the two towering Blue Spruce trees and read the scriptures on the memorials. It is on the very spot where the shooting occured and is now holy ground at New Life.  Stephanie has inscribed on her bench verses from Psalm 30:11-12:

“You have turned my wailing into dancing; your removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”

On Rachel’s bench is the beautiful reminder from Philippians 4:6-7:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Both scriptures had just been written in their respective journals not long before their lives tragically ended. Most Sundays, I see their parents standing and worshipping with the rest of our New Life family.  They are such an inspiration to me and to others. Their wailing has turned to dancing and they  have a peace that is transcendant. I imagine Stephanie and Rachel are smiling.

We have healed but are still healing; we are broken, but getting stronger. We have a scar from a story that is tragic, but our future is super bright. God has been near to us every step of the way, nearer than any of us could have ever imagined or believed four years ago. I am thankful for hope and the keen awareness that something good, even great, awaits us in the not too distant future.

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Church Stories Volume 1 – The Church Split that Would Not Split

My pastor friend Greg Surratt from Seacoast Church in South Carolina recently told me a troubling but hilarious story about his grandfather who was the pastor of a small church in a farming community in rural Oklahoma many years ago. Apparently, half the church got upset with him and decided to split off from the church. The problem is, they did not leave the church.

That’s right, it was the church split that would not split. Instead of leaving and starting their own church down the street, they decided to stay after realizing they had helped pay for half the building, and neither side wanted to give the other “their investment.”  The church was built with the traditional center aisle and a set of pews on either side and every Sunday the group that was mad at the pastor would sit on one side and the group that liked him would sit on the other.

When it came time for sharing testimonies, each side would try to shout louder and tell better stories than the other. If one side spoke in tongues, the other side would try to speak better and longer. Neither side would leave the church for the sake of some peace and quiet. Finally, Greg’s grandfather left and let them have the building.

This is a true story and reminds me of Paul’s letter to a similarly immature church in Corinth.

“In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.”
I Corinthians 11:18-19 NIV

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