Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Let's Turn Our Backs "AWAY" from Church

How would that title flow for a sermon?

According to George Barna in his book Revolution, there are over 33 million people living in America who claim to be spiritual, practicing, loyal Christians, yet they refuse to be associated with a faith community (aka--the church). They have been turned off from "the church" as an institution. I want to hear this group out because some of them have legitimate concerns such as: abuse of authority, abuse of church finances, neglect of the poor, racism, having allowed tradition to become doctrine...and the list could go on. All of this to say that many have turned their back away from the church.

But there is another way to talk about turning our backs away from the church.
I want to move away from the language which says, "For the church to survive in the 21st century it must quit doing ________ and must start doing ________." This statement suggests that the church has been wrong and needs to be brought into the light. For people who have poured their lives into the church it is easy to see these statements as threats. I don't want that.

At the same time, we need a heavy dose of humility which will allow all of God's people to say, "These are things that get in the way of the gospel, and here is a way to re-envision what the good news of Jesus might look like when we allow the Holy Spirit to stir our imaginations."

For centuries, the church has been at its best when we are turning our backs away from church.
1) Instead of being driven by the question "how do we get more people into this church for a Sunday assembly?" we need to ask, "How can we send our people out of a Sunday morning worship service in a way that will urge them to enter into God's mission field with eyes open to see where God is at work in this world?"
When we are too inward-focused our energy, money, and prayers consist of how to better serve the insiders. In a way, with this mindset, we are turning our backs away from the world.
On the other hand, when we urge our people to step outside of the walls of the church and to love the surrounding neighborhood, to work for justice, to serve the lesser-of-these, and to befriend the stranger...then we will find ourselves turning our backs away from the church in order to turn our face towards the world which God deeply loves.
2) If anything, this means that we will love the church more. The worship time on Sunday morning will become more meaningful, formative, and Spirit-filled when we frame Christianity as a call to disciple in which God is inviting us into His world. After all, he did choose to enter into the problems and struggles of this world.
3) John 1:14 has impacted me more in my life and ministry than any other verse over the past few years--"The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood." To take this verse seriously means that we need fewer leadership meetings exploring potential target groups. Instead, we need leaders who will opt for moments when we stand on the front porches of our churches to claim what we see as the harvest that is plentiful.
For me, this is the Christianity that I have fallen in love with and want to give my life too.

I love these words from BBT:
I was daydreaming about moving the celebration (The Lord's Supper) to the front steps of the church, 30 feet from one of the busiest intersections in the city. The fantasy is compelling: sweeping the trash off the steps, picking the newspapers and brown-bagged vodka bottles out of the bushes, and setting up a table underneath the telephone and power lines—smoothing out the table cloth as someone asks for directions and setting the table as someone else asks for a quarter—celebrating with my back against the front doors of the church and my face toward the rapid transit terminal, the bank, the fire station, the street—giving thanks on behalf of all the pedestrians walking by, all the cars, buses, trucks, and ambulances competing for headway, honking their horns. It is not something I will do, but I wonder why not.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Invited to God's Office

After preaching at Highland on Sunday morning, Kayci and drove to Palo Dura Canyon to camp with her parents. It was Truitt's first camping experience.

Two days with no internet and television, and it was heavenly!

Yesterday, I took a tip from a great preacher and friend, Charlton Taylor, and I relocated my office. The distance to my office was about a 2,500 foot climb and this was done in 100 degree temperature. Tiresome...but well worth it.

Actually, it was God inviting me to his office to catch a glimpse of his creation. The song that wouldn't let me go was:
Praise God from whom all blessings flow
Praise Him all creatures here below
Praise Him above the heavenly host
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

This 3 hour journey with God was much needed. I enjoyed his company.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Mike Cope and Rick Atchley

I've had this blog since last fall. However, "h-townpreacher" doesn't fit anymore. But, "M-town" just doesn't have "the" ring to it. I'll continue to brainstorm for another name. Until then, it will remain as h-town.
Feel free to offer suggestions.
Over the past few days I've had a chance to hangout with two great preachers who have become good friends.
Other than my own dad, Mike has influenced me in life and ministry more than any other male figure. He challenges me as a husband, father, minister, and disciple. Though he was a mentor for years, he treats me as a friend.
Tomorrow morning I have the honor of preaching at Highland Church of Christ again. This church has nurtured us in our faith more than words can express.

On Wednesday, Kayci and I were able to eat lunch with Rick and Jamie Atchley. The lunch turned into a three hour conversation. Over the past year Rick has become a good friend. He is always quick to pray, give advice and wisdom, and to sacrificially offer himself as a friend on this journey. Everybody knows that Rick can preach. He has a God-given gift. However, I've heard from people in the past something along the lines of this, "Rick is a great preacher but he isn't good with people." Let me say 2 things about Rick:
1) He is a pastor/minister at heart. Rick cares about people, the lost, and his church just as much if not more than any minister I know.
2) He is a man who is driven by the Spirit through prayer and faith in Jesus. Over the past year or two, I've had some good friends who are ministers who have gone through some rough times. To my friends, Rick has become a friend and a great encourager.

Thank God for ministers who keep seeking Jesus!

Friday, May 23, 2008


Check out this story from Bono:
--On September 1, 2001, when U2 took the stage among 80,000 fans in the grassy amphitheater at Slane Castle in Ireland’s County Meath, they did so in a place of rich and frightful Irish history. Here in the Boyne Valley megalithic tombs predate the pyramids. Nearby is Tara, the seat of Ireland’s ancient high kings. Ireland’s heroes, St. Patrick and Cuchuilain, are remembered for their exploits here, as is the 1680 battle that fueled the long-standing animosity between Irish Catholics and Protestants.
Right here, in early September 2001, with eerie prescience of a massive atrocity that would turn the world toward a long season of violence just ten days later, Bono and the band take aim at Irish violence. At the close of the song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday,” a rant against the Omagh bombing that killed 29 people in a Northern Ireland market, Bono chants, one by one, the names of those killed and works to unmask the ideological gridlock behind not only this atrocity but every other atrocity like it.
This is rock and roll that cuts through masks and bleeds red the passion of the heart, saying to a world too often shrouded by lies that we are no longer willing to live inside your falsehoods.
If rock and roll can do this, how much more must our preaching?

--From Chris Erdman's Countdown to Sunday

May the gospel of Jesus Christ unmask us today, and lure us into the belief that His power can tear down strongholds that exist in this world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The 21st Century

What the 21st century needs, particularly in our American context, are not better policies, programs, and governmental support and funding...though all that can be good. What the 21st century needs is the church. Not the church as an institution and not the church as a place where people go. But the 21st century needs a group of Christ-followers will come together in the name of Jesus to say:
--We refuse to follow the gods and powers of this world. We will not bow to them. We will not be controlled by them. Jesus is our Lord.
--We will live as people committed to pray. Not just the phrases that have stuck with us, "Guideguarddirect" or "Forgive us our many sins" or "please be with Sister Tori's sister whose friend from the beauty salon is going to the dentist this week." What we need are people who will come together to get on their hands and knees in order to pray for the Kingdom of God to come. We need people who will pray for Christ to be formed in every heart and mind.
--We need people who will be people of justice--Pray for justice. Work for justice. Fight for justice.
--We need people who will refuse to be defined by American values and principles. There is an enormous difference between people who see themselves as American Christians and people who see themselves as Christians who just happen to be American. (more on this in a few days)
--We need people who will refuse to be pew-Christians. Christianity cannot be lived within the 4 walls of the church. The church must exist in the community. We need to follow Jesus as the one who "became flesh and moved in among us."

What would you add?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Jesus had 3...we've had 4

I love Jesus' rhythm in life. All it took was a few healings and casting out demons and the crowds were on his heals 24-7, or so it seems. Yet, Jesus still made time: 1) to get away in order to waste time with God, and 2) to cultivate relationships with his disciples.

Jesus sends out 70-72 in Luke 10.
He calls 12 to follow him in Luke 6.
Of the 12, there were 3 (Peter, James, and John) who occasionally followed him to more intimate settings.

In Houston, we've made some really good friends...old and young. However, from the moment we started here, there have been 2 couples who have become our Houston family--Matt & Jenna Cope and Chris & Jenny Thompson.
Matt and Jenna have been good friends of ours since our days in Abilene. Though we were at school with Chris and Jenny, we didn't become to know each other until our days in H-Town. I can't even begin to put into words the impact of having these 2 couple friends. We have eaten dozens of meals together, have watched movies, have taken vacations, have had children around the same time, etc.
They have taught us about companionship, loyalty, and sacrifice.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

10 Things I Will Miss About H-Town

This Sunday will be my last sermon at SWC. There is no easy way around it--these sermons are hard to preach. Seminary didn't provide a class called "How to Preach Your Last Sermon". Sermons like this can't be taught. They must come from a heart that has been entangled in the lives of people for a period of time. They must flow from the mouth of a person who has wrestled with Scripture and how the word breaks into the present context of a congregation.

Below is a list of 10 things I will miss about H-Town. I'm going to do this Letterman-style:

10) A few thoughts on this image.

I have a love-hate relationship with Houston freeways. The hatred is that I am impatient and traffic seems to always start because crazy lunatics who get in my lane (aka--the fast lane), remain in the fast lane until they get 1/4 a mile from their exit, then they choose to slam on breaks while crossing 6 lanes of traffic--all this resulting in traffic.
However, I can say that I have tried to make the most of these moments. I keep a prayer list in my wallet that I pull out while on freeways. I know...this doesn't sound safe, but I look down, catch a name, and will spend a few moments praying for Christ to come into lives and circumstances. I often will use this time to make pastoral calls.
So, in a way, I've grown to tolerate traffic.
Enough said. :) I am leaving the land flowing with milk and honey. (Some of you are laughing thinking, "If the new Eden looks like West Texas, then I am petitioning God to change the heavenly landscape.")
8) Mexican Food
You name it: chicken fajitas at Lupe's, chicken chimichanga at Chuy's, combo burritos at Escalante's, quesadillas at Pappasitos, etc.
7) Cafe Grace
Our Wednesday's at SWC were all about the in-breaking of the Kingdom. I'm going to miss our neighbors, the conversations around tables, and watching Larry Watson teach/pastor every "stranger" that walked in the door.
6) Neighborhood
I love our neighbors. I'm going to miss Julian, Shareta, Jose, Darius, Arshawna, Lucky, Adriel and so many others. These neighbors have given new meaning to the Jesus-story.
5) Sunday Evening
Sunday night church isn't what it used to be...anywhere. For the most part, it is made up of the "mature." (I hesitate to use older and elderly.) :)
Two weeks a month I stood in front of a group of 25-40 people who have been attending Sunday night church for decades. They don't go because they feel they have too in order to be saved. They aren't there because skipping out would be disobedient. Instead, they are there because they are each other's family. They want to be together singing songs and praying prayers.
Two weeks a month I would preach to this group, but there lives preached louder than my words.
4) 242
In February of 2007 we started a new small group based on the principles in Acts 2:42. Every 2nd and 4th Sunday evening we would meet to pray, fellowship, break bread, and to discuss the teachings of Jesus. These people have become some of our life-long friends. We have cried over the deaths of parents. We have rejoiced over the birth of babies.
I have learned community through this group.
3) The SWC Shepherds
These are 4 men who have given their lives to this church. All 4 of them have been participating in the life of this church since before I was born. In no way is that written in a way to say they are old and aging, but that their commitment to what God is up to here is admirable. Dick pours his heart into the prayer luncheon every month. David is a fabulous teacher and is the best at a 2-minute thought. He is so concise with his words, yet God works through him with such power. Larry's baby is Cafe Grace. He is a man who lives every single day as if all he wants to do is to join in the in-breaking of the Kingdom. And Michael knows and practices the meaning of the table. I think his middle name is Eucharist.
2) Steve Sandifer
All one has to say about Sandifer is "31 years." He has been ministering at this church for 31 years. He has worn every hat one can imagine, and he has done so with great humility, compassion, and loyalty. He is "the king" of pastoral visits. I have learned so much from watching him at the bedsides of the sick, ailing, and dying. I am a better minister because of our partnership.
1) Steve Sargent
For 9 years, I've known Steve as a lover of people, a prayer warrior, and a friend. When I came to Houston, I knew that if SWC decided to search for a Youth Minister, Steve and Chelsie would thrive in this setting. Steve has the uncanny gift to love whoever is before him and he can pray...really pray. I enjoyed our year with the Sargent's and I'm grateful that this church...a place I have grown to love...will continue to be blessed by their hearts and ministry.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tquan Moore

Tquan Moore has become one of my closest friends over the past 12-18 months. He has a burning, contagious passion for Jesus, worship and transformation. He has recently released a cd and I want to encourage you to go to his website and check it out.
You can also visit him at myspace.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

6 Years of Marriage...1 Year of Motherhood

Six years ago today, the doors in the back of the Greenlawn Church's sanctuary opened up and there she was...the woman who stole my heart after our first date at one of the most romantic restaurants--Mr. Gatti's. Every year I set out to make this the best year of her opinion. Kayci continually inspires me to become a better disciple, husband and father. She is my best friend and my greatest companion.
Today is also our second Mother's Day to celebrate as parents. Every single day I watch her grow into her role as a mother to Truitt. She is a nurturer at heart.
Kayci, I love you and I look forward to many more years together.
To my own mother--you bless my life each and every day. Thank you for your commitment to sacrificial living. We are all closer to Jesus because of you.
As a preacher, I also struggle with what words to say to people on Mother's Day. I realize that "joy" and "gratefulness" aren't the only emotions people feel on this day. I tend to try to give the other voices an ear. Today, there are people who are experiencing their first Mother's Day without their mother...and they are grieving. There are some today whose thoughts of their mother are as an absent parent who cared more about her job than her children, or a mother who cheated on her husband leaving the family in shambles.
Today is a day of mixed emotions and I pray for God to speak into each one of them in a redemptive fashion.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Ministering to the Grieving

One of my heroes of faith is Virgil Fry. Over 20 years ago, Lifeline Chaplaincy began as a ministry to patients at MD Anderson in Houston, TX. Virgil has been with Lifeline from the beginning--walking hallways, praying with patients, ministering to the hurting and often the dying, and dreaming of ways to broaden this ministry throughout Texas, the US, and the world. He was written books, has taught classes at ACU and Pepperdine, has keynoted conferences, and has spoken at churches teaching them how to care for those wounded by the sting of death.

The greatest form of comfort comes without words. For the most part, people are not going to remember what you say, unless you say something completely ridiculous while attempting to be sincere. People are going to remember your presence...that you were there.
Next time you visit a hospital, a funeral home, or a person who is grieving...say little. Give hugs and let people know that you care.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


American Idol--who goes home tonight? It has to be Jason.
Here's how I rank them, and I know that the majority of you will disagree:
1) D-Cook
2) Syesha
3) David A.
4) Jason
I've made fun of David A. throughout this season. He is young and he struggles through interviews, but I give him this--the guy doesn't miss notes. He is a great singer. His style just doesn't do it for me.
Mark my word--David Cook will sell 100,000's more than any other contestant this season.

Celtics over the Cavs in 6
Pistons over the Magic in 6
Spurs over the Hornets in 7 (this was a tough one)
Lakers over the Jazz in 6
Mavs over the...oh wait.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Truitt is "1" today. I thank God every single day for one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Preach as you are!

These are the words that have stuck with me last night and this morning as I prepare to stand in front of people to declare a word from God.
I am hurting. I am wounded. I am drained from an emotional week.
I can't stand in the pulpit and pretend to be anything other than what I am. God has entered into my brokenness, and it is from that brokenness that God will speak a word today.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thin Spaces

God has a good resume of entering into the sufferings of people.

He entered into our suffering yesterday. It was a long day--we had a funeral in Decatur at 10:00am, then we drove over 4 hours to East Texas where we had another memorial service at the burial place. Over 200 people showed up at the site.

Funerals are "thin spaces"--places where heaven and earth kiss. Yesterday was one of the hardest days I have had to walk through, but God was present in more ways than I can count. There are no tears left to cry. However, Billie Jones will continue to minister to us because his life will always be fresh.

I think it is interesting that in Genesis, Isaac and Ishmael went their separate ways, but in Gen. 25:9-10, both of the brothers are present at Abraham's burial. The next set of brothers, Jacob and Esau, went their separate ways, but both brothers are present at Issac's burial in 35:28-29.

Yesterday, I rode in a car with my sister and bro-in-law for over 4 hours to the burial--it was a thin space.
Last night, I rode with my brother and my dad back to Decatur. Another thin space.
Today, we helped my grandmother clean out some of my grandpa's stuff. Thin space.
I joined my dad and brother moving a pile of dirt throughout the backyard for a couple of hours. Yep...thin space.
My brother and I just got back from a basketball court. Even though he beat me 2 games out of 3, it was a thin space.

Thank you for your prayers and your love for my family.