Thursday, December 1, 2016

Disciple-Makers or Demon Deacons?

I'm writing this post knowing that it's not an exciting issue for most people. But it actually is, if you love God's church, think it should be conformed to the instructions God gave us for church in the New Testament, and love seeing more people leading in his church (which equals growth of his church). 

First, it is not the goal of Providence Church to be a megachurch or to have bragging rights because we are the largest church in town. That's just vain. Our goal is to utilize our time and resources in order that through us God will make disciples of as many people as possible and have the largest impact on this world. That means it's more about quality (disciple-making) than quantity (converts or attendees). That's because real disciples are on mission and reproduce themselves. That said, we have for 10 years struggled to break the 1000-attendee barrier. It's not an uncommon thing, and it's not necessarily a bad thing (if we are planting churches and making, growing, and unleashing disciples). I am convinced that there is a correlation between the size of a disciple-making church and the impact it can have in this world. For many reasons (that I will not expound upon here) and in our context, I think that the "sweet spot" number is 1500 to 2000 people. There are some practical factors that can determine whether we grow that large, like: our building's size, our lack of parking space, our leadership structure, as well as our culture of inviting and welcoming and encouraging new people, and caring for those already in the family. These factors, and to a greater degree our struggle to grow, has caused our elders to pray and think and read and discuss solutions. 

Several things are obvious: 
1. We need more space. This can be accomplished in several ways: multiple services, different campuses, larger facilities (either by constructing more or moving to another location), or getting rid of people by planting new churches. NONE of these are easy. 

2. We need more, capable leaders. After all, we are in the people business. An essential ingredient to making disciples is disciple-makers. These should be raised up IN THE CHURCH, or we are not accomplishing our mission.

3. We need more resources. Specifically, money. Because there are many practical necessities for disciple-making and church planting. 

Let me deal with the first and last of these quickly: 
1) The space problem is real, especially regarding parking and children's ministry space. Yes, the auditorium is tight at times, but that's not our primary problem. We have and are trying to accommodate for this until we're able to plant a church and build more space.
3) As people grow more mature spiritually, they are obedient to God and give more. We have started classes to help people manage their money better, and we have significantly paid down our debt (I have not given up hope that we will retire it). This frees up significant amounts of money each month.
Also, growth in members also results in more giving.

That leaves number 2. How do we raise up leaders who are capable and accountable to, and passionate about making disciples and planting churches? We must be intentional about this. We recognized (again) the need for our current staff and leaders to raise up "replacements" for themselves and recruit and train more who will "own" the ministries of Providence. These leaders must be identified as equals to the staff (much the same way as our non-staff elders are equals to Jesse and me).

About a year ago, I read a book entitled, RetroChristianity: Reclaiming the Forgotten Faith by Michael J. Svigel. Unbeknownst to me, Jesse was reading it for a class about the same time. In the book, Svigel accurately describes the simple structure of the early church, consisting of elders AND deacons, that remained basically the same and allowed the church to grow exponentially for the first few centuries. That is, until the Roman Emperor became a Christian and the church exchanged the simple structure it began with for a much more complex structure that more resembled Roman society. Corruption and stunted growth followed, ushering in the dark ages.

Jesse wrote me an email early in 2016 dropping the idea of calling this new categorization of leaders, deacons. My first reaction to this suggestion was not positive. I've dealt with "demon" deacons before (and not the Wake Forest University variety)! It usually wasn't pleasant. Deacons tend to be winners of a church popularity contest vote who, instead of serving, become the Mayberry town council-type complainers and troublemakers—dividers, not disciple-makers. I re-read the scriptural passages about deacons, and read germane sections of RetroChristianity again. I realized that what Jesse had said was true: the only biblical name for the type of leaders we were wanting to establish is "deacon." 

After much discussion, Jesse and I made the case to the elders so that we could all pray together about this. After much more deliberation, we decided to put it before the church. Here is the white paper we wrote about the new (to us) office.

After much prayer, we presented to the church that we wanted to establish the office of deacon at Providence. Of course there was some pushback. We totally expected it. In fact, it was not as much or as fierce as we expected. And all was lovingly delivered. All those who struggled with establishing deacons at Providence had churched backgrounds where deacons were not defined and determined biblically. This had resulted in problems for the church. 

In addition to the white paper (which answers most questions), I answered a few emails and had additional conversations with people. For example, here is part of one email reply to a member who is (like me and many others in our church and area) from a Baptist background (I've hidden the name of the recipient). In addition to having some bad personal experiences with deacons in a traditional church, he was struggling with the idea of women deacons.

Hey brother,
I appreciate your email so much. I love you and I LOVE your commitment to the Bible. I assure you there will never be a day while our current elders are alive where we compromise the clear teaching of Scripture, and I hope we put measures in place for the future leaders of Providence to have the same commitment. I am thankful for you for lots of reasons, including because you are a convicted conservative, evangelical, protestant, Christian. SO AM I. Even though we are not affiliated with a denomination, we are certainly "baptistic" regarding doctrine. I'm proud of my Baptist heritage (well, most of it anyway :) )! Truth is, we from Baptist backgrounds must forget some of what we have been taught about deacons, and look to the Scriptures alone for the definition. While baptists get most things right, many of them miss the biblical role for deacons. That has everything to do with Baptist history in the United States.
In Baptist churches, deacons have over the centuries become "rulers" rather than "servants" as they were intended to be in the New Testament. Baptist churches in the USA usually began in small communities, in rural areas, or on the frontier, and hardly EVER had a full-time pastor when they began. Most of them had itinerate or "circuit" preachers who would alternate between 2 to 4 different small churches! Because there was a shortage of pastors/preachers/elders (they considered these terms to be synonymous) and didn't have a plurality of elders, the deacons operated as the ruling "board" of the church. If a church was able to grow enough, they would eventually celebrate the day that they could hire a full-time pastor. But the power vested in the deacon board never changed. That's why virtually all Baptist pastors have stories of having trouble with "the Deacon board" of their churches (I know you have experienced this!). The deacons had become a ruling board, rather than what the NT intended: a group of leading servants who served under the authority of the elders. Most conservative scholars agree that the word sometimes translated "wives" in 1Tim.3:11 should be translated "women" and refers to women deacons. I quoted John MacArthur in the "white paper" and I could bore you to tears with the many conservative commentaries and early church fathers who were convinced of this interpretation. Here's just one more from the great conservative Baptist Charles Haddon Spurgeon's favorite scholarly resource: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:"their wives" — rather, “the women,” that is, the deaconesses. For there is no reason that special rules should be laid down as to the wives of the deacons, and not also as to the wives of the bishops or overseers. Moreover, if the wives of the deacons were meant, there seems no reason for the omission of “their” (not in the Greek). Also the Greek for “even so” (the same as for “likewise,” 1 Timothy 3:8, and “in like manner,” 1 Timothy 2:9), denotes a transition to another class of persons. Further, there were doubtless deaconesses at Ephesus, such as Phoebe was at Cenchrea (Romans 16:1, “servant,” Greek, “deaconess”), yet no mention is made of them in this Epistle if not here; whereas, supposing them to be meant here, the third chapter embraces in due proportion all the persons in the service of the Church. Naturally after specifying the qualifications of the deacon, Paul passes to those of the kindred office, the deaconess. 
Trust me, there is not a single early church father of the first five centuries that disagrees with this interpretation. It was not until much later when it was translated or interpreted "wives of deacons." I know what you're thinking. "No conservative believes women can be deacons." I know! I have felt the same way! And I still do regarding churches where deacons [unbiblically] are rulers! Again, we want the office of deacon to be what the New Testament intends: servants. I think it is more important to bring our church in line with what the Bible really teaches than to hold to man-made tradition. Please know that there is no biblical case for women elders (who ARE the ruling body of the church) and that Providence will not compromise regarding the Bible's teaching. I give you my word on this. So unless we see something in the Bible that suggests that we should change our practice to conform better to the Bible, we will not change it. I am thankful that we have a men-led church. In most churches I know, most volunteer and leadership positions are filled by women. However, we actually have more men involved in all aspects of leadership (including traditionally woman-dominated positions, like children's ministry and worship) than any other church I know percentage-wise. That's due in part to our focus on men being the leaders God has called them to be. This is in no wise a put-down for women! God loves strong women and we want them to serve in the church in myriad ways.
Brother, the decision is not made yet. The elders are presenting the idea to the whole church so that we can all pray about it, study what God's Word says, and then vote on it. 

There it is. Exciting stuff, right? I actually think so. We MUST raise up new leaders if we want to make more disciples and plant churches. I think God is trustworthy to build HIS church. As we conform it to the description given in the New Testament, we are trusting HIM to do so.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Christmas Tree CAMPING Adventure

That's right. We've taken the Sparks family Christmas tree adventure to new heights. We decided to take one more trip in Miss Daisy (the camper) before putting her up for the winter the weekend after Thanksgiving to our favorite Christmas tree farm in White Top Virginia.
Miss Daisy has been an ongoing project since May, and has probably been one of the reasons I've blogged less since May. We've redone almost everything and we have camped!
After a great Thanksgiving Day with my dad, sister, step brother, and families we finished packing up; and went with our good friends the Hicks from Mississippi (yes, the "Mississippi Hicks"), who we camp with every year in Elkmont. They drove all the way up to get a tree! 

We hooked up Miss Daisy to the Wag and went. All five of us with both dogs. Yes, we all slept in Daisy. Even the dogs. The nights saw temperatures dip down to the low 20s. All water and drinks left outside were frozen solid! The camper was warm, but it was a little rough to go outside in the mornings and cook breakfast (which begins with melting ice for coffee)! 

We were saddened to learn that Charlie, the Christmas tree farm owner, died a couple of weeks ago. Now his daughter was selling trees. There were more people buying than we have seen in previous years (that doesn't mean many–we're usually the only ones!). She was there making wreaths and taking money. We took our time to find a tree, taking lots of pictures. The dogs love running free as we look. This year they had a couple of farm hands who cut your tree for you and take it to the old tree binder for you.

Here are some pictures of our time there. Notice that the girls even dressed up the dogs in sweaters. Not entirely impractical. It was below freezing there. Mo is cold natured and Sparky has lost lots of hair in his old age.

After getting lunch at the Whitetop Store, we drove up to Grayson Highlands. It was cold and windy. But the wind was really whipping at the top. It seems to always be windy there, but this was the strongest wind I've seen there. Like 60-80 mph constant. You had to lean into it to stand, and you had to yell to be heard. Cuttingly cold! Darla and Duncan hunkered down in a cleft of the rock while we went to the top.

After spending the night back at Grindstone Campground, we packed up and headed home. We stopped in Abingdon for lunch. People were taking pictures of the Wag and Miss Daisy like we were celebrities and waved at us like we were a one-car parade! One lady gleefully ran out of a building and asked to take a selfie with our family and the Wag & camper! So funny.

Okay, I feel compelled to dispel the "Pinterest Perfection" images here and remind readers that all is not perfect! The Wagoneer SUCKS gas, especially when pulling the trailer at interstate speeds. Also my pictures (intentionally) do not show the damage to the back bumper and right rear quarter panel sustained in the recent wreck I had. In addition, Darla and the kids (not Dara, who drives a Jeep truck) were complaining of the loud, droning, exhaust sound that now is even louder due to the damage in the back. I'm getting the Wag fixed and repainted soon, but it still leaks oil and has a tired engine with over 225k miles. This is evident on long, steep uphill climbs. Daisy's not the perfect camper either. We don't have a working oven, refrigerator, or any air conditioning. And wow, it's tight with five adults and two dogs! We had our share of bickering and patience-wearing-thin. So don't be fooled by the pictures. Know that we are a family of sinners who are in process, and we have limited funds to try to stretch and still have fun experiences together. Thankfully, there were no breakdowns.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Teach us to Pray

The following is from a sermon given on November 20, 2016

God has given us an incredible tool and privilege: prayer. Prayer is most basically communicating with God. That’s right, the God of the universe (not the president), who has unlimited power has given us mere humans the privilege of calling on him and telling him what’s on our minds: expressing thanks, making requests, confessing sin, interceding for others, sharing our fears & frustrations and even just engaging in common small talk. It is an amazing gift! Right off the bat, I’m going to confess that I don’t understand all the hows and whys of prayer. Like, how does a sovereign God who has a plan take our prayers into consideration? Do our prayers really change things? (Truth is, I’m comfortable with the fact that God has already taken our prayer—or lack of it—into consideration before we ever pray). But these questions really aren’t important, all we really need to know is that God has asked us to pray, and told us that our prayers matter and really do change things. 

You know what’s really amazing? So few people take advantage of it. I’m one of them. I struggle to pray regularly, effectively, deliberately, passionately. I get busy and it’s one of those things like flossing and exercising that I know I should do, and do sometimes, and when I do I’m always glad I did—but I don’t do enough. Truth is praying is more important than anything else we can spend time doing. We believers have a relationship with God. We are his children. I don’t know about you but all my relationships require communication. Without it there IS no relationship. Think of your relationships: If you have issues with your spouse, your kids, your parents…I can tell you for sure that a fundamental truth is that communication can make so much difference! Think: when you were dating you would write notes, talk all night on phone, text little sweet nothings throughout the day, sit and talk for hours. Now perhaps it’s completely reduced to necessary information only. Perhaps even worse, it’s laced with a prickly or sarcastic edge. With our kids: there was a time when they were babies when only gentle, smiling, affirmative words were the norm as they were learning to talk. Now they’re teens and the little you do say can be negative barking. Is there any wonder why these relationships are strained?  Teenagers, you should especially take this to heart! You want to have your life go well with you? Speak often & respectful with your folks. If every sentence you speak to your parents could be ended with the words, “you idiot,” just know that you’re playing your cards poorly—and it’s only hurting you! 1. You’re less likely to get what you want, 2.God is not pleased. “Honor your father & mother…that it may be well with you.” Let’s all try something: more positive communication. I will promise you it will make a difference! 

Now hear: God wants you to communicate with him. That’s prayer. It’s powerful. It’s under-utilized. And it’s the thing the devil wants to keep you from doing. He knows that when we pray God’s power is unleashed. So he’ll do anything to stop us. It’s that important. Important enough that Jesus wanted us to see it as a habit in his life.  

Luke 11;
1Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 
Jesus’ disciples saw this in his life. After making it clear that he and his word were the main things, his disciples wanted to know how to pray. This should be OUR desire! We have a relationship with him. He has spoken to us in his Word. I challenged you to do this. Sit at his feet & hear (absorb) his word. If you did, you received blessed, one-way communication. It makes perfect sense that Jesus would next teach them how to communicate with God. How are we to pray? That’s the question the disciples asked, & Jesus was eager to answer. Think about it: Jesus didn’t teach them how to sing, preach, take up offering, or even share their faith (all important things). He taught them to pray.

2And he said to them, “When you pray, say... 
Now, this isn’t a prayer to be said as a vain repetition, as if it’s a formula. No, it’s a model prayer. We are to pray like this.

hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come. 

3Give us each day our daily bread,
4and forgive us our sins,
    for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.” 

Please note that Luke’s version of this prayer is a little bit shorter than Matthew's, which is the basis of the familiar “Lord’s Prayer" our version of which was canonized in Anglican Book of Common PrayerAll the versions are essentially the same. Here Jesus is giving us a guide to remember the essential aspects of an effective prayer. 
For the past 20 years, I’ve been using this method. Why? It’s the one Jesus gave us!

1. Acknowledge your privileged position. 
This was radical! You’re his child! He loves you & wants to hear from you. You’re never interrupting! You have his ear. 

hallowed be your name. 
2. Affirm his “Awesomeness.” 
Tell him of your love and awe for him. This is a great time to both praise him for who he is and thank him for what he has done.

your kingdom come (your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven).
3. Align your priorities with his: his Kingdom is first. 
The heart of Christ’s outline is that we pray that God’s rule and reign be realized and that his will and way be accomplished. Don’t miss this. This takes some thought and meditation. Think about what’s important to HIM—not you. This is where we ask him to make himself known and loved in this world. This is where we pray for God to revive his church and awaken people to be born again. This is where we pray that God will pour out his Spirit and transform our culture! Imagine in your mind what God’s “will be[ing] done on earth as it is in heaven” might look like! Long for this in your heart! Ask him to do it!

This central point is the climax. Everything else we pray should be “according to his will” with the advancement of his Kingdom in mind. Jesus said (John 5:14-15), “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him”. That’s the kind of prayer God WILL answer!

Give us each day our daily bread. 
4. Ask him to provide for needs. 
This is where you pray for God to provide for our physical needs: food, shelter, clothing, health, etc. Christ came to this physical earth and knows that we have these needs. He cares for us and will provide! Also pray for others you know who have needs.

5. Address sin. 
Now, Jesus didn't sin. But he told us to spend a good portion of our prayer (over half!) dealing with our daily struggle with sin. Notice, however, it’s the last part of Jesus’ model prayer. My tendency is to start with this.  But we’ve already been forgiven! Now we’re dealing with sin’s effect on our relationships. 

Forgive us our sins, 
Confess your sins to God. (trespasses= Ignoring the law and going somewhere you don’t belong.)

for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to (sins against) us. 
Forgive others’ sins.

And lead us not into temptation. 
Ask God to guide you away from sin. He will!

That’s how to pray. 
OH, but there’s more! Because praying is more than just checking all the boxes. Praying effectively means having the right passion and heart.
5And he said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, 6for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; 7and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? 8I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his impudence he will rise and give him whatever he needs. 9And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

So how should we pray? With determination. Undaunted. Relentless. Persistently.
Not worrying about inconveniencing God, but urgently coming to the One who never sleeps, who cares about us and our concerns, who LOVES us more than we love our own kids. Who’s default answer is YES! We should pray expecting that God wants to give us more than we ask! Even up to the Holy Spirit himself! And he wants us to ask!

NOW: Let’s Pray! 

Friday, September 2, 2016

Hit and Run...and CHASE!

So I was the victim of a hit and run. Crazy! I was stopped at the red light at Cedar Bluff Road and Bob Gray Road, in the turning lane, when BAM! I was hit hard in the rear. So hard...that a two-liter Diet Pepsi from my back seat hit me in the back of the head. I was momentarily stunned when I realized what had happened and the guy who hit me fled the scene in his black Ford F-150 truck. Adrenaline flowed. Without hesitation, I instinctively gave chase!
Here I must explain a couple of things: First: I have noticed that when I am in an adrenalin-induced state, I think much more clearly. In fact, things seem to go in slow motion to me. I am able to multi-task and I am able to think ahead and consider different scenarios. Oh, to be this way all the time!
Second: I have always secretly wanted to be in a car chase. Perhaps it is irresponsible, but every boy wants to experience the Dukes of Hazzard, Smokey and the Bandit, Fast and Furious, and, my personal favorite, Bullitt with Steve McQueen. It's like living out a childhood dream! Besides, I didn't want this guy to get away before I got his license plate number! I was thinking about my insurance rate skyrocketing!
Me, in high-speed pursuit. Kidding.
Wagoneers are made for racing! Kidding.
Back to the story: I ran the red light at which I was stopped and chased him to Middlebrook, and to Chert Pit. I had already grabbed my phone and was dialing 911. The Pepsi was rolling around in the floor at my feet. The guy turned on several back roads and I was chasing him, hoping to get close enough to see his plate. The 911 operator answered. As often as I could truthfully, I told him we were driving safe and legally (I was afraid he would make me stop chasing!). Truth is, the moment I told him that, it was the truth. But on other moments during the chase (many other moments) I was barking and squealing the tires, pushing the Wagoneer as hard as possible. This was especially challenging due to the fact that the back seat and cargo area were full of heavy stuff—like the 80-pound vintage camper refrigerator that was banging around back there as I was virtually on two wheels around corners.
Success! I caught up with the pickup. At one point, the guy had to stop for traffic. I was honking. The perp actually got out of his truck and began walking back toward me! I was thinking what I would do if he pulled a gun. "Simple," I thought. "I'll just run him over." I rolled down the window to ask him to pull over. As soon as I told him that I was speaking with 911 he jumped back in the truck and sped off even faster! I now had a complete look at his face, even the color of his eyes! Again, the Wag held it's ground. I have wondered if he must have thought, "I can't shake this Wagoneer!!" Yeah, baby. That's right. Don't mess with the Wag. 360 cubic inches of American Motors iron. (Sorry...I drifted off there for a second.) Truth is I realized that I was about to run out of gas. I stayed on his tail until Emory Road in Powell! That's when my Wagoneer stalled. The tank was empty. I was still on the phone with 911. The guy was great. He sent a deputy to me. I put gas in my tank from the can of gas I had in the back. The damage was way less than I thought it would be by the force of the collision. Did I mention American Steel? They don't make 'em like they used to. The deputy asked for my info, license, registration, proof of insurance, etc. I asked him, "Did any of the six or so people who were at the traffic light who saw the accident call in and report it?" He answered, "No, but several called in about the car chase." My still-adrenalin-filled response was a quote from Buford T. Justice in Smokey and the Bandit: "I was in high-speed pursuit of a MANIAC!" The very professional deputy could not help it. He laughed. The license plate number I provided made it possible for them to find the perp. He lived with his dad and/or grandfather on Emory Rd. The officer wanted me to follow him there and sit in a driveway up the street until he needed me (I assume so that I could identify him).
By the time the deputy needed me, I had begun to realize that God may have allowed me to be hit by this guy for a reason. Maybe God wanted me to help him somehow, or at least start a relationship.
The deputy told me, "We got him. He confessed to everything. He's going to jail." Turns out he'd been in trouble before. I explained to the deputy that I was a Christian, and harbor no hard feelings. I asked if there was a chance I could meet with him at the County Jail? He said he'd see what he could do.
Long story short, the damage was worse than what the images below show. The frame was bent and the passenger-side doors were very hard to open and the back fender and quarter panel were bent and bowed. Also the bumper was bent and cracked. But you should have seen the perp's truck!

So the good news is that because I gave chase the insurance company didn't charge me with liability. The adjuster (a really nice guy) came out and they totaled the Wagoneer, and I get to keep it minus a buy back amount. Looks like I should have enough to get the whole thing repainted! That was something I was hoping to be able to do due to the small rust spots and scratches it has. I'm thankful!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glamping in Miss Daisy

Most summers have a theme that just kinda happens. For us, this is the summer of Miss Daisy. Daisy is our 1967 (we think, the previous owners thought it was a 1969) Field & Stream vintage camper that we bought and refurbished in less than 3 weeks. What that essentially means is for every waking minute, from virtually sun up to midnight, when I wasn't doing my job as a pastor, I was working on that camper (and so was Darla, and sometimes our kids). And it happened to be during the hottest week of the year so far.

Here's Daisy on Memorial Day as we were stripping her down to the bear metal. Duncan taped off all the aluminum window frames before scrubbing and painting them silver. You can't really see it, but the frame/tongue/rear bumper was rusted and needed much work.

Here's the family giving Daisy her new coat of paint. We put a thick rubberized coat of waterproof roof sealer on the top, and a high-performance marine-grade acrylic on the rest of the body. I used Rust-Oleum black paint from a rattle can on the hitch and new bumper after removing at least three previous coats of old paint, sanding and grinding it to the bare metal.
Here's the camper in fresh white paint, before we put on the yellow stripe. We also had to remove and clean all the old louvered window glass, and repair the windows.
Here's the other side. Notice the ugly rusty wheels.
Duncan did most of the work on the yellow stripe. She gave guidance in picking the right shade, too. I wanted to match the camper's color with that of my Wagoneer (maroon with a wooden stripe), that was summarily vetoed. The yellow color came from the color of the faux wood molding on my Wagoneer. I wouldn't consider that a compromise. More like a not-so-veiled attempt at placating me!

Here's Daisy's old bumper. It was mangled and rusty. I designed a new one that would also serve as a spare tire carrier. I bought the metal pieces and took them to a welder so he could cut off the old bumper and weld on the new. Afterward, I painted it with several coats of Rust-Oleum. Darla wanted it white for looks, but I campaigned for black because I'm afraid white would show rust pretty soon, no matter how hard I tried to get rid of it all. I don't regret it, at the vintage camper rally, I saw several nicely done trailers with white on the bumper/hitch, and they had rust and dirt that marred the camper's looks.

Yes, that's a receiver hitch welded in the new bumper. That's for a cargo cage or bike holder. And yes, if we courageously (stupidly?) wanted to tandem-tow a small trailer, we could (we actually met some folks at the vintage camper rally who did!) but we wouldn't be able to go in reverse.
After the painting was done, we resealed all the windows and other joints and openings so that NO WATER CAN GET IN. After several rains, some quite hard, it seems we were successful. So far, so good.
Here's the finished camper! New "steelie" wheels (that I bought, sanded, and painted yellow to match). I tell you, by the time we drove to Elkmont, getting this thing ready kicked my tail.

Here are some pictures of the inside. We put in new faux wood floors, ripped out any water-damaged surfaces, and repainted or re-surfaced everything. This includes tile backstops, plastic antique-tin-looking wall covering, re-stained original birch ceiling, and aluminum trim. We tried to keep the vintage countertops and appliances (and many of them required repairs).

Thankfully, the previous owners reupholstered the seats and made expensive new curtains. They also tried to salvage the original stuff. Daisy's whole color scheme

Here's the backsplash tile. Also notice the original stove and ice box. I just bought an old gas-powered refrigerator that I plan on fixing and installing where the ice box is. Note also the original gas lamp on the wall above the stove.
One of my favorite parts of the trailer is the birch ceiling. I'm so glad we were able to keep it. There were some rough places where previous owners had peeled chunks of it off, and some areas that had been stained by water. We did our best to either hide or re-stain the damaged parts.

Notice the antique fan on the shelf, the baskets we turned into handy shelves, and all the vintage daisy-themed stuff. It's kind of been fun to look for daisy stuff at yard sales, thrift stores, and online for cheap.

Perhaps the hardest job of all for me on the camper was cutting and attaching the new wall surface. All pieces of the white tin-looking tile had to be perfectly matched and cutting to fit the rounded-corner ceiling was really hard. It looks great, though.
Here's the sink area. Darla did a great job decorating. Duncan painted all the cabinet drawers and doors grey. Darla bought a new hand pump online for the faucet, installed it herself, and it works! It's for when we camp places where there is no hook-ups. We camp more where there are no hookups more than where there are. That's another reason we want to get a gas refrigerator. Then we will have water, light, and refrigeration for food.

After working to fix all these things, we still have some small leakage in the "hook-up" water pipe, and in the drain pipe, but not much.

Other tasks we accomplished include rewiring all the trailer harness lighting and some of the 110-volt system (thanks Drew Sparks), repairing the gas lines, removing the rusty old double-LP-gas-tank-holder and restoring the original one-tank holder.

As I write this, it's the end of August and we've camped in Miss Daisy 4 times. Here's a brief recap:

June 20-25 at Elkmont near Gatlinburg, TN.
After speaking at a marriage retreat for Coaches Outreach in Black Mountain, NC, Darla and I brought Miss Daisy for her inaugural (with us) trip to our favorite family campsite. We put up the usual huge brown tarp (which requires some engineering prowess on my part with ropes and trees). We decided we needed to retire the tarps. Too much hassle and time.

We camped next to the Hicks and the Childresses as we have for the last several years. We miss the Sanders family who moved to Washington state.

July 1-2 Elkmont
My sister had reserved more days than she could use, so instead of canceling the extras, we paid her for them and spent a couple more days (without kids) in Elkmont, moving only a few spaces upstream from our usual spot.
As you can see, we didn't have an awning yet. We had ordered one, but it was being made.

July 17th at Gee Creek Campground between Delano and Reliance, TN.
Darla and I escaped for a weekend next to one of my favorite rivers. The Hiwassee. Darla was gracious and allowed me some time to fish. Both days I caught a limit of trout! Thanks for that good time, God (and Darla).
We had a few new additions with us: a new canopy from Walmart, and an awning we'd ordered from California, and a Dutch Oven. The oven was fantastic! The awning, on the other hand, while practical, was really the wrong color of yellow. This didn't bother me, but Darla couldn't stand it. She thought it clashed. So she sold it on eBay, and bought one made by a lady in Georgia for less!

Thankfully, we haven't needed air conditioning yet. Elkmont is always cool, but we were afraid we would be hot at the Hiwassee. All turned out well. We couldn't have used it even if we had it (because there were no hook-ups). Gee creek is clean and pretty nice. But there's no easy access to the river, and there's poison ivy everywhere.

August 25-27 Near Hiwassee, GA.
We did our first vintage camper rally at the North Georgia Vintage Trailer Rally at the Riverbend Campground.

As God would have it, we got a spot between two senior couples, on one side was the lady who made our new green awning!! Everyone was nice (with a few exceptions), and we learned so much. I got most of my questions answered, like: how do I install an air conditioner without cutting a hole in the side of the camper. We don't want a roof camper, we want one that can sit inconspicuously under the bed or somewhere else.

I also got ideas on how to build a wooden screen door. I will have to fabricate some hinges, but that's going to be a fun challenge.
We went all out and brought old stuff to glam up the camper: vintage suitcases, old-fashioned lawn chairs that we got cheap (that I have re-webbed twice), and several other things. We also had a new green rug to match the awning, and a new coleman canopy over the picnic table.

Most of the day on Saturday, people from all over came to the campground for the show. Hundreds walked through our and others' campers.

Having power and water was pretty convenient. But now we know we need air conditioning! My list is growing of future improvements for Daisy! Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Guest Post by Anthony Burton: The Will of God

Anthony Burton is a member of Providence who is planning to plant a church in south Knoxville. He is a graduate of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. The following post is his. 

A few weeks ago, I preached a message about the family of God. At the end of the sermon we took questions from those gathered. There were many questions submitted that I was unable to answer at that time. Therefore, I am writing a series of blog posts to address those questions. I categorized all of the questions into general topics: the will of God; the sovereignty of God; the sinful nature of humanity; doctrine of the Trinity; and others. The first issue to be addressed will be the will of God (or how not to mistake the voice in your head for the voice of God). Here were two questions that represent that line of thinking:  
1. In following the will of God, how do I distinguish between God's will for me and my own inner voice (or will) when making decisions? 
2. Why is it so hard to follow the will of God when you are trying to live for Him and he remains silent? 
What is God’s will for my life? If I had my pick, I would probably say it is the question I have heard the most over my short 10 years in ministry. Too often, however, the will of God is treated like it is a mystical guide, hidden in the middle earth nether-regions. If a believer was only willing to endure the most valiant of quest beyond the fourth dimension, we could know what God wants us to do. That’s way out there, I know, but I exaggerate because many think that God’s will is strangely hidden from them. We are typically waiting on a voice, a sign, or something that we can attribute to a supernatural movement of God before a decision can be made.
God has made his will plain and clear. There is no guess work involved really. Furthermore, his will speaks directly to the life we live.  To know his will, we must simply turn to his word and here are a few verses to demonstrate (I would encourage you to read them for yourself in context):
1. 1 Timothy 2:4 [God] desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truthFirst and foremost, God’s will for me and you is to be saved, to know him, and to have a relationship with him. It is impossible to not have salvation and be in his will.
2. Ephesians 5:17ff Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is…be filled with the Spirit. God has placed his Spirit in each of his children. He has given us new life! And it is not that his Spirit simply dwell, but richly dwells within us. We should fill our lives with his presence—filled with his word! Meditation, study, memorization, song, prayer, and thanksgiving are but a few ways in which fullness is accomplished.
3. 1 Thessalonians 4:3ff For this is the will of God, your sanctification…For God has not called us for impurity, but in holinessGod’s will is for us to be holy as he is holy; obedient to his word; a reflection of Jesus Christ. God literally cleanses us so that he changes the way we think and feel. We begin to see the world as he does.
My grandmother would put it this way: “God’s will is for each of us to be saved, sanctified, and filled with the Holy Ghost.” That’s it. But you might say, how does that help me with choosing which job to take, where to live, or what school to go to? When to speak or when to be silent? Or all the many questions we may face at any given moment in life. The reality is, when God’s Will is effective within your life, then God shows you the path, grants wisdom, and gives freedom. Romans 12:1-2 says, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Living the life he has called us to live and having our thinking in conformity with Christ, allows us to know what is God’s will in our decision making.
Psalm 37:4 tells us, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Not that God will give you the things of your wildest dreams or that you just hit the God-lottery, but he instills within you his desires for the choices that you make. In essence, when you examine your life and motives and determine you are within the will of God, do and pray for your heart’s desire. Because that desire will be in lock-step with God’s will. As an example, how did I know that God is calling me to plant Bridge Church? Because the desire within me was so strong that it could not be escaped and I know (upon examination) I’m living my life within the will of God. I hope this helps you in your endeavor to know and do the will of God for your own life.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Donald Accepts

I’m watching Donald Trump’s acceptance speech for the Republican nomination for President. I’m experiencing a range of emotions. I get it. His popularity is a reaction to the years of the run amok political correctness and lurching to the left in virtually every way (socially, fiscally, national security, racial relations, illegal immigration, foreign policy, etc.), and the consequential decline America is experiencing and many are feeling. He serves up the red meat that many patriotic Americans desire, and he delivers it in abundance. 

Here’s my problem.

I don’t believe him. He’s proven to play to the galleries. He’s changed his opinion on issues (like abortion, for example) and people (like Megan Kelly, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, and every other Republican candidate) so much one’s head spins. “Believe me,” he says over and over. I just don’t. 

I also think he is a narcissist. He lives for one thing: self promotion. His god seems to be himself. Arrogance is his chief attribute. This is scary to me, and is the opposite of what the Bible teaches is commendable, especially for a leader. For example, TWO Corinthians 10:17-18 reads, “‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” He doesn’t even feign humility, braggartly talking about himself.  

Regarding the political landscape and big picture, it worries me that if Trump wins and becomes the President, he will be the object of unending derision and vehement hatred previously unknown from the media, academia, Hollywood, and virtually every other stronghold of liberalism in the world (not just the United States). I foresee further generational and racial division as Trump will no doubt offer people easy opportunities to criticize. He will no doubt serve as the stereotypical rich and cocky Republican. Don’t read me wrong, I’m not defending Republicans. But there’s little doubt what today’s Democrat party is about, and without some opposition, Democrats will have their way.

Ok, that’s off my chest.

With that said, there’s no way I will vote for Hillary Clinton. No way. I’d die first. She’s so corrupt and lies virtually every time she opens her mouth. She is the consummate political insider who has enriched herself by selling influence. She’s dead wrong on most issues, particularly abortion which is something we can KNOW she will defend in all forms. If she is elected we KNOW that she will appoint and nominate judges and justices (among others) who will promote abortion on demand and interpret the constitution in light of their own liberal ideology, not according the founders’ and framer’s intent. Does anyone think she will uphold the rule of law as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer? She who seems to always skirt accountability for her many scandals and wrongdoings? The Clintons are proof that there’s a double standard and that justice is not blind.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do in November. 

I’m glad God is in control of who is in control. 

TWO Corinthians 4:16-18 reads, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

I will pray and I will vote. Even more, I will believe in and trust the Unseen and Eternal One who is absolutely sovereign. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vintage Camper?!

There it is, waiting to be washed, fixed, and painted.
What have I done...again?!

This time I really might end up being sorry. Since July last year when we sold our reasonable, clean, perfectly functional popup camper, we've been looking for a vintage old "canned ham" camper to work on and camp in.

Have I lost my mind?

This isn't ours. It's a "Sisters on the Fly" camper.
Why would we do this (you might ask)?

Because life is an adventure.
Because we don't have enough money to buy a new camper.
Because vintage campers are cool and have character.
Because I think we can always sell it for more than the amount for which we bought it.
Because I'm a glutton for punishment.

Another "SOTF" camper.
This whole idea began a couple of years ago when we went on our annual summer camping trip. Dara and I went up a few days before everyone else—Drew was having to work at his college and had to come late, Duncan was on the way home from a mission trip, and Darla was getting Franca (our German exchange student) ready for her trip home.
This "Sisters" camper was stunning. The painter is talented!
Dara and I, never being able to fully scratch the outdoors itch, set up camp and hung out together. It was pretty awesome. What was crazy, however, was that there were dozens of women with a group called Sisters on the Fly. Most of them were breast cancer survivors, many of whom had taken up fly fishing (an activity that reportedly exercises muscles damaged by breast cancer and treatments). We had some wonderful conversations with some really great people.

Yet another "SOTF" example.
Something that was really cool about this group was their campers! Most of them had incredible vintage campers that had been completely restored or remodeled. Dara and I were awed by their campers! When Darla, Duncan, and Drew finally made it to the campground, most of the women had packed up and departed, only a few remaining.

I took many pictures. These are only a few.

There were several old Airstreams there. Always classic!

Now it's our turn. Oh boy.

Ours right after the purchase. Bringing "Daisy" home.
Darla and I have been looking, even stopping at people's homes to ask about campers that sat stranded in their yards (yes, I could tell you some stories).

This week we saw a 1969 Field & Stream camper on Craigslist. I went to check it out and liked it. It didn't leak, wasn't plagued with rust or rot, and the couple that had it had done some work on it but appreciated vintage originality and kept it pretty stock. After negotiating on price, I brought it home. That was Saturday. We cleaned and worked on it until we ran out of daylight. We got cranking after church and the picnic that followed, and again worked on it until dark. I'm not complaining! I like having something to work on! Darla's determined the name: Daisy. She's going to paint the faded gold stripe a gold-yellow. It's also a little bit of an inside joke. I call Darla "Daisy" when she complains about my driving. You know, like in the movie, "Driving Miss Daisy."

We're going to spend Memorial Day fixing, painting, and remodeling this old thing (and then we're going to eat BBQ Pork that's cooking right now).

Life is good.

Driving Miss Daisy home to meet the family. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Sin in the Camp

A few days ago the people of Knoxville were shocked to hear of arrests that were made in a sting operation. It was conducted by various law enforcement entities and had been given the codename: "Operation Someone Like Me." In it 32 people were caught and charged with various sexual crimes. Among them were two “pastors.” One was a volunteer “creative pastor” who led worship at Lifehouse Church in Oak Ridge (associated with the Assemblies of God) and the other was the Children’s Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Karns. Of course the media focused almost exclusively on the two ministers. When the news broke, my phone almost melted, first from those who were making sure I had heard, and then from other leaders determining how to respond and from people wanting to ask my thoughts.

I feel I need to comment (and perhaps “vent”) a bit. There’s a cycle I find I experience when I hear this kind of news:


Let me explain (and hopefully encourage you who are struggling as well).


Like the water of a creek in a flash flood, my emotions tend to rise and jump the banks whenever something like this happens. Honestly, my first response is outrage. Words like “stupid,” “hypocrite,” and “jerk” come out of my mouth. I start thinking in ways I should not think, like imagining having two minutes alone in a room with the offender. I’m a dad. I’m increasingly sickened by the drift in our culture and the church. How can someone waging the battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil—yea, leading God’s people in battle—be so reckless and depraved. I'm mad enough at the world over issues like the sex trade industry, but this is the church! My blood pressure rises when I think of how these things hurt the gospel and I take it personally. However, I quickly realize that this initial reaction is wrong. If I am going to be mad, I should be angry at sin. Sin that I too commit in different ways.


Next I experience sorrow and heaviness of heart. Of course I think about the accused offenders’ wives and kids. How devastating. They must feel utterly betrayed. According to rumor, the Grace Baptist guy’s wife didn’t have a clue. I grieve for her. What’s worse (if possible)? Every kid thinks his or her dad is the best. He apparently has three kids ranging from kindergarten to teenager. The proverbial rug is pulled out from under them profoundly when this kind of sin is exposed, and it forms a wound that may never heal. I also think of the churches these men have served. They are right now reeling. A staff member at Grace told me everyone is quiet and numb, as if someone unexpectedly died. I also think of the setback we as the Church Proper in Knoxville will face because of this. I have already had conversations with unbelievers who promptly brought this up to me upon learning I was a pastor. Just when I feel that we are making some baby steps in becoming the humble, sincere, loving body of Christ that offers a clear alternative to the world—this happens. Already I have seen snarky comments online highlighting this as yet another example of Christians’ arrogance, corruption, hypocrisy, etc. This is indeed a setback and it saddens me.

Then, after I think of all the people these men have hurt around them, I think of them. They have essentially destroyed their own lives. They will bear the shame of perversion and corruption and self-serving immorality. They will never again work in ministry. Period. Which makes any education or experience they have gained utterly useless. All that money and sacrifice is for nothing, except to serve as a mockery. They will live with the guilt of being the ungrateful swine before whom many pearls have been cast as they have been surrounded by things of God and godly people. Their lives are also about to radically change. Prison is not a friendly place for child-sex predators or soft men in general. I’ve been there (not as an inmate). Pedophiles and child abusers hide in fear and stay in the chapel and anywhere there is supervision. They are routinely beaten and raped. Even the prisoners have an understanding of hierarchy regarding sin, and they’re considered the lowest of the low, especially among those who were abused as children themselves. They essentially exist as dead-men walking around with targets on their backs, friendless and terrified. They are to be pitied. It is sad.


This next emotion comes unexpectedly to me. I begin to reflect on our church and our staff and our volunteers and our processes. Are we doing everything humanly possible to insure this does not happen at Providence? There are three basic aspects of this. 
1. We must properly vet people before they are placed in positions of leadership. We do this in a number of ways, including background checks, looking at applicants' social media, proper interviewing, checking references (both those given by the applicant and those we dig up ourselves), and spending enough time with them to give the Holy Spirit opportunity to let us gain a sense of their spiritual health and sincerity.
2. We must shepherd them while they are leaders. This includes accountability, encouraging spiritual growth, giving reminders, and encouraging opportunities for confession of sin and grace. Yes there are some ways we can police our staff’s internet usage and computers, set policies for male/female and adult/child interactions, etc, but we should be more about the positive aspects of spiritual growth and healthy community that will allow us to see “red flags” before sin takes root.
3. We must have a plan to deal with a revelation of secret sin should it happen to us.

Of course when I think through these things I second-guess everything. I feel the worry that we are not doing enough. 

That always leads me to pray that God would spare us—starting with me—from such things. I have said this before and say it again now: I would rather God kill me than allow me to hurt the church, my family, myself, and God by some sinful scandal. I know my weaknesses and my greatest fear is that I would fall prey to some scheme of Satan to ruin my reputation and shame the name of Christ. Again, I pray that God will kill me first. And I pray that by his mercy God will spare our church from this kind of crippling scandal—be it through me or someone else. I’ve been at churches rocked by leadership scandals. They sometimes never recover. 

The scary thing is that we can do everything humanly possible to prevent these things, but human beings are sinful. And Satan is a great deceiver who has millennia of experience. So we are wise to fear. This might keep us humble and reliant on God who alone is able to preserve us and grow us and even conquer through us. This is why we should pray fervently and constantly to this end. Fear is good if fear drives me to pray.


It is when I realize my frailty and God’s might that my heavy heart is relieved and my soul rejoices in his greatness and wisdom and glory. He is able. He is undefeated. Our God is completely in control and even uses these instances of human failure to bring about his will. He always has and he always will. My mind is right now flooding with historical examples of this! God used the scandal of Achan after Jericho (Joshua 7) to humble and focus Israel in order to conquer the Promised Land. God used the scandal of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) to purify the church in the early stages of its growth and cause “the people [to hold] them in high esteem” (Acts 5:13). God used the scandals of European popes and the church’s corruption to bring about the Protestant Reformation that saved the church and the gospel. I could go on.

The word “worship” conveys the attribution of worthiness toward someone. It literally means “to kiss toward” in homage and humility, as a lowly subject would bow before a great king and kiss his feet. I understand worship as an act of complete surrender to God who alone is worthy. Brokenness is the beginning of true worship. The fact that I am so unworthy leads me to the glorious truth that he is infinitely worthy of my awe and my all. Rejoicing springs forth from that soil. I find my worth in him who is and find my purpose in his. I find my joy in pleasing him. This is a satisfaction with which the world and Satan can not compete!


Therefore, we can not be discouraged by news of human scandal. Angry? Hurt? Disappointed? Perhaps. But never discouraged or defeated. We are to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). The church, with all her flaws, is still Christ’s bride; and hell’s defenses cannot overcome her or her mission. We must lovingly, wisely, and aggressively denounce sin, treat the wounds of others, demand justice while offering forgiveness for the repentant offender, and positively hold up Christ as the answer.

What cannot happen? Satan can't be allowed to use his victory in the personal life of an Achan or an Ananias or a Leo X of our day to discourage and defeat the rest of us. No. The rest of us must rise up to clearly provide an alternative (accurate) picture of Christianity to the world—a Christ-picture. With measured words, we must acknowledge anger, sadness, and fear; with humility we must worship; and with determination we must carry on in our mission—his mission.