All posts by herbhalstead

tornado.updates


UPDATE:It looks like the relief effort is pretty much over at this point, and finding ways to help is becoming very difficult. The community responded quickly and friends from all over the country joined in the efforts. It looks like the area is eager to rebuild what was lost and get back to some semblance of normalcy. Thanks to all who responded.

UPDATE:Thrive has been working in the Denmark/Huntersville area for the past week. Sunday afternoon we will be sending crews to a number of other sites in the greater Jackson area. Email ms.angel@thrivecommunitychurch.com for specific items we are needing to be donated.

UPDATE: You can see the latest official recovery information from Union at http://uurecovery.blogspot.com/

UPDATE:Thrive’s Wednesday services will proceed as scheduled.

UPDATE: You can see the latest official emergency information from Union at http://uuemergency.blogspot.com/

UPDATE: Right now, the Red Cross is saying that money, food and hygiene products are what is needed, but have not indicated how to handle funds. However, our church’s policy on things like this is to make checks payable to “Thrive Church”, and BE SURE to put “Jackson Tornado Relief” in the memo. We can then send money in bulk once the proper funding route is found.

praying.with.jackson

Jackson was hit pretty hard by a Tornado last night that mostly affected the area near 45-Bypass and Oilwell Road. Union University was hit pretty hard. So far, there have been some injuries (some serious), but praise God no fatalities.

Thrive Church extends its deepest regards to the students and their families, who no doubt are under some serious stress at the moment. We also want to help any way that we can. I am offering Thrive’s assistance to Union and the surrounding neighborhoods.

As a church, we can help with cleanup and with housing. We are also organizing a drive for hygiene items and food. Since God has blessed us with this great big building, I think we should also offer it as a place to store donations from anyone else who would want to offer aid to this affected by this storm. We have already contacted the Red-Cross to see how we can be of assistance, including putting together a work team.

Thrive, let’s make difference.

P.S. Wednesday services will proceed as scheduled.

mike.huckabee.on.evolution

Watch YouTube Video

Two things about this video.

First, I cannot help but to be reminded of the pharisees attempting to trap Jesus, especially when Wolfe tried to redirect his answer. Draw your own conclusions about that.

Second, I think that his response is a very good one for the Christian community. Christians have had a tough road to travel in the arena of public opinion (your opinions on the value of participation in that arena notwithstanding). At the risk of pointing fingers, I think the combative nature of fundamentalism has done more harm than good to the cause of Christ. Huckabee’s answer does a lot to unify the Christian message and return it to its real purpose – to glorify God.

Let’s be honest for a moment – what difference does it make to the cause of Christ to insist on any particular interpretation of such issues? Most of the issues we spend so much energy on are peripheral to (albeit supportive of) the message of God. The simple message of God, for which we should be willing to die to uphold, is this: God created all, including mankind, who rebelled against God, Who in turn sent Jesus Christ (Himself made flesh) to restore this broken relationship because He loves us – all we have to do is repent and believe. That is God’s message, and propelling that message to the ends of the earth is the purpose of the Bible.

toad.stool.jesus

I have always been “struck” by the picture of Jesus presented in the first chapter of the Revelation to John. It is not the picture of the “awesome” Jesus – you know, the Jesus with blazing eyes, and feet glowing like bronze – the Jesus with the voice of rushing water and phosphorous-white hair – not that Jesus. I am struck by the other Jesus – the one who we find in Revelation 1:17-18.

If you take a moment to look back at these verses you see that John saw the “awesome” Jesus, and was so scared that he fell to the ground as if he were dead – he was paralyzed by fear – the only reaction he could muster was to fall to his “death”. As I try to put myself in John’s shoes that day, I get the vision of Frodo cowering at Galadriel when he tempted her with the Ring of Power. But wait – remember that I don’t want to talk about the “awesome” Jesus here – I want to talk about the “bent-down” Jesus (as Michael Lodahl puts it in his book When Love Bends Down).

You see, in the middle of Jesus’ grand and important mission (to reveal a message to the churches), Jesus’ love for John compels him to do something amazing. This “awesome” Jesus, in the midst of carrying out his “awesome” mission, bends down to touch John on the shoulder saying “John, it’s alright – it’s me, Jesus – don’t be afraid, my friend – I have done it – I have conquered death – I am alive forever more – don’t be afraid.”

This is the same Jesus that Michael Lodahl writes about. There are few books that I have come across that are truly “ground-breaking” in terms of discovering (or perhaps rediscovering) the wonderful paradox that is presented by Jesus Christ – God “bent-down” and became flesh and bones – to reveal Himself to us. Michael Lodahl does more than just give lip service to these truths. He takes a holistic look at John’s Gospel, taking from it a profound picture of Jesus – of Jesus “bent-down”, meeting us where we are.

Through this inspiring book, Lodahl puts to rest those who would suggest a Gnostic or Docetist undertone to John’s Gospel. Lodahl powerfully demonstrates the intentionally and incredibly human Jesus. This is the Jesus who took on the lowest duty of washing the Disciples’ feet – remember he was not the host of the home – he was not the host’s servant – he was, in the least, their teacher, and at most, the Messiah! Yet, he usurps the usual order of things and takes it upon himself to serve his friends in such a humble way.

Lodahl also reaches to the story of the accused woman who was before Jesus by a hoard of accusers carrying stones intended for her head. He does not stand in between them with strength and power and indignation. Instead he chooses to do something truly amazing – he bends down on the ground – even below her level (she was standing) – and writes on the ground. I wonder what he wrote. Did he, as some have suggested, write down a list of vices that were probably enjoyed by the accusers? Or, maybe he wrote down the names of people who were wronged by these accusers in the past. Maybe he wrote down the names of people who stood in judgment over these accusers at some critical point in their lives. We don’t really know. All we know is that as he wrote, he also asked them to consider their own righteousness. All the while, he was bent-down on the ground.

I won’t spoil the rest of the book, but I will tell you that Lodahl presents even more pictures from John’s Gospel, portraying a “bent-down” Jesus, completely contrary to the world’s expectation of what Messiah would be like. He also leaves us – His Church – with a powerful challenge. Read it.

giftwrapped.or.naked

At Thrive we ask that people come to worship in spirit and in truth. To us, that means that as we approach the throne of God, praising Him, we allow the Holy Spirit to penetrate our body, mind, soul and heart, allowing Him to guide our expression of worship (with body, mind, soul and heart) as a truthful representation of His presence in our lives. We do not care if you stand, kneel, shout, clap, raise hands, cry – as long as that expression is a true representation of your heart of worship as nurtured by the Holy Spirit. Nearly every week I restate this sentiment to reinforce the essential nature of worship that is spirit and truth led.

As I try to evaluate how well we live up to this idealistic sentiment, I am driven to acknowledge a shift that has taken place, that some of us “old-folks” (yes, I count myself among the ‘”old”) may have overlooked. In order to set the stage for exposing this shift, let me first describe the mindset that I spent most of my life living with as a worshiper.

When I first became a Christian, there was an enormous emphasis placed on appearance. I am not going to spend time debating whether that was good or bad. I will simply say that in some ways the emphasis on appearance was an appropriate approach and in others it was not – but all of that is beside the point. For good or bad, there was great emphasis placed on appearance.

I would like to detour for a moment in order to point out that as we move further into the post-modern age (or as some call it the post-Christian age), we sometimes fall prey to the temptation to look at the motivations and methods of our predecessors without due respect, and certainly without a probing eye that seeks to understand rather than to judge. So before we move further, let’s make sure we are of the right mindset.

OK, now back to the way it was.

I remember the fuss made over how one dresses for church. I remember even the poorest folks finding some way to “dress-up” for church. At the time, I really did not think anything of it – I just went along with the way it was. I came to church as nicely as I could dress myself – just like everyone else. When someone came in who was not up to par with the prevailing dress-code, they were often avoided and stared upon (from the corners of the eyes). Again, do not read judgment into my words.

Why did we do that? Was it because we somehow felt that dressing up made us feel more Christian? Was it because we wanted to look good compared to other people? NO – OF COURSE NOT! Sure it is easy to look back and roll our spiritual eyes at those poor folks who had no clue. But that is an unfair and narrow-minded approach. Hypocrites notwithstanding, our motives were quite sincere. So, then – with open minds – why did we do that?

I think I know why. Even if we may not have realized it at the time, we felt this inner compulsion to “present” ourselves to God. My mind races back to the story of Jesus’ birth when the magi came and lavished gifts upon Him. We all have this vision of flowing, majestic, ornate wardrobes, with jewel-encrusted turbans. They knelt before the child-king with expensive gifts – undoubtedly in fine, ornate containers. They presented gifts appropriate to a king.

Presenting ourselves as a gift to God – that is what we were doing – at least I am sure that is what I was doing. I dared not come to church in tattered clothes – not because of what others might think – but because of the underlying motive behind what they might think. I was compelled to present myself to God as an exquisitely wrapped gift – after all, He is worth all my best efforts. One does not enter the court of the King while in rags.

In my view, this idea of presenting oneself as an exquisite gift is quite virtuous. If the accountability of “spirit and truth” is maintained, this approach is a valid one. However, as the post-Christian age marches on, this mindset is being replaced – a shift is underway (and has been for some time). I am just coming to a place to be able to put my finger on the nature of this shift – and to be able to verbalize it.

Millions of devout and earnest followers of Jesus Christ are moving away from that mindset. They are approaching the throne of God in an altogether different way – a way that is just as valid and just as virtuous. To these, of whose number I presently count myself, the notion of gift-wrapping oneself seems an anathema – nearly perverse.

Why would we approach God with shallow and pretentious adornment? We want nothing to come between us and the God of the universe! We come throwing off our shoes – for this is HOLY ground. We come throwing off our masks – for this is the ONE who sees past our facades. We throw off our self-concern, as we willingly and passionately submit to the Almighty God. Our hearts dance before Him as if we were David himself in nothing but an undergarment – naked (or nearly so) before the Lord. We worship with abandon – with our voices, with our eyes, with our arms, with our hands, with our legs, with our minds – our whole being – because we are overwhelmed by the profoundness of a Mighty God who loves people.

So, to which approach do we offer praise, and to which do we banish to the sands of time? Gift-wrapped worship or naked worship? Answer: we forsake neither – and seek to explore both. I have been party to both approaches, and while I find myself in agreement with this shift, I have to battle the temptation to discount the former mindset. In fact, I think revisiting that mindset from time to time can produce spiritual growth.

Final thought – it is my hope that at Thrive we will continue to allow both approaches to flourish without either approach suffering any type of prejudice. Whether gift-wrapped or naked, come in spirit and in truth.

beyond.grandpa’s.jesus

I’ve said it many times, but it’s worth saying again. One of the great things about Southern culture is its wonderful Christian heritage. Many who worship Jesus every Sunday morning do so because of the tenacious, loving prayer and devotion of Momma, Daddy, Mee-maw (grandmother) and Pee-paw (grandfather). In fact, many of us choose our denominational affiliations (or lack of) because of our heritage. I cannot count how many times someone has proudly proclaimed, “My daddy was a Christian, my grand-daddy was a Christian, and his daddy was a (insert favorite denomination here) minister”. We should be thankful that our parents and their parents loved us enough to raise us with an appreciation and love for God and His church. However, like with most good things, there is a potential pitfall, a spiritual cliff-edge.

Let me describe what I mean. I remember having a conversation with a fella at work one day about “church”. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but once I told him that I was getting ready to go to Bible college to prepare for ministry, a twinkle came in his eye and he began to tell me of his grand-daddy who was a popular evangelist who traveled all over the south preaching at revivals and youth meetings. I could tell that he was enormously proud of his grand-daddy, and that he probably learned a lot about “living right” from him.

However, as we continued to talk he eventually told me that he does not go to church anywhere regularly. I pressed to learn how, apart from church, he nurtured his personal relationship with God. As we talked, I began to see a disturbing picture that really broke my heart. He had come to think that his relationship with his grand-daddy somehow flowed over him. He thought that because his grand-daddy was a fine Christian, and that his momma and daddy raised him right, that he himself was a Christian. He came to believe that his Christian heritage assured him a place at God banqueting table in Heaven.

It was a good conversation, very friendly, and I didn’t change his mind on the matter right at that point. But over time, as my relationship with him grew, I prompted him with questions and discussion designed to make him evaluate his personal situation with Jesus, apart from his heritage. Despite hearing the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” hundreds of times throughout his life, he never really stopped to consider what it meant. He was never mentored through the process of nurturing and maturing a personal relationship with Jesus. I left for Bible college before seeing how things turned out, but I believe that the concept of relationship (rather than heritage) was beginning to take hold.

There is a dangerous cliff-edge that we southerners skirt. That cliff edge is this: the temptation to let our heritage – our fine Christian heritage – take the place of our own personal journey with Christ. We look fondly upon great memories of Sunday school and church picnics. We thumb through picture albums complete with photos of us dressed as a shepherd through countless children’s Christmas plays. We look around and see Southern hospitality at work in most of our neighbors. We hear, “thank you, ma’am,” and “Yes, sir,” and “After you, ma’am” as a fine young man holds the door open for a mother with her arms full of babies and baby things. We take pride in the fact that we can openly say, “Thank you, Jesus” without odd looks thrown our way.

But, I want to ask you something. Let’s assume that at the end of time, you are in a line of people making their way through the Pearly Gates. As you near those gates – considering the state of your relationship with Jesus at this very moment – would you and He be able to look back upon your life and see deep personal conversations with one another? Would you be able to recall a memory of a deep conversation with Him during the good times? Would you be able to recall a memory of deep conversation with Him through a bad time? I am not talking about superficial prayers that we are all guilty of – like 5 second “grace” before meals or the obligatory prayers in church (that we typically listen to rather than participate with). I am talking about conversations – conversations where you and Jesus get to know each other on increasingly more intimate levels – conversations that nurture and mature a connection – a very real and intimate personal connection – with God – the lover of our souls.

As I’m typing, I’m reminded of the debate over whether or not the doctrine of eternal security (once-saved, always-saved) is correct or not. Frankly, I think the very presence of that debate misses the point. Before we could ever address the “longevity” or “tenacity” of “salvation” we had better address the depth of our relationship with God, which is, after all, the universal indicator of salvation.

Matthew 25:11-12, the conclusion to the parable of the ten virgins, talks about some who will be knocking on Heaven’s doors. “Later the others also came. ‘Sir! Sir!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ “But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’” Some of us carry around our lamps – great lamps, passed down from our fathers’ fathers. But, we try to keep the lamp burning using the fuel that was already in the lamp as it was passed on. We need to bring our own fuel to keep that flame burning bright. Your grand-daddy’s relationship with Jesus is not your relationship with Jesus.

hungry.yet?

One of the greatest things about the south is the food – the cooks in the south are unparalleled. I am not just talking about all the mom-and-pop restaurant cooks, I am also talking about all the “regular” moms and dads who regularly produce magnificently succulent meals. Every Sunday, I secretly hope that one of our great cooks would invite my family to lunch – not because I think they should, but because I love to eat great southern food. My mouth is already watering from thinking about buttery home-made biscuits, rich sausage gravy, buttery slow-cooked white beans, fresh wild catfish, tender kettle stewed green beans with bacon, creamy oven-baked macaroni and cheese, savory potato salad, crisp coleslaw, peppery fried potatoes, crunchy fried okra, and juicy southern fried chicken. Are you hungry yet?

I have also traveled a lot, and eaten a lot of different foods, from New York City to Los Angeles. Sometimes it was difficult to get past my nose (kemshi)! Sometimes I had no clue what the actual ingredients were! Interestingly, I have discovered that no matter how strange or exotic the meal and no matter how far removed from the southern cuisine I love, my hunger was always satisfied. All I had to do was eat.

From the very beginning of my Christian walk there always seemed to be some discussion about the food on THE banqueting table. You know the one I am talking about – the banqueting table that is the Lord’s kingdom. Yes, someday we will all feast at His banqueting table in heaven, but until that time the banqueting table manifests itself as the church – the banqueting table is our churches. It is here that we feast upon His grace through Jesus. It is here where we come to be filled with His Spirit’s greatness. It is here where we gather, as His family, to “feast” with our Heavenly Father. Yet, many times, our conversations around this table are not about Him at all – they are about us. We don’t like the way the beans are prepared. We don’t like that particular kind of roll. We think the meat portions are too small, and the dessert not sweet enough. “We are not being fed”, we say.

And when we stand up from the table to go about our everyday lives, we place the blame for our hunger on the food that is on the table. Sometimes, we even blame those who prepared it. Sometimes we carry our hunger to other places, lamenting the lack of real food. We seek fulfillment at other tables and we soon discover that the satisfaction from this new table quickly fades. So, off to another table we go – never finding satisfaction for our increasing hunger.

However, the truth is that we have been looking to the wrong things to satisfy our hunger. The particular food dishes on the table are not what satisfies. There is a common spice that finds its way into every dish – every morsel. Its aroma fills our nostrils hinting at the goodness that is to be found. Its flavor consumes the palate and brings satisfaction to our souls. This spice, this common aroma, this common flavor is none other than the Lord our God.

It does not matter what appetizers are provided nor how they are prepared. It does not really matter what meat is provided nor how it is prepared. It does not matter what accoutrement is provided nor how it is prepared. It does not matter what dessert we are served, nor how it is prepared. What matters is that we come to the table desperately hungry for The Spice – that our souls long for The Lord. With all the love and compassion I can muster, I am compelled to say this: “If you are hungry enough you will eat anything.” So, are you hungry enough?

remember.god?

I remember an incident shortly after my call to ministry. It came after many weeks of prayer for God to show me the point of passion that would fuel my ministry. During this time in my life, I had a weakness. This weakness was an inability to express compassion, which I knew was the result of a lack of compassion in my heart. It was not as if I did not care about people – I certainly did, but there was something missing in my heart – a passion for people. I knew that if I were called to ministry, God would have to somehow fix this weakness. I knew that I could not endure all that is required to fulfill a call to ministry without a deep, all-consuming passion for people. Somehow he would have to impassion me. Of course, Jesus’ love for me should be enough – but how would His love transform into love expressed by me? What would cause me to hunger after the lost – what message would I bring that would create this passion and make it contagious? I wrestled with the issue through prayer, introspection, and counsel. I remember clearly the day God gave me my answer.

My wife and I were driving through one of Jackson’s busiest intersections en-route to some errand. I was mulling over a sermon I had just delivered in Martin, Tennessee. It was about “joy”. I wondered if the message was received. As I day dreamed a bit on the subject I began to look at the faces of the people in the vehicles around me – so many faces. Some carried obvious worry. Some carried obvious anger. Some carried obvious sorrow, Some carried obvious pain. Very few carried obvious joy.

It was then, that afternoon, that I began to truly weep for people. Hiding behind the mask of long-held allergies to spring pollens, I wept – mostly inside. I remember whispering to God, asking him to explain what was happening. He reminded me of the incredible Christian heritage that we enjoy as southerners. He reminded me that most of these people accepted that God was real. He reminded me that most of the faces I saw represented long lineages of Christian allegiance and service. He reminded me that most of them went to churches on Sundays – after all that is what good Christian people do.

But, then he gave me an insight that I did not expect. He reminded me of a little phrase from 2 Timothy 3:5, “having a form of godliness but denying its power”. Yet, this reminder was not in the judgmental tone that Paul spoke it in. It was not in the apocalyptic tone that marked Paul’s words. It was as if God was walking to and fro between the cars on that busy street- trying to get their attention. “I am more than this”, He would say. “I am more than picking out Sunday clothes. I am more than saying, ‘yes, mam’, or ‘no, mam’. I am more than singing all the harmonies in Amazing Grace. I am more than telling the preacher he did a good job. I am more than putting a good offering in the plate. I am more than saying my name in the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’. I am more than posting my commandments in a court house. I am more than a prayer before dinner or a baseball game. I am more – so much more.”

“I want to know you. I want to talk with you. I want to share in your hurts and struggles. I want to be a real presence in your lives – not just a garment that you wear on Sunday mornings. You say you know me, but we never talk. You say you know me, but you never hear me. You say you know me, but you never recognize me. I remember when you were small, and used to wear that lacy dress on Easter Sunday. I also remember you, and that bow-tie your grandfather bought you to wear the day you were baptized. Do you remember me? Do you recognize me?” From car to car He would go, and no one recognized him, no one noticed he was there.

It was through this experience that I truly began to have a heart-felt and genuine compassion for people. Here in the south, we have much to be proud of. Our southern culture tends to celebrate God. We are quick to anger when the commandments are ordered off a courthouse wall. But, sometimes we are not so quick when God says, “Come, walk with me for awhile.” We are so busy being good people and doing what good people do that we have forgotten that none of us – none of us- are good apart from God. Without a true, personal, experiential relationship with God, we are just doing the motions of life, not thriving in it as He desires for us.

why.give.to.the.church

There is a lot of discussion going around church planting circles about why and how we should approach the issue of “offerings” in our churches – especially where visitors are concerned. It is good for us to ask questions like, “why do we give?”, “when in the service should offering occur?”, and “should we require newcomers to give?”. These are valid questions. How we answer them has direct bearing on how our church is perceived, and ultimately how Christ is reflected. At Thrive, we too have wrestled with these questions – and others.

At Thrive, we do not “require” anyone to give, so no one ought to feel obligated to give – neither the newcomer nor the long-time attender. However, we do believe there are biblical reasons why we should feel compelled to give, so we do ask that people give. However, our emphasis is not on giving “much” but rather giving “well”.

There are two reasons to give to God’s church.

First, God calls us to support the church so that it can do its work. Unfortunately, in this world it does take money to do ministry. From paying the rent to funding outreach programs, money is required to be effective.

“Tithing” is a practice that started in the Old Testament. Leviticus 27:30, Numbers 18:26, and 2 Chronicles 31:5 are just a few of the Old Testament passages that describe the “tithe”, which is described as a “portion” (10%) of your blessings, that belong to God. The “tithe” was used primarily to support the church workers as they carried out the duties of the church, as God commanded them, as a full-time job. In the New Testament, we also see this church-worker support system described (1 Corinthians 16:1-2). However, there is no specific percentage prescribed, as there is in the Old Testament.

There has never been a debate over whether or not people should give to the church – we all should absolutely give to her. However, there has been much debate over how much. At Thrive, we believe that the essence of the purpose behind the “tithe” is not how much one is to give, but rather the heart and motive with which one gives.

The second reason we give is because “giving” to God is an act of worship. It is interesting to note, that from the beginning, “giving” has always been part of the “worship” activities of God’s church. In fact, we first learn of “giving” to God in the story of Cain and Abel, which preceded the rules handed down from God through Moses. While we could never adequately express our thanks to Him through money, “giving” has always been a way that God gives us to show our love and thanks to Him in a substantive way.

So, we should give, but how much? Well, that is up to you. God does not ask us to give “much”, but rather to give “well”. James 1:5 suggests that we should seek such answers from God, and we agree! In fact, we believe that the underlying motive behind the Old Testament and New Testament approaches to tithe is fundamentally about the motive behind our giving rather than the details surrounding our giving. We believe that the essence of giving is described in the story described in Luke 7:36-50 where a very thankful woman washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, wiping them clean with her hair. This spirit of giving is reinforced by Mark 12:41-44 where we are told of the widow giving her last two coins.

When we give, we must not give out of a sense of obligation. Instead, we give out of a sense of worshipful thanks to God for His provision, mercy, and grace in our lives. What we give should be a reflection of this worshipful thanks. Truly, it is not required that we give “much”, but rather that we give “well”. When the offering plate is passed to you, I pray that you have considered how “well” you are giving.

Newcomer, some churches will tell you that they do not want you to give. Since giving is an act of worship, I dare not prevent you from experiencing worship through giving. Therefore, I will not make such a suggestion. However, since we should never give out of a sense of obligation, I ask that you worshipfully consult the Holy Spirit as you make the decisions of “if” and “how much”.