Props to Harding University

June 12, 2017

 

Harding-University

Harding University, in Searcy, Arkansas, is a liberal arts college affiliated with the Churches of Christ. It’s scenic campus sits not that far from the Levy church’s campus in North Little Rock, AR. As a result of this fortunate geography we are quite often the happy recipients of Harding’s products–both their graduates who move into our area and their professors who occasionally speak here.

So I give props to the university for their good work in emphasizing Christ in their educational process. We have different generations of Harding graduates at Levy and all bless our church. Within our leadership–among our shepherds and staff–we have Harding graduates. We get to enjoy a wonderful stream of young people fresh from the campus. They bring energy, vision, and faith, which in turn, continually creates a fresh, rejuvenating spirit within our congregation.

My personal experience at Harding was through their Master of Ministry program. That was a tremendous growth period for me, but I have never been a resident student there. Our current preaching intern and several of our youth and children’s ministry interns are from Harding also. I am impressed by them all. And while I realize that there is no perfect school (and also acknowledge that Levy is blessed by those from other fine Christian schools and other universities)–Harding has indeed been a notable blessing to the Levy church over the years.

So thanks to everyone who keeps the Harding tradition going! May God continue to bless the university! At Levy we look forward to future Harding graduates potentially coming our way.


Meet Will

June 7, 2017

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Serving as preaching intern this summer at Levy is Will Brannen. Will will be a junior at Harding University in Searcy, AR studying Bible and ministry. He is from Houston, TX. He and his family worship at the Bammel Church of Christ.

I have known Will since 2003 when my family and I moved to work with the Gateway congregation in Pensacola, FL. Will and his family were living there then.

Will has an amazing God story to share about his life. He had a heart transplant as an infant and is a two-time cancer survivor. He plans to tell us a little more about that soon at Levy.

In spending dedicated time with Will–studying text; talking ministry and preaching; visiting people–I am deeply impressed by Will’s desire to serve God, his genuineness and his maturity.

I am thankful that Will is with us for six weeks and I urge everyone at Levy to pray for him, encourage him and support him in his pursuit of a life of ministry.


Becoming an Effective Assimilating Church

April 20, 2017

This was a presentation I gave in a class at Levy. 

If a congregation becomes successful in becoming a visitor friendly church, a good percentage of guests will desire to transition into permanent membership. That is a wonderful and desired result of a relevant welcome ministry. It also brings with it challenges of assimilation—moving guests into involved membership.

Just as with becoming visitor friendly, assimilating new members into involved membership must be an intentional effort by a church. If not, then many unwelcome consequences could occur—including missing out on the giftedness of new members, alienation of new members eager to plug-in, and of course, ultimately losing the new members altogether. This is why it is just as imperative to become an effective assimilating church as it is becoming a visitor friendly church.

All Have Gifts

In the apostle Paul’s divine efforts to correct the dysfunctional situation among the Corinthian church he left us with a beautiful text on how the church functions as a body (1 Corinthians 12:12-25). Here he emphasized that in order to operate at its highest level the church needs every member in place and functioning efficiently—everyone has a place and everyone is needed in their place for God’s church to be healthy and growing.

Within this text is the idea that every member has a gift to offer and contribute to the overall health of the body. In fact, Paul teaches, God put every member in exactly the right place within the body to best use the gifts he gives them (vs. 18).

So everyone is gifted. God has put every new member coming into the Levy family into the body exactly as he desires. He recreated them to fit and plug right into the body of Christ. It then becomes up to local body to help them assimilate in order for them to use that gift.

Purposeful Assimilation

To become an effective assimilating church means making the transition from guest to involved member as seamless as possible. Included in this process is:

  • Giving the new member an easy entry point to consider how and where to get involved. This is one purpose of our Levy 101 orientation class—to offer an introduction to the church and provide ministry information along with a simple and understandable way to sign up for ministries that connect and relate to each new member. Whatever the method/approach an effective assimilating church will provide each new member timely ministry information and have a proactive process in place to help them find where they fit—along with an encouraging atmosphere for getting involved. Many new members come into the church with an expectation of this—desiring to plug-in and make a difference. This is one of the strongest characteristics of the millennial generation, for example. So it is essential for effective assimilating churches to provide an entry point to involvement.
  • There must be timely follow-up by ministry leaders/deacons, etc. After providing an entry point the next step is to share the information provided by new members to appropriate ministry leaders. Once this information is passed on, the ministry leader should be ready to contact the new members in order to help them connect and become involved in their ministries. This allows the new members to start contributing to the work of the church and the overall kingdom quickly, which also gives them a sense of purpose and place in their new church home. It demonstrates that their new church takes seriously God’s call for everyone to use their gifts for ministry. If anywhere along the way, this process breaks down or is not in place, then it can adversely affect the new member’s relationship with the congregation, while also hurting the church by not utilizing the giftedness of the new member. Going back to the Corinthian context, it is a way for the eye to say to the ear that it is not needed. Our ministry leaders and deacons are greatly appreciated for their dedication in using their gifts to volunteer and lead ministries. An important part of that is to be sensitive to new members, always being prompt in reaching out to them if they have indicated interest in their ministry area.
  • Continuing focus on involvement and growing gifts of ministry. Assimilating churches work to create a climate of involvement beyond the details of a specific welcoming/assimilating ministry. Ministry fairs, tools to help members identify their personal ministry gifts, leadership being open to new ministry ideas from within membership, giving honor and appreciation to those involved in various ministries, etc. all work to help plug-in members and encourage them to grow their gifts of ministry. And while some of this will organically happen (which is also very healthy) an effective assimilating church will be very intentional in helping create this kind of climate.

Closing the Back Door

One significant characteristic of an effective assimilating church is that they limit the number of members leaving through the “back door,” that is, members leaving due to not being involved, becoming distant from the congregation at large, and deciding to go elsewhere. Certainly, involvement must generate from within individuals. Even the best assimilating approach will fail if a person decides not to become active within a church, but the back door will stay wide-open for churches who are not intentionally seeking ways for members—new and old—to become and stay involved in ministry that makes a kingdom difference in their community.

It is an entire church initiative. All of us—even if we are not a ministry leader—can help in the assimilating process and help close the back door. There are social aspects involved as well. We can all greet and welcome new members. We can invite them to lunch. We can take the time to get to know them and make them feel at home. An old study revealed that new members need to make seven new personal connections at a church or they would exit in just a matter of months. Regardless of the accuracy of this statement—it is true that unless new members are made to feel at home, involved, needed, and a part of their new church, they likely will take the back door—sooner rather than later.

Be Sensitive and Proactive!

So in whatever capacity that we can—be sensitive to helping our new members assimilate as quickly as possible. If you are a ministry leader do not neglect to contact new members if they express interest in your ministry. If a new member volunteers do not ignore that—put them to work! Greet all new members. Go out of your way to make them feel welcome. Put the power of prayer to use on their behalf. If we are truly working to build a strong family for the glory of God, all of this should be a central focus of that goal.


God and Government #1

October 17, 2016

Currently at Levy I am teaching a four-part class series on God and Government. Below is the first study. I plan to post them all–to try and offer a kingdom perspective during this rather divisive and angry election cycle. 

As we enter into this study it is imperative for perspective for it to be founded in and informed by the clear scriptural teaching of “seeking first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33). Our primary directive under any form of government is to honor first our heavenly citizenship (Philippians 3:20). Recall after the events that erupted in Gethsemane (John 18:36), Jesus identified his kingdom as being “not of this world” but “from another place.” This—not any earthly kingdom/nation/government is the kingdom we seek first—it’s values, directives, boundaries, principles and purpose—the consequence of such will always lead us to be “aliens and sojourners” (1 Peter 2:11) in whatever nation we live under, whatever the form of government that exists. This understanding provided the first Christians a vastly different worldview, which then enabled them to turn their world upside down by living out and teaching these values while also living quiet and peaceful lives under the oppressive, non-representative, rights-limiting Roman rule. Ultimately they totally transformed this government without casting a single vote or creating any violent revolution.

In this study we will examine the New Testament texts that shaped their thinking and guided their actions as they lived out the kingdom first principles in their nations under their government—Romans 13:1-7; 1 Timothy 2:1-3; & 1 Peter 2:13-17.

Five Things the Bible Teaches about Governments

Before considering those specific texts, it is important to consider the broader Bible teaching about God and governments. God has always been out and about in our world—working with and through peoples, nations, and governments to accomplish his will. He has done so all throughout history and it would be a mistake to think that he does not continue to do so. This remains part of the mystery of God (Isaiah 55:8), but we should expect no less.

From a survey of biblical texts here are five things we can learn from the Bible about God and governments.

  • No form of government/nation will ever reflect completely the ideal of God’s justice and righteousness. We can learn a great deal about God and governments through the relationship of God and Israel—his chosen people. Israel was meant to be a light unto all the nations (Isaiah 49:6). The government God set up within the Hebrew nation was designed to reflect his justice and righteousness (Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 27:19; Proverbs 8:15; 21:3; Amos 5:24), but they failed, as has every subsequent nation and form of government. It is all a result of our broken, fallen world. In fact, corrupt forms of governments/nations not seriously attempting to uphold God’s justice and righteousness have been the rule, not the exception. Israel/Judah—the very nations of God—failed to consistently produce kings and leaders who honored God. Is it then a surprise to see corrupt governments now? What are our expectations today?
  • However, God can use nations/governments to demonstrate his justice—even evil governments (Jeremiah 25:8-9; Acts 4:27-28; Romans 13:4; 1 Peter 2:14). Scripture clearly teaches that God has ordained rulers/nations/governments to be his instruments of justice—even though they often do not totally reflect completely his ideal of justice. God uses what and whom he can to bring about his will in our fallen world. There is something bigger afoot than the here and now.
  • Therefore, God remains in control of the nations and governments. He puts governments and powers in place—Daniel 2:20-21; Psalm 22:28; Proverbs 8:15; John 19:11; Romans 13:1.
  • One day all human governments will end and Christ will reign. Isaiah prophecies: For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever (9:6-7; see also Daniel 2:44; Colossians 2:15; Revelation 19:11, 15-16). This is the bigger picture. This is the kingdom to seek first. This is God’s end game—and everything he does seen and unseen among the nations/governments is all about accomplishing this for as many people as possible (2 Peter 3:9).
  • Meanwhile as we wait, we are to pray for, honor and submit to those who govern us—Mark 12:17; Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:1-2; 1 Peter 2:13-17. What this looks like and what is involved in this—first for those within the New Testament context of these verses and second for us now living in 21st century USA—will be the focus of this study.

Hopefully this study will help us gain a better kingdom perspective and instead of fretting over politics, our nation and politics—praise the God over it all!

Come let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land… Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens…He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in truth. (from Psalm 95-96)

 

 


Baltic Family Camp 2016

August 5, 2016

BFC 2016

The Baltic Family Camp (BFC) takes place each year in an old Soviet Pioneer Camp now called, Camp Ruta, near Moletai, Lithuania. It grew out of the youth camps held annually at the same site since 1998.

It began in 2012 with two main purposes–to provide rest and renewal for missionaries and their families along with other Christians in the Baltic region and to help foster a connection and network among the small scattered churches in those countries. Those goals have been wonderfully realized, but as with most of our plans, God has gone well beyond what we could “ask or imagine” to create a truly special week of learning, fellowship, reunion, renewal, joy and family.

Since its beginning people from fourteen different countries have attended the BFC. This year twelve nationalities were represented among the 118 participants. The BFC brings us all together, works through our language and cultural barriers to form one body worshipping God with one spirit, heart and voice. It is an incredible God-defined, Spirit-led experience.

The BFC really is about the people who attend. This year I was reunited with Ugne. Ugne now lives in the Netherlands with her husband and son. Back in the late 1990s she was one of my students in Vilnius, Lithuania and attended some of the youth camps at Ruta. She has never forgotten the time she spent in study and at camp. Through social media we were able to reconnect and as a result she attended the BFC for the first time this year with her son. She is not a part of a church of our fellowship since none exist where she lives. She expressed how meaningful the Bible classes at the BFC were to her and her son and how she yearned for such study opportunities in her area.

Ugne is representative of how God has used the BFC to reconnect with friends, former students and campers, who now return to Camp Ruta with their families to enjoy the week of study, praise, and fellowship.

Then there are wonderful people like Sansom and Monica Karumanchi from India. India is not quite in the original geographical footprint imagined with the BFC. Sansom, through friends in Tallinn, Estonia first attended the BFC a few years ago and is now an integral part of our week. This summer he brought his new, beautiful and courageous bride, Monica. The Karumanchis along with a new participant this year, Seth Amofah of Ghana, demonstrate just one way God has expanded the BFC more than we could have ever dreamed.

Our teachers are a huge part of our camp. Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue, who have a Christian counseling center and ministry in North Little Rock, AR are a regular part of our sessions. They provide Christ-based teaching and counseling during the week on family, marriage and parenting. While most of us in the states take these kinds of opportunities for granted, they do not exist in the Baltics.

This year Dr. Earl Lavender of Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN and Dr. Joy Rousseau, a retired educator from Tyler, TX served as our primary class teachers for our men and women. Both brought a wealth of mission experience along with their rich teaching expertise to the camp. Digging deeply into God’s Word is at the core of the BFC. We work to provide a richer and fuller learning experience to assist in renewal.

Kids also are a large part of the session. This year we had more babies and toddlers than ever and as someone noted, our own youth group–kids who have grown up attending the camp. We have a great team who lead the kid’s day camp.

The BFC was just a dream for several years, but through God working in hearts and through the generosity of my home church, Levy, along with the commitment of an incredible American and Lithuanian team, this dream has been realized in amazing ways.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord!

 

 

 

 

 


The Power of an Ordinary Story

July 14, 2015

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THE POWER OF AN ORDINARY STORY

Ordinary is an interesting word. It was a word once used for some of Christ’s disciples (see Acts 4:13). It usually denotes “nothing special,” “average,” “normal.” Nothing to see here, so just keep moving on.

An ordinary story? I’ll pass. Give me the extra-ordinary; the dramatic; the one filled with exciting special effects; the tearjerkers. Those move the needle. Those create blockbusters and best sellers. Ordinary is just not interesting.

Until it is.

Until ordinary reveals something else.

Those Jesus followers in Acts 4 certainly were ordinary guys without any special pedigree, but yet there was something quite different about them.

What was it?

It was noted that they “had been with Jesus.” Jesus has a way of making ordinary interesting.

I am not sure that LaVelle Travis (L.T.) Blevins would ever be considered just ordinary, but his story has ordinary beginnings. Born during the Great Depression in the small backwater Arkansas delta community of Gordneck, L.T. grew up like so many others of his era—poor but happily surrounded by a loving family.

Again like thousands of his contemporaries, L.T. answered his nation’s call and served in the U.S. Navy during both WWII and the Korean conflict. He married his sweetheart, began a family, started a successful small business and worked diligently to provide and care for them. 

On the surface—this describes an ordinary life. It was the kind lived all across America. Yes, he lost his first wife too soon. He retired early to care for her. Later he had serious health concerns of his own from which he was not expected to survive. But really that is all fairly common. It is normal. L.T. Blevins? Not much interesting to see here, so let’s just keep moving on.

But before you do, I ask you to look a little closer. There is more to this ordinary story. Remember how I stated that Jesus has a way of making the ordinary interesting? If you spend any time around L.T. Blevins it becomes obvious. He has “been with Jesus.”

Brother BHe just turned eighty-eight years old. The ever-present twinkle in his eye reveals a joyful soul shaped through the years by his relationship with Christ. He has this wonderful adventurous side that once led him to wrangle horses on the back lots of Hollywood movie westerns after WWII; ride across the country on a Harley knucklehead motorcycle; fly (and crash) without lessons or licenses in small planes; and physically build a lake house with his second wife, Kathleen, while in his seventies.  He has all kinds of extraordinary stories to share. 

But his most extraordinary stories are about being with Jesus. They are about his beloved Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas; it’s beginnings; it’s growth; it’s ministry. He has been here through it all—serving as teacher, shepherd, cook, missionary, and everything in between.

Always here. Always faithful.

He reared his family here—now into their fourth generation. He carried the burden of leadership. He made personal and financial sacrifices for the Levy family. He mentored the current generation of leaders. He did not waver. He never created any drama. He is a peacemaker, a visionary and a great friend to preachers.

He has been with Jesus. Just an ordinary man in some ways, made extraordinary through faith in the Christ; just another boy from the Arkansas countryside, but one whose legacy of quiet dedication to God, family and church continues to shape and influence them.

He is a part of what has been tagged “the greatest generation.” Great—because of sacrifice, hard work and personal integrity. Once this was just considered ordinary and normal. It was simply how you were supposed to be.

It certainly does describe L.T. But that is not why this “ordinary” man is great.  Rather:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. – Matthew 23:11-12

The power in this story really is found in the Christ and in the good, humble man who allowed Jesus to do the extraordinary within him.

L.T. inspires me. Throughout his life he just consistently did the right thing without any big fuss. It is an ordinary story, but it is not. It is a story of quiet and consistent faith lived out through the normal variations of life, but never wavering.

I remember one summer camp session where several people shared their faith stories with the campers. All were dramatic and meaningful. One brother showed the needle marks on his arm and gave God the glory for empowering him to overcome his addiction.  It certainly was a powerful story.

But there is also the need to share the power in stories absent of all of this—a story of faith that never ventured away. That is the power I see in L.T. Blevin’s story and in his person and that is why it is so meaningful to me.

It is the kind of life I wish to live and for my children—just consistently being with Jesus everyday in a normal, ordinary, drama-free, yet incredible kind of way.


Could You Use Some Parenting Help?

January 6, 2015

Parenting conferenceI will be the first to admit, that yes I can! I am an older dad with two young daughters (12 and 9) who are both strong-willed and quick to share opinions. Occasionally this all comes together in a perfect storm–if you get my drift! And I confess to not always handling those storms in the right way. So certainly I can always use some more information on how to parent better.

This is what the Central Arkansas Parenting Conference held at the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Arkansas on January 23-24 is all about–sharing information to encourage better parenting. My wife and my go-to people when we need parenting advice are Christian counselors, Dr. Alan and Sherry Pogue. Fortunately for me, Alan is a shepherd at my church and both he and Sherry have helped us on numerous occasions with solid counsel and wisdom from their experience and education. They are keynoting this conference and will bring that wisdom and experience with them. If it were just them alone this would be a must-attend event, but there is much more.

Over the weekend several presenters will lead break-out sessions covering a wide range of parenting topics.  Among some of the topics covered:

  • Blended families
  • Parenting daughters, sons, preschoolers, middle schoolers and teens
  • Adjusting to becoming an empty nester
  • How to effectively discipline
  • Balancing busy schedules
  • Fostering and/or adopting
  • Being a new parent
  • Children and technology
  • Public, private and home schooling
  • Living with ADD/ADHD children
  • Helping children develop a positive self-esteem
  • Teaching kids about money
  • Building faith in children at home
  • Dealing with children in a grow-up-too-fast culture
  • Teaching kids about mission work

If you are anywhere near Central Arkansas, I urge you to strongly consider attending this special weekend event. You can look over the entire schedule and register at capc.eventbrite.com or you can register at a congregation of the churches of Christ in the Little Rock/North Little Rock area.