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Thanks to the generous folks that I have the joy of pastoring at Terra Nova Church, Jennifer and I are spending a week away… ALONE… on sabbatical in St. George Island, Florida. It’s our earnest desire to return refreshed and renewed… ready to continue the journey before us!

This was our first full day here and we’ve done nothing other than REST and obviously enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. This evening we walked down to the beach for a quick walk and to watch the sunset. It was absolutely gorgeous… as you can see in the picture below!


Beach Sunset

As we were walking, Jennifer began to collect seashells. This is traditionally what she has done every time we have been on the beach together, but the conversation today was different. It encouraged me and brought me a great amount of joy. So, I want to briefly share it here in hopes that you too may find joy in the Gospel… the provision of our gracious Savior!

Broken Seashells As we walked, I too joined in the adventure of collecting seashells. I would grab one, show Jennifer, and wait for her approval. She would look at each one and decide if it made the cut. If it was approved, she placed it in her pocket… If not, it was tossed back into the water. I began to grow confident in this process and bypass those that appeared to be broken… assuming this was part of the criteria… NO BROKEN SHELLS. However, apparently I was wrong.

Out in front of me was a pretty shell, but it was broken. Jennifer asked me to grab that one. I inquired why she wanted it due to its broken condition. Her response is what prompted this blog and my finding joy in the Gospel. She said, “It’s broken, but it’s still beautiful. Like me… I’m truly broken, but God still thinks I’m pretty beautiful.” Wow! I couldn’t agree more!

You see we are ALL broken people… filled with sin… and lost apart from Christ. Please hear me, I’m constantly aware of my brokenness… my sinfulness. This is why the Gospel is the GOOD NEWS. He has redeemed us and chooses to use us… even in our brokenness!

I’m personally grateful for this time that Jennifer and I get to spend away… TOGETHER. It’s already been an amazing time of personal reflection, repentance, and renewal. Believe it or not… Pastors are people too… their personal lives… their relationships… their marriages… have brokenness. It’s so easy to run 100 miles an hour IN MINISTRY and not slow down to nurture our own relationship with Jesus and one another.

So, tonight I REST spiritually… IN HIM… JESUS… and His grace… and forgiveness. I’m broken, but I’m still beautiful to Him. I hope you too will find peace in the redemption that is available in Jesus.

Finally, when it comes to my precious wife… she too is broken. And truthfully, I’ve fallen in love with her many times despite the brokenness… However, today… I’ve fallen in love with her because of her brokenness. The video below pretty much sums up desire for us as we continue this journey called marriage… parenting… ministry… and life.

Stay tuned. I’ll share much more as I spend some much-needed time in the arms of Jesus.

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As pastor there is no greater joy than seeing and having confirmation that people are GETTING IT… The Gospel is changing people… Enjoy this post!

Guest Post By Justin McLemore

You think you know me but you don’t… I’m not who you think I am… All my life people have told me that I’m such a nice and sweet person. They are wrong… I am a liar, thief, murderer (Matthew 5: 21-22), and adulterer (Matthew 5:28). I have worshipped false idols. I’m a horrible person that is undeserving of God’s mercy and grace. The only thing that I truly deserve is a sinner’s hell!

For a very long time I tried to correct these problems on my own. I believed that if I did well enough, I would be able to save myself from hell. I was wrong. No matter how many good things I did, there was always more bad than good. I couldn’t erase or repay my debt to God. Romans 3:23 says “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. All the things that I tried to do to make myself right with God were destroyed by this one verse. Isaiah 64:6 “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;…” God saw my good deeds, my deeds I did trying to earn His favor, as filthy rags. Nothing that I could do would ever be good enough. That’s when I realized I couldn’t help myself and that’s when I finally understood the truth of the Gospel. 

It’s not about what I’ve done!!!! It’s all about what Jesus did!!!! It is a gift that God gave to me and every other person on the Earth. Jesus stood in the gap for me! He took all my sins, all my shame, and all of my mess and died on a cross for me. He made me pure and blameless in God’s sight. Not a single one of us deserved it but He gave it to us anyway. I stand in awe at just how amazing God’s love is for us. God didn’t have to do it. He allowed his own son to die for me!! He did it all!! Ephesians 2: 8-9 reads “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”   

Nothing about me has changed. There is nothing good about me. The only thing is now because of Jesus dying for me I am free from the chains that bound me in my past. Because of Jesus I am no longer a slave to sin. Because of Him, the gap between me and God is gone. Just typing this gives me chills. I am so thankful for the Gospel and I will do anything and everything short of sin to spread the Gospel.

I went for a much-needed bike ride this morning. While the bike ride was needed, it was the alone time with God that I was actually pursuing. It was such a refreshing time… emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

If you’ve ever spent much time outdoors, you know that a variety of SMELLS exist. This became very evident for me while on my ride. There were many smells, but I just want to mention two. These two smells would be “bookends” on opposite ends of the spectrum. So, what were they?

The stench of the SEWER TREATMENT PLANT and the refreshing aroma of a HONEYSUCKLE VINE. See I told you that they were complete opposites!

As I considered these contrasting odors, I began to think about and ponder the following scripture…

Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? (2 Corinthians 2:15-16)

So, the reality is this… to some YOU JUST STINK… and to others YOUR LIFE IS A SWEET FRAGRANCE.

To those who are rebellious toward the drawing of God… YOU STINK. Let’s face it, the Gospel is offensive. The Gospel informs people, among other things, the following…

  • You are a sinner by nature and choice.  (Romans 3:10-18)
  • You are under the wrath of an almighty God. (Romans 1:18 ; Romans 2:5)
  • You can’t fix yourself. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
  • Your best efforts to do good are more stinky than a pile of poo and filthy menstual rags.
  • You cannot know God via any other means or religions outside of Christ, everything else is damnable. (John 14:6)

 

If you are living or preaching a Gospel that’s not offending, THEN YOU ARE NOT LIVING OR PREACHING THE RIGHT GOSPEL. The results of the Gospel will always be drastic. It will either result in radical life-change or anger and even persecution towards the one who proclaims it.

However, we can’t end this post with that because the Gospel is also GOOD NEWS! It is a SWEET FRAGRANCE to those recieving it because the benefits are MANY… salvation, eternity with God, unity with Goddeepest satisfaction and joy, personal holiness, freedom from sin, and a life that brings glory to God.

So, following my bike ride… Me and God are good… I can’t say the same for how others percieve me (or my spiritual odor), but that’s okay! My pursuit is to know Jesus and make Him known today!

With that being said, DON’T try to cover or mask your odor for acceptence of those who think YOU STINK… it’s really NOT YOU THAT STINKS… that’s really the smell of THEIR OWN SIN. Keep being salt and light and continue loving and pointing them to JESUS!

In closing…

How do you smell today?

How do others smell to you?

How does your life smell to God?

The following post is from Jud Wilhite, an author, speaker, and the Senior Pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas… the original version of this post can be found at his blog

When I finished reading I was overcome with a burden… a burden that will refuse to let what God is doing at Terra Nova Church ever die! Oh, sure it may look different in the years to come or even happen under a different name or banner, but as long as there is breath within me… may we LIVE!

Enjoy the read…

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A while back someone sent me this story written by Don Linscott on why he is glad his church needs money. I found it very powerful and a good perspective for churches and members doing their best to faithfully be the hands and feet of Jesus to a hurting world.

Here is his story:

On July 23, 1970, my wife, Connie, gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. For three years we had tried unsuccessfully to start a family so our joy was great with the arrival of what was to be our only biological child. We later adopted a daughter. Lance was born before it became acceptable for the father to be present in the delivery room. (A fact for which I have ever been grateful!)

I waited in the hallway just outside the delivery room. At precisely 4:13 p.m., I heard a sound I will never forget, Lance’s first cry. The nurse emerged with a smile and said, “You have a baby boy.”

I casually responded, “Yes, I know.” I had never doubted we would have a son. I could hardly wait to get Connie and Lance out of the hospital and back home so I could get my hands on them.

The wonderful glow of fatherhood was soon dimmed, however, when I was asked to visit the business office of the hospital. They wanted me to pay for Lance! In fact, it seemed to me that my wife and child might be held hostage until the hospital bill was settled. I wrote the check paying all the expenses in full, freed my family, and we made our escape. That check turned out to be only the first of hundreds, maybe thousands, I would write on Lance’s behalf.

Children are expensive. There was formula and food to buy. Doctor visits and vaccinations assaulted my banking account. Diapers and toys took their toll. And clothes were a constant drain. Just about the time we built a great wardrobe for the kid, he would grow, forcing us to start all over again.

As his age and size increased so did the expenses. Soon it was baseball gloves, Nike shoes and uniforms. There were glasses for his eyes and braces for his teeth. And then, disaster struck.

Lance became a teenager! Now it was cars and dates and name-brand clothes. Then came college. Lance had always, and only, wanted to be an architect. It seemed to me he would be in school until he was forty-two years old. Expenses soared! Tuition, books, and drawing tools led the long list of essential expenditures. But, of course, just like parents everywhere, we were happy to be able to help him and we did all we could to support his growth and his dreams.

And then, one day, Lance died.

On Halloween Day, 1991, we buried twenty-one-year-old Lance in our church’s country cemetery. That afternoon we walked away from his grave and since that day we have never spent another nickel on Lance.

That’s how I learned it.

Death is cheap. Death can be sustained without expense. It is living that is costly. It is growth that is expensive. Our dreams, visions, and hopes require sacrifice. Death doesn’t!

That’s why I will always belong to a church that needs money.

A living, growing, thriving church will always require the continual, consistent, and conscientious financial support of its members.

This month is Pastor Appreciation Month… and I have to honestly say that I absolutely feel loved and appreciated by the folks at Terra Nova Church! These people have a HUGE respect for the role of not only Pastor, but all those in leadership! However, what I have the privilege of doing at Terra Nova is just a small piece of greater Kingdom work… I have many friends in the ministry too that I want to THANK for all they do… We are in this together… Seriously… it doesn’t matter where you pastor or attend… Be grateful for those who have answered the call to lead the charge for the sake of the Gospel… tell them THANK YOU!

Perry Noble (www.perrynoble.com) said it very well with the following…

“THANK YOU… for…

The times you have woke up at night and could not go back to sleep because you were so burdened for the people in your church… and so for the next several hours you prayed for those whom God has entrusted to your care and they were not even aware of it.

The times of intense spiritual warfare that you have endured.  You have experienced things that you don’t talk about a lot… but I know about the attacks on you and your family, the nightmares, the intense feelings of inadequacy… and yet you have persevered through them because you know that the ONE who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

The conversations that you have had with people that no one will know about, the ones that took place behind the scenes, out of the eye of the public.  You took the time to talk to that one person and did it because you care and not because you felt like you would be rewarded for it.  It made a difference.

For the sacrifices that you have made that no one will ever know about.  You have sacrificed time, personal preferences, money, sleep and your own reputation… you have paid a price that most people will never see this side of eternity, and the Lord IS USING your faithfulness to make a difference.

For the times you wanted to quit but didn’t.  We’ve all wanted to quit (usually on Monday’s!)  But Jesus pressed into you and you pressed on because, at the end of the day, you are consumed with Jesus and HIS GOSPEL… and you could not even fathom doing anything else.

For the times you have wept over the condition of people in your church and over people far from God.  For allowing what breaks God’s heart to break yours.

For the days when you have dared to dream big and have refused to give up on the vision you know the Lord has placed inside of you.

For the times you have been criticized and slandered against by people who have never even met you and are clueless in regards to your heart for the Lord.  They have misquoted you, taken you out of context and tried to destroy you with their word twisting and hate filled inaccuracies.  And yet you have persevered, you have resisted the urge to fight with them, keeping your eyes on Jesus and refusing to come down off of the wall.

For ALL that you do!  Seriously… you matter!  YOU MATTER so much to God that He not only saved you but called you into ministry, He entrusted you with a gift, a calling and a message…and He is with you, He will NEVER leave you or forsake you.  You can trust Him and He didn’t call you to flame out or burn out but rather to IMPACT this world through the preaching of His Son Jesus Christ.

You may feel overworked, overwhelmed and under appreciated… but I am here to say as a fellow pastor… THANK YOU!  I don’t care if you have 15 people in your church or 150,000… what you do MATTERS!  THANK YOU… I consider it an honor to be on the same team with you and it is my prayer that all of us will keep our eyes on Jesus and press forward as we have been given a job to do!”

There are many things you can do to show appreciation! Below are just a few great resources…

Brad Whitt shares the Top 10 Gifts to Give Your Pastor

31 Days of Praying for Your Pastor

Ideas from Christianity Today

Finally, I want to say THANK YOU to the many pastors who have invested in me throughout my ministry… those that I’ve served under… those that I’ve served with… those that have walked with me… those that have mentored me from a distance… those that have equipped me… THANK YOU! Your efforts have not been in vain… as long as I have breath in this body… I will continue to point people to Jesus because that has been the example set before me!

Down and Dirty: (adjective) realistic, coarse, uninhibited, unscrupulous, and fiercely competitive.

Discipleship: (verb) the intensely personal activity of two or more persons helping each other experience a growing relationship with God. Discipleship is being before doing, maturity before ministry, character before career.  

The past few Saturday evenings have been filled with some Down and Dirty Discipleship as a group of folks have simply gathered around the table for a meal. We have certainly challenged one another and pushed one another to be more like Jesus! It has been Down and Dirty because it has been a group of people who have grown to trust one another and we’ve been in an environment where it’s safe to be authentic. It has certainly been uninhibited and fiercely competitive!

I just wanted to take a few minutes to write this post because I’ve enjoyed being part of such a group! It has been great for my walk with Jesus! I would encourage everyone to find a safe place to gather with people you trust to talk about the tough questions you have… to wrestle with what the Bible says and what it DOESN’T say… to challenge your beliefs.

Every follower of Jesus, including you, is both a disciple and a discipler in the context of your relationship with Christ. You have the awesome privilege and responsibility both to be a teacher and a learner of what it means to be in Christ, walk in the spirit, and live by faith. You may have a role in your family, workplace, community, and church which gives you specific responsibility for discipling others. But even as an appointed discipler, you are never not a disciple who is learning and growing in Christ through your relationships. This is why my last few Saturdays have been so good for me!

Also, you may not have an “official” responsibility to disciple anyone, but you are never not a discipler. You have the opportunity to help your children, your friends, and other believers grow in Christ through your caring and committed relationship with them.

For those that are part of the Terra Nova Church family… be praying about that Small Group of people who will be able to best provide Down and Dirty Discipleship.

A Picture of Our City…

GREATER THINGS ARE YET TO COME!

Ready for the parade… It was a long wait!

Today was a great day! Several of us loaded up and rode in the Cotton Carnival Parade to distribute flyers for the upcoming Candy Carnival. The Candy Carnival is a Halloween event that Terra Nova Church and the YMCA is putting together for the families of our city on October 31, 2010 from 5pm to 8pm at the YMCA. Our goal is to collect and give away a TON of candy… that’s 2240 lbs. of candy! It’s going to be so much fun… make plans to join us!

As I was driving along the parade route today we had the stereo jamming to “God Of This City” by Chris Tomlin. It was such an appropriate song! I’ve included some of the lyrics below…
 
You’re the God of this City
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation 

 

You’re the Light in this darkness
You’re the Hope to the hopeless
You’re the Peace to the restless

There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God

For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City

As I was listening to the words and observing THOUSANDS of people who live and work right here in Sikeston… I was emotionally overwhelmed by God’s presence! He truly wants to transform this city for His good and His glory! Today was just another reminder of why Terra Nova Church is here!

If you are part of the Terra Nova family… I want to remind you of the scripture that God gave me while I was wrestling about planting a church here.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Today I saw a complete picture of our city… people from all walks of life, multiple races, many social classes, young and old, people who are like me, and people who are very different… However, they ALL have one thing in common… Jesus died for each of them and desires for the Church to impact every single one!

I am confident that God will do His part if we are faithful to simply… GO and TELL… without any judgement or discrimination… seeing every person as a potential child of God. Are you with me?

Buckle up! Greater things are yet to come!

Okay, so today when I began to browse through Facebook posts from last night I discovered that several folks in Sikeston had encountered a gentleman who was hanging out in town and apparently resembled the iconic image of Jesus. Naturally this grabbed my attention. One family had even helped put him up in a local motel, so I assumed that he just might still be in town. Thus, I decided to see if I could track him down because I had some questions.

  

Let me first say that “Jesus” is actually Neal Thompson and seems to be a super nice guy! I really do admire his boldness and his effort to point people to Jesus. Clearly, he has pointed some folks to Jesus and even created some great conversations that have people doing some self evaluation. So, I am in no way discounting that. However, here we are in Sikeston, MO and “Jesus” has come and gone… people are talking… people have questions… people have thoughts… and I’m just one of those people! This blog is going to be pretty raw, so hang with me.

  

I guess the thing that initially grabbed my attention on Facebook was that people (some who claim to know Jesus) perked up when he came to town and they were outraged that he faced opposition. After all, he was just a man who loved people and wanted to share Jesus. I quickly pointed out that there are many people in Sikeston who love Jesus and face opposition from others… we just dress like you and not “Jesus”.

 

 I finally caught up with him near the American Legion Baseball Park… below is the actual interview… 

 

Click this image to view the video!

 

Here are several thoughts;

 

For those of you in Sikeston… There really are many people who are radically sold out to Jesus who live right here! I know many of them… I have the honor of pastoring a church full of them! They long to see people come to Jesus! The truth is that I have as much, if not more, respect for them than I do the “Jesus” traveler because they risk the opinion of others everyday to be Jesus here in this city! They have chosen to develop and build relationships… to invest in friends and family… all because they desire for them to know Jesus and experience life-change! So, look around… maybe tomorrow you will see another Neal Thompson, but this time you may recognize them as someone you already know!

 

The other point I want to touch on briefly is the fact that there is a small segment of our population that perceives Christianity as “Hokey” at best. Let me be honest, most of these are what I would call a man’s man. Guys that I’ve been working hard to develop relationships with and help them understand that a relationship with Jesus is NOT a sissy thing! Not all churches or Christians resemble the unbiblical wack jobs on so called Christian television. Now image the conversations I will have trying to explain Neal to those guys who perceive the things of Christ as “Hokey”.

 

I am a firm believer in the reality that the Gospel is best delivered through relationship. Hear me, I’m not discounting the reality that God can use one time encounters, but most who receive Christ and grow in a relationship with Him do so because they are in relationship with someone that shared Jesus. From the perspective that Neal wanted to share the hope of the Gospel… He would be much more affective if he planted himself in a community and built relationships where he earned the right to share the Gospel. He clearly was not prepared to lead anyone to Jesus! He didn’t even have a Bible on him… and trust me… he didn’t have it memorized. Also, I depend on my Bible to help me become more like Jesus. The Bible should be the filter that we run everything through… He needs it to affirm that what he hears from God is really in agreement with Scripture. 1 Peter 3:15 also says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. The true story of that hope is found in the Bible. 

Another thing that drew much conversation was the fact that a Sikeston Police Officer came to talk with Neal and interrupted our interview. We have to understand that our law enforcement agencies are here to protect us! Neal had absolutely no identification on him. For all they knew he could be here with less than pure motives. The other thing that I want to express is that I respectfully ended my interview and went on because God has called me here to Sikeston to make a difference. My actions and attitude had to be such that when God gives me the opportunity to share Jesus with that officer… I hadn’t compromised that through disrespect. My relationship with that officer was more important than a few questions for a guy who was just passing through.

 

Finally, I am in agreement with many of the things Neal said during our time together. However, my message to those who claim to know Jesus and desire to change our nation is this; We will change our city, our state, our nation, and our world one person at a time… one relationship at a time… one family at a time. We won’t really make a difference for the kingdom with boycotts, petitions, protests, or even our vote. We are called to simply love the lost and give them Jesus!

 

Be inspired, be challenged, be intrigued, but MOST importantly BE JESUS! If Neal Thompson can create a BUZZ by being Jesus… What will happen tomorrow when we all wake up ready to be Jesus to our city?

 

Again, this was just some raw thoughts. I appreciated Neal coming to Sikeston because clearly he sparked some great conversation… Now what are you gonna do with it?

Change: [verb] To become different; To be transformed or converted.

One of the things that we unashamedly strive for at Terra Nova Church is LIFE-CHANGE. It has been an amazing few weeks as I’m seeing change take place in many of our folks. The changes haven’t been huge, but I would call them everyday life-change. The kind of changes that by themselves may not seem like much, but when they are strung together with other changes over time… WILL REFLECT A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WHO THEY WERE AND WHO THEY ARE NOW IN CHRIST!

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  ~ 2 Corinthians 3:18

Here are a few of the small changes that I’ve seen that reflect the reality that God is at work in His people…

  • Really placing faith and trust in the Lord to provide for employment… Really counting on Him!
  • Trusting God for healing… not just in word, but really calling fellow believers to agree in prayer for healing!
  • Changing Facebook profile pictures to reflect a more pure lifestyle!
  • Admitting that their marriage could use some Godly counsel and seeking a weekly time of accountability!
  • Seeking reconciliation in past relationships where there was hurt!
  • Forgiving and letting go of the painful past!
  • Trusting God with finances and committing to trust God through tithing!
  • Being intentional about sharing faith and seeking those opportunities!

 

Each of these descriptions of change can be attached to an individual or couple at Terra Nova Church! These are things that perhaps we would not notice or that we would take for granted… However, because we have placed such a high priority on authentic relationships… we are REALLY doing life together and the changes are very noticable!

Terra Nova Church, I’m proud of you! This is only the beginning of what God really desires to do in us! Keep running hard… I love being on the journey of LIFE-CHANGE with you!

Wow, it’s been a CRAZY BUSY few days for our family! Over the Memorial Day weekend we finally made the move to Sikeston and are in the full swing of TRANSITION. This move has been incredible in the sense that our sole purpose and motivation can be summed up by MISSIONAL LIVING.

One of the main philosophies of Terra Nova Church is to model the life of Christ by “Doing Life” with those that we are called to serve. So, we are super excited to finally be here in the community that God has called our family to. We are so looking forward to many meals around our table with those that God is allowing us to serve and those that we will have the privilege of meeting in the future.

My prayer this week has been that my life will always serve as an example to our Terra Nova family… Together we CAN change our city! For the Bles family it meant moving… what is it that God is calling you to do to be more MISSIONAL?

Being missional is something that every person and every church can and should strive to be. My heart breaks when I think of the reality that America is becoming more and more unchurched.  Most churches are declining or dying… Many churches exist as testimonies to past glory days.  Many Christians just merely “go to church” without an understanding that the Holy Spirit really wants to work through them to impact their world for the Kingdom!

The entire missional movement is a return to the understanding that as Christ Jesus came to earth as a missionary, full of the power of the Holy Spirit, drawing near to people to serve them in love and compassion, so we too are also sent into the world… and our city!  I long for Terra Nova Church to be a missional church that is a Spirit-empowered, sent people, who penetrate the culture with their loving presence while communicating the Gospel in a relevant way.

So, I’m ready… are you?

In fact, I’m off to lunch where I’m looking forward to establishing a new friendship for the sake of the Kingdom!