Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunday Flashback

Unbelievably, I rarely touched my computer between Christmas Eve and today. With all the family together like we were for the holidays I had other priorities. But today it's back to work!

First, Christmas Eve's worship gathering was phenomenal. This was our 17th consecutive year for doing this, and every year it grows. Nate did a great job putting it all together, and the MP13 Band and our NHC Worship Choir are both top notch when it comes to leading us in worship. Instead of a the usual Christmas sermon we used a series of short videos we got from BluefishTV that I recommend highly for advent. There were 5 of them that told the story from the Old Testament prophecies through the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. In between each video clip the Band and choir led us in a Christmas song. The link above will allow you to view them.

One of the results of being a growing church was that we almost ran out of communion elements. Gotta pick up another tray or two! We were set up seating-wise for 185 ("with so many people out of town...") but had about 225 in the service. So, thanks to Mike and his team for scrambling (again) to get more chairs set up. Thanks, too, to the children's ministry and nursery teams for providing child care. The little ones had a birthday party for Jesus. Guests were there from as far away as Australia and Canada.

Sunday was a breather for me. Not having to preach allowed me to relax and enjoy Christmas a little more with so many of our family in town. So, a special thanks to our missionary to Honduras, Larry Benson for taking the lead Sunday and bringing a great message on our "missional" God and what that means. I took lots of notes and he had my brain working overtime.

The 9AM gathering was really sparcely populated! It's the one most of our local congregation attends. But I knew that meant 11:00 would be slammed, which it was. Even though it was after Christmas we still enjoyed some Christmas music, too. Next Sunday we'll put up some round tables in the auditorium again, which is a luxury we can afford in the winter months. We tried it last year and the tables became hugely popular, giving attenders a place to spread out their notes, Bibles and coffee!

It's hard to believe another year has come and gone. For so many reasons 2008 was the best year ever for our church. More was accomplished for ministry and missions and by more people being involved than we've ever experienced. The church continues to grow in health and strength. 2009 will, no doubt, pose some new challenges with the economy, etc. So we will get to see God work even more as we learn to trust in Him.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sunday Flashback

Christmas joy abounded at church yesterday! People were obviously abuzz with the excitement of the Season. Lots were going around handing out Christmas cards and gifts. I'm munching right now on my bag of macadamia nuts Roxanne gives me every year.

More folks were checking into two new courses set to begin in January - Divorce Care and Focusing on Christian Womanhood. There should be a video promo for the latter next Sunday.

I don't know of a church around with the quality of music God has blessed us with. And what's so great about being able to say that is some of us old timers can remember when this church had no musical talent. Nada. The Christmas carols yesterday were fantastic, including "Gloria (Angels We Have Heard on High)" and "O Holy Night". My dad, who with Mom is visiting for Christmas, said (about Thanisha), "That girl can SING!". And the choir was sooo goood. Their best yet. The MP13 Band also intro'd The David Crowder Band's "O Praise Him". Perfect for Christmas.

(I'm waiting for Crowder's version of "I Saw the Light". I'll dust off my banjo.)

My message title, "Mythbusters: Jolly Old St. Nick", was a bit intriguing for many ("Where's he going with this?"). It should be up on the podcast shortly. Sorry (to any zealots out there), but I didn't attack Santa! What I did was talk about the real St. Nicholas and the role he played in the Council of Nicaea, giving Christianity the Nicene Creed, which stated the orthodox (definition 1a) view of Christ. Before he died and all kinds of myths and legends were spread about him he was a defender of the biblical Christ. Then we turned to John 1 to get the Bible's take on who Jesus is.
After the message I had some great interaction. One attender approached me saying, "For 50 years I've recited the Nicene Creed and never knew what I learned today". A couple more had great questions about the Trinity. Best of all one young lady came up to me after and said, "Thanks for helping me to believe". She had unwrapped God's Gift (John 3:16) to her.

It's so awesome to be in a church where so many grasp the purposes God has for us and live it out. Sunday's are always a celebration. Yesterday I shared some of what the church has been doing in the past few weeks to reach out to our community and world.

Welcome home Emily Benson from her time as a missionary in Honduras!

Welcome home Dale Hamilton from Iraq! (He returns January 3).

Congrats to Jay S. for graduating from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary!

Wednesday night is our Christmas Eve Worship Gathering at 6PM. Please join us!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Just so you know

Before President-elect Obama ever had his picture taken with Rick Warren, I did. If I can find it, I'll post it.

Obama's getting flack for inviting Warren to give the invocation at the inauguration because of Warren's conservative views, esp. in the issues of homosexuality and abortion.

Warren's sure to get flack from the extreme religious right for being "chummy" with a liberal like Obama. But, as a pastor, how do you say "No" to an invitation to give a prayer, esp. when the Bible tells us to pray for those in governmental authority?

Kudos to Obama for demonstrating some diversity. And for my bud RW, can you get me tickets?

If he had invited me to pray, I would. Just so you know.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Planning a Family Christmas Worship Time

The tree is up. The gifts are wrapped and ready. Most of all the kids are about to explode with anticipation of Christmas. But that’s true in every home, Christian as well as non-Christian.

So should being a Christian family make a difference? Shouldn’t we be worshipping on Christmas morning? After all, it’s Jesus birthday! And the answer is “Yes!”. For NHC this will be one of those “Acts 2:46” worship events when we worship from “house to house”. Our church will be worshipping, just not all together. But how do we do that?

For some of you, having family worship at Christmas is nothing new. But for many of you, it will be your first attempt. Let me give you some suggestions to make your Christmas morning extra special. Many of these ideas are things Gail and I have done at our home through the years.


How difficult is this in our society? Everything we see and hear on the media tells us that Christmas is about giving and receiving to and from each other. But very little is said anymore about the gift God gave in Jesus.

Before we allowed the kids to tear into their presents we had our worship time. What a better time than this to teach them that life is “not about me”? Isn’t that hard to do? If it’s your first time to try it, yes, it will be. It’s also a great way to teach them patience.

But don’t wait until they get up on Christmas morning to announce it! You’ll have a revolt on your hands, and angry people don’t make good worshippers. Prepare your kids in advance by talking at meal times about how Christmas should be a special time to worship Jesus. But we’re not going to worship at church. Tell them, “This year we’re going to start our Christmas Day with worshiping Jesus right here at home.”

God’s principle of worship always includes sacrifice, and giving God the “first fruits”, not the leftovers. And think about it for a second. Once they open all those toys you’ve lost them for the day! It’s easier to do the worship first than to try to corral them in later.


We start with a big family breakfast together around the table. Gail has this recipe for a breakfast casserole that she prepares on Christmas Eve and keeps in the refrigerator overnight. Then early on Christmas morning she pops it in the oven. Thankfully, as the kids get older, Christmas starts a little later!

Now, if you just can’t see that happening in your house, let me give you an alternative. Later that day have a big family meal together and turn your meal time into a worship time. By the way, whether you have your worship time early or later, include in it the opportunity for everyone to serve – do ministry – by helping with the meal and clean up. Don’t let Mom do it all!

Eating together was a big part of the New Testament church’s worship experiences. And since you have everyone around the table at the same time, it’s an excellent place to have your worship time.


When I say “worship time” I don’t mean you have to go for an hour or preach a sermon! The younger the children, the more you’ll need to make it brief (10 minutes max for little ones) and use some visual aids. We always have had a manger scene that we used when the kids were very young to tell the Christmas story. We also have done a “Birthday Party for Jesus” and sang Happy Birthday to Him. They understand birthday parties! That helps teach them what the day is really about.

Whatever you do, be creative. If you have a wide age span, try to have something for everyone, and include the older kids in helping the younger.

By the way, your children will likely see plenty of “Christmas” shows on TV this time of year. Why not invest on a good video that tells the real Christmas story and watch it together that afternoon? There are some productions (Hanna-Barbera for example) that have it in a cartoon format.


When they’re very young, find a good Bible story book with pictures. Make the story come alive. As they get older, read it from the Bible. Have the kids read it. Ask questions. Let them ask questions. (You might want to study up on it!) Keep in mind the incarnation (God becoming Man) was a miracle. And miracles can’t be explained by science. You’ll find the Christmas story in Matthew 1 and Luke 2. Don’t forget to explain why Jesus’ birth was necessary for our salvation.


For your worship time sing a song or two that honors Christ. Little children all love “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night”. Older ones love them, too! And if you’re family isn’t necessarily musically inclined, put on a Christmas CD and sing along with those who are.

Encourage everyone to say a prayer and in the prayer include something about Christmas for which they can thank God. With the very young expect prayers of thanks for their toys. But allow your Christmas Story time to lead into the prayer time. If you do a good job of telling the story, they’ll get it.


Christmas is about giving. “God so loved the world that He gave.” If your children are going to learn to be givers and not takers, plan a giving project.

Maybe as a family you can find a way to give to something special. Perhaps you put together a shoebox for operation Christmas Child. Take a moment to pray for the child who is receiving that box. Some families intentionally give up one gift on their list and use that money to give to missions. On Christmas Eve our church will be giving out goodies to the public safety and hospital employees who will be working that night. Visit someone (even a stranger) who is spending Christmas in the hospital. Send a card or package of cookies to a serviceman/woman in Iraq. One year we visited seniors in their homes and sang carols with them.

Most of all let them know the greatest gift they can give Christ is their own lives.


Here’s another opportunity to take the God-given role of spiritual head of your family. Don’t leave all this to Mom. Let your family see that this is important to you. Too often in our American culture the men leave the spiritual things to the women. Dad, you be the initiator. Of course, if you’re a single mom, you’re the spiritual head of your home, so you make it happen.


Look around. Not everyone has a family with whom they can celebrate Christmas. There are singles and older folks who are alone or just the two of them who would love to come over to your house for Christmas. There are still international students here on the beach working. It may be someone at work or a neighbor or someone in your Connection Group. We’re always looking for someone outside our family to invite. Practice biblical hospitality. Share your Christmas with others. It will only make your celebration that much better.

©2008 Rick Lawrenson

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Flashback

This morning I spoke to the Forest Park Baptist Church in Vero Beach, FL. My son-in-law is the student/parent pastor here. So since we're here visiting the lead pastor gave me an invitation to speak.

FPBC has a different dynamic than NHC in many ways, but has a heart to reach their community. Friendly folks! Using Acts 2:41-47 I talked about God doing new things and the church being ready to take the opportunities He brings to accomplish His purposes. Nobody (that I could tell) fell asleep.

If you struggle with insomnia Terry says the message will be up on their podcast page soon. (Be warned, when I mentioned being "busted in church" it was right after a grandma got up from her seat to discipline her grandsons who were less than engaged in the message.)

After church we were taken out to lunch to the Lobster Shanty on the river in Vero Beach. Good seafood! Tonight we're going to a hand bell choir concert.

I hear things went great back home at NHC to day. (But then I heard it from the guy who did the preaching.) I'm excited to see the pics from the baptism.

Home tomorrow night!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Busch Gardens and Fred's Market

We took a looonnnggg drive across the state to Busch Gardens in Tampa. A zoo with rides. Because of the morning rain the place was nearly deserted. No lines. Lots of birds. Everywhere. Rode one pretty wild roller coaster. One of those high speed twirly loopy g-force rides that make you wobbly when you get off.

On the way back we randomly stopped in Bartow at Fred's Market Restaurant. We we actually looking for Perkins but not seeing it, pulled in to Fred's. Lots of cop cars in the full parking lot. That's a sure sign there's good food inside.

Good food is an understatement. Fred's has a buffet of nothing but Southern style food. I had more than enough of the food that makes life wonderful. Things like fried green tomatoes, collards, baked talapia, stewed tomatoes, sweet potatos, fried catfish, black eyed peas, cabbage, barbecue pork ribs. There was much more that I never even got to sample. Things like corn pudding, fried corn bread, chicken and dumplings... If you've eaten Southern you get the picture.

Two thumbs up for Fred's. Five stars. My new favorite buffet in the universe. And the bread pudding was totally outrageous. I did start with a salad, by the way.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Vacation starts today

My wife and I are visiting our daughter and her husband in Vero Beach, FL (famous today for a cheesburger assault). We're looking forward to the break.

I gotta say this: my airline experience today with Southwest was the best I have ever had. The departing flight left on time; the plane was not packed, in fact was probably only 25% occupied, which meant the seat between us was empty; Southwest jets have far greater leg room than Delta, for example; the flight landed in Orlando on time and went straight to the gate. They won me over today.

Temps will be around 80 tomorrow.

And the big news today is that our second grandchild will be a girl. Congrats Rachel and Ramon. What's wild is that she is due on the same due date as our first granddaughter Gwyneth, only a year apart. We're hoping this one takes the full ride!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Flashback

If you've been on the Journey very long you know there are mountain top experiences with God and there are also the times, often painful, when you go through the valley. Today we talked about how to get through those valleys by taking steps in the right direction via trust and obedience.

Next Sunday Andy will pick up where I left off. Then the following Sunday I'll bring a seasonal message on the Sunday before Christmas.

Nate chose Steven Curtis Chapman's song "The Mountain" to introduce the message today. If you know his family's story this year you have to appreciate the insights God gave him well in advance of the valley they would traverse with the tragic death of their daughter. Here are the words from the 2nd verse:
You bring me up here on this mountain
For me to rest and learn and grow
I see the truth up on the mountain And I carry it to the world far below
So as I go down to the valley
Knowing that You will go with me
This is my prayer, Lord
Help me to remember what You've shown me
Up on the mountain

They also plugged in some Christmas music including a rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" that sneaks in a lead guitar part from "Carol of the Bells" (with distortion, of course). It's fantastic. Can't wait for more.

Tina tells me our Lil K class (pre-schoolers) was maxed out today at 9AM. The place is crawling with young children.

Following the second worship gathering a lot of folks stayed around to get the place re-set and decorated for tonight's annual Christmas dinner. We don't have a separate "fellowship hall", so our worship space is multi-purpose. In came the tables and chairs for tonight's meal. We set up enough to handle 216, utilizing the lobby as well. Good thing!

Talk about a ton of food! Our Fellowship Team did a great job setting up the food lines, getting nearly 200 people through pretty quickly. Shawn P., who has been around a few years looked around and was remembering when things were much smaller. It's quite amazing to me, too.

The stack of coats donated to give away next week to the needy in the community is becoming a mountain! Keep it up! And I don't know what was given tonight to send Bibles to youth and children in countries where believers are under persecution, but it looked like a pretty healthy offering. Thanks for giving to Jesus' body like this in celebration of His Birth, especially when it's not so easy to give.

My Flashback next Sunday will not be about NHC. I'll be speaking in a church in Vero Beach, FL while visiting our daughter and son-in-law. Hope the weather's warm!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You make it click

Here's a glimpse of the many-faceted ministry teams that make our church. These people invest themselves in serving others and are making a difference. Whether they're changing diapers and loving babies so parents can worship freely or cleaning windows, it's all about serving God by serving others.

And I get to be a part of it, which is way cool.

This is how we roll at NHC.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Where are the adults?", I wondered...

Last night I was sitting in the waiting room at our local hospital ER, waiting for a wife to arrive whose husband was being treated. In walked three teenage girls. One apparently was old enough to drive. The other two might have been 15 or so.

The older looking girl went up to the desk and said she needed to see a doctor. She had a sore throat. The other two girls continued on to the vending machines. After filling out a form and presenting her ID, the girl seeking medical attention was then told by the Triage Nurse to come in for her evaluation. At the same time one of the other girls started to follow her in. The nurse said, "You can wait out here" (referring to the waiting room), "but if you're going to be in the hospital you need to put on some shoes. Do you have some shoes in the car?"

The girl was barefooted. In December. Obviously she had no clue that shoes might be required attire in a hospital. And just as obviously, she didn't care. But she went out, and came back in with some shoes on her feet.

In the mean time, the third girl came back in to the waiting room with a Mountain Dew. She asked the girl with the shoes why she went outside. "To get some shoes on." "Why did you have to put on shoes?" "Because the f____________ b_________ woman in there is stupid!".

She pushed my button. Yanked my chain. "Hey. You think they might have some rules in the hospital? And there is no reason to call her what you just did. You're not old enough to be using that kind of language. Show some respect."

"You don't know how old I am", she smartly replied. "No. But you obviously are older than you act."

A couple of questions.

Where were the adults in these kids' lives? Why is a minor coming to seek medical attention without a parent? And what's with her bringing along a couple of friends to the hospital? Why hasn't someone taught this foul mouthed girl some manners and respect of authority? Does she have any concept of why there are rules?

It was pretty sad. Respect is a value that begins to be understood at home.

We have to reach this generation. Somewhere the passing on of values is being interrupted. Witness last week's trampling death of a Wal-Mart employee on Black Friday by me-first consumers.