6:37 am, January 15…

Church bus 2.jpg I can always count on getting a text message from Tennessee every January 15. Today marks the 29th year…….

“Good Morning, Pastor, as I rejoice this morning of the 29 years of my birth in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m so thankful that you were a part of the first years of my birth. I pray that you and your family be blessed today as we join and rejoice in the mighty and great things that He has done and will continue to do in our lives. God bless you forever, my Brother in Christ.”

  Jeff McGuire is continually grateful for his relationship with Jesus Christ and grateful for the ones who shared the remarkable gospel story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with him.

    In the 1970s-1990s the bus ministry was an integral part of the evangelistic outreach efforts of local church ministries everywhere.

On January 15, 1990, Jeff, as a young adult and Dad got on that bus with his kids and after hearing the Gospel message that Sunday morning became a part of God’s family and was baptized. It dramatically transformed his life forever. Jeff was one of multitudes who heard the gospel because of a sold-out bus captain and driver. Those little bus kids of the 70s, 80s and 90s are all grown up now and have families of their own and live all over the country, as well as remaining in the Tidewater area of Virginia.  We hear from them often, in fact, we recently attended a “bus reunion” in Suffolk that several of the Smithfield kids had.

My first experience with the bus ministry came when I led a bar tender to Christ. God radically transformed him. He had a precious wife and four kids, who would run and hide when he came home at night because of his undesirable behavior.  God called him, and He gave his life to reaching kids for Christ through the bus ministry. His name is Cecil Davis. He now lives in the Va. Beach area and often calls or messages me to say, Preacher, I love you and you will always be my preacher.

Also, my dear friends, Rudy and Charlene DiGiovanni who lives in Chino, California were so involved in bus evangelism. I love them. Then very often from Martinsburg, West Va. Woody Gilmer calls to say, Preacher, I love you. Do you remember the day we had 55 kids on that Smithfield bus? We laugh and chat for a while. There were also many other adults like the Fishers, Brothers, Larry Boyette and those too numerous to name that were also involved in our church bus outreach.

The Lord only knows who really was impacted from the love that flowed from bus workers who climbed on those old buses (which were cold in the winters and hot in the summers) early on Sundays to love on kids who otherwise may not be receiving love from anyone else. I am so grateful for those days.

The bus ministry was a method to reach people for Christ. With gated communities, and security reasons, the bus ministry is no longer a popular or a viable method in reaching people for Christ. Today there are other methods for evangelistic outreach. I am reminded of a quote by my teacher and friend, Dr. Elmer Towns…

“Methods are many, principles are few. Methods may change but principles never do.”

Methods of outreach often change; however, the Gospel message never changes.  The power of it is still changing lives today. Amen and Amen!!!!

 

 

No Good…

Field Goal Miss 3.jpgWe were all looking in amazement at the NFC playoff game on Sunday night between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears.  The Eagles were ahead by the score of 16-15, however, there was under a minute to go and Chicago was driving rapidly down the field to set up a 3-point field goal opportunity to win the game.  With only a few seconds left Chicago field goal kicker, Cody Parkey would attempt a 43-yarder which was well within his ability. The line was set, ball hiked, and the kick was perfect, the only problem, Philadelphia had called a time out just before the kick, so the play was dead. Parker had to do it again, so, line set, ball hiked, kick was made, but this time the ball hit the upright and crossbar and the ball fell back into the field of play…. referees signaled, no good. Chicago’s wait for a playoff victory was over. They had waited since 2010. Parker’s head sunk, the Chicago home crowd erupted in boos toward Parkey as he left the field. He had failed and let his team down.

Parkey’s response to sports writers after the game were, “You can’t make this up. I feel terrible. I let the team down.” But, he said the sun would come up tomorrow. Parkey may one day say that January 6, 2019 was the worst day of his life. Only time will tell.

As I went to bed on Sunday night I reflected on the feelings of pain, hurt and rejection that Cody Parker was experiencing.  I felt bad for him and began to liken it to some of my own pain, failure and rejection that I experienced about 14 years ago. Although our causes of pain were quite different the results were very much the same.

Cody had let his team and fans down…….in one kick he became the loneliest player in the NFL…so did I, I let my family, church and friends down……on January 4, 2004 I felt that I was the loneliest man on the planet. The fans who had cheered him for the two field goals he earlier made were the ones who booed him at the end.

As goes the NFL, he will probably lose his job…so did I, a church I had loved and pastored for 26 years.

He faced his failure as fans booed him off the field……I too was booed in business meetings for months after I left the church I loved.

He took responsibility without slipping out the side door into the cold Chicago air by answering sportswriters’ questions about his failure.  I too took responsibility for my bad decisions, repented and confessed them and have lived with it through continual restoration to this very day.

I look back at those self-inflicted sinful times 14 years ago with regret, however, in all that adversity God showed mercy, grace and encouragement and placed people in my pathway to help me up. Today as I look at those times I realize that in my journey God showed me Himself in ways that I had never experienced.

I don’t know Cody Parkey and probably will never meet him, however, one day he might look back on the night of January 6, 2019 as a turning point in his life. I have prayed for him and admired his integrity. Only God can change things to make an ugly situation turn to rejoicing.

Matthew 11:28-30

A Birthday to Remember

I could not let the day pass without acknowledging how grateful I was to family and friends for making my birthday on Monday such a joyous occasion.  Wow! It seems like the red carpet was rolled out all day long. Encouraging love expressions, some of which brought tears to my eyes came in the form of Facebook messages, posts, texts, calls and special remembrances. Many of you whom I have not seen in years sent an encouraging word. I cannot begin to tell you how loved and affirmed I felt and I do not take your friendship lightly. I read every single message and as I did my heart loved on you for being such a blessing to me.

The day started early with Betty taking me to breakfast.

Little did I know that our friend Jose Villatoro, owner of the famed Brothers Pizza here in the Burg opened his restaurant early and served Betty and I the most delicious egg omelette that I have ever eaten in my entire life.

When we arrived, a table was decked out for us with Happy Birthday balloons and a sweet card from he and his family.  As most of you know Brothers Pizza was recently chosen by Time Magazine as the best pizza in the state of Virginia (everything else in that restaurant is good also 😊).

Then the flood came with your sweet messages from family, Joe Beans friends, Facebook friends, students, church friends, the list goes on and on. It was overwhelmingly sweet.

For dinner Betty and I dined eating fresh seafood at a very choice location. We got home just in time for the Clemson-Alabama championship game which did not conclude until almost Midnight. And even as I went to bed many of you were still sending encouraging messages.

Thank you for a wonderful birthday. I receive your love very gratefully……

Omelette at Brothers.jpg

 

Brothers Pizza Time Magazine.jpg

Barreling into 2019…

T. A. & Betty pic trip to DC.jpg The Christmas decorations have been all been tucked away for another year……. fall grades have been submitted, Betty has finished all the 2018 sales & expense reports for Joe Beans and the year ended with very special family times that we will cherish forever.

Today is the Saturday after New Year’s Day. After some extended devotional time, Betty and I are settling down and preparing to watch our favorite hoops teams today battle it out on the court (Liberty, UVA and Va. Tech). Levi is asleep on the floor; the fire is crackling in the fire place and Betty and I both are in the “whew” …… mood. 😊

For the last few days my thoughts have been on what 2019 might bring for us. I have semi-retired from pastoral ministry except for a few already scheduled preaching dates but the excitement for ministry has never been as strong as it is today. I love the atmosphere where God has placed us with family, neighbors, friends, students and work colleagues. We are truly experiencing love and acceptance which is grace in action.

We want our lives in 2019 to be characterized by authentic trust. We want to be real, believing in God’s truth and His leadership in our lives. We want to continue to live in an environment of love and grace in total confidence of God and each other with no hiddenness.  Trust is the only way we ever access our relationship with God—for example, “The just shall live by faith [trust]” (Romans 1:17 NKJV)—and will always be the basis for our relationship.

   So, trusting God and others in an environment of grace will be our goal for 2019.

 

 

The House is Quiet, my Heart is Full!

Levi Thanksgiving.jpg

It’s early Sunday morning and the last car just pulled out of the drive way with a blowing of the horn and waves of love flowing from each car window. As I walked back through the kitchen, I felt tears coming to my eyes as the house felt suddenly too quiet. My heart worshiped with praise as I reflected on the Thanksgiving celebration where every single family member was present, plus a few more, from Thursday through Sunday morning.  We were all exhausted from the laughter, chiding and fun times. We received little sleep as we all stayed up beyond the midnight hour and were up by 6 in the morning. We are all feeling like Levi today. 😊

     Betty and I both felt gifted that the entire family was present. We spent quality time with the youngest to the oldest and there were continual hugs and “I love you” spoken.

The activities included much sharing about our journeys in life………hopes, dreams, goals as well as transparent struggles in life. Thanksgiving Dinner included all the special Thanksgiving food. The girls baked cookies on Friday while the guys played 18 holes of golf at New London Downs. A special treat on Friday night was dinner out for the entire gang at a local restaurant plus watching the end of the Va. Tech-UVA classic rivalry.

As they all left, no one felt as blessed as I. The hugs and the sincere appreciation for each family’s contribution to a very wonderful time together. It was a treat.

     I do want to remind you, the reader, that the Powell family is not a model family. We are just like you and your family. We are very often not in “Instagram” situations. We have our struggles, our failures, sometimes our bad attitudes and often difficult times. It keeps us on our knees as we petition our Heavenly Father for His grace in difficult times. We do possess grace, love, forgiveness, transparency and vulnerability and an identity that only comes from our Lord Jesus Christ. And, with that we can make it.

Who You Say I Am…d

Praise & Worship 3.pngI’m very much a music person. I love good music and spend lots of time every day listening and reflecting. As I write this blog soft praise and worship music plays in the background.  Betty, too, has been involved in music all her life. In fact, when I saw her the first time, she was a 20-year old brunette singing praise music in a church choir with a sweet smile on her face. Our three children, Tom, Beth and Sharon also at an early age developed a strong taste for music and were involved in solos, duets, quartets as well as many musical presentations. Music was certainly in their DNA.

I was just a kid when worship music impacted me. I used to sit in front of the little 12 inch black and white T.V. and watch the Billy Graham Crusades with Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea providing the music. That old hymn of the faith, Blessed Assurance thundered out over the airwaves from that 900-voice crusade choir that made chill bumps run up and down my spine. Then listening to Ethel Waters sing, “His Eye is on the Sparrow” melted my heart. It was at the end when the choir and massive crowd sung Just as I Am that brought tears to my young eyes when multitudes came to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. The seeds of the Gospel were sown in my young heart during those early days.

I lived through the Christian music wars of the 1980’s-90’s. The change of the culture from traditional to contemporary music. At first, I was a part of the problem (a stick in the mud) of not accepting background or as we referred to it, “canned music.” My late teens and early 20’s kids sat me down one day and said, Dad, some of these Contemporary Christian artists loves Jesus just as much and maybe more than we do. They have a right to create music as they view scripture and their Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a sobering thought; however, I took their advice, read some of these modern-day artist’s testimonies, listened to their music, watched their bands closely and something began to stir in my heart. The Holy Spirit began to touch my heart through their songs. Their words were so Biblically sound and real. They sung about real-life situations and how Jesus was the answer to the problems we face in our journey of life.

Today, I consider myself a balanced music person. I love the old songs like Blessed Assurance, It is well with My Soul, How Great Thou Art, I Surrender All and At Calvary. Many of the words of these old songs have been developed into a contemporary format. However, I am a strong, contemporary praise and worship person and regularly listen to Bart Bartlett (Mercy Me), Lauren Daigle, Hill Song, Casting Crowns, Charles Billingsley, Need to Breathe, Toby Mac, Mandisa and I still love Gaither Southern Gospel.

At this point in my life my very favorite praise and worship song is Who You Say I Am by Hillsong Worship. I am captivated and motivated to lift my arms in praise as I listen to these very Biblically sound promises written in this song………. I am reminded with the assurance of being a child of God, loved, chosen, not forsaken, being included, being free, receiving grace, being ransomed from the slavery of sin and having a place in my Father’s House.  Praise God I am free.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1(NIV)

Just thought I would share those thoughts.

https://youtu.be/lKw6uqtGFfo

 

Its the Culture…

Liberty Convocation.jpg

One must only attend a convocation service held Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays on the campus of Liberty University to realize that Liberty has a culture of Training Champions for Jesus Christ. You can’t describe or define it but rather you feel the environment. It’s exciting, it’s encouraging. You enjoy being a part of it.

Chick- fil- a is another great example of a culture or environment that thrives on good food, good service and a positive attitude from workers who always reminds us that “Its My Pleasure” to serve you.

I love the church, it’s the institution created by Jesus Christ. Its purpose is to preach the gospel to the world and disciple those who receive that message.

We are the only institution on the planet that offers life transformation for now and for eternity.

My concern is for the culture of the church, the environment that people experience when they attend. That which you feel but can’t describe. What do you experience when you drive onto the property of your church (or any church)? Lance Witt says that every church and ministry organization has a distinct culture, a unique DNA that makes them who they are. But most often that culture isn’t articulated or evaluated.

We must realize that when people show up for church, they bring their problems with them…. life’s experiences, dysfunctions, insecurities, shame, assumptions, expectations and most likely are wearing a mask to cover it all up. They muster a smile and tell you that things are just fine. However, they aren’t.

All of us are broken people and we desperately need someone who cares for us and loves us regardless of what we are going through. The church of Jesus Christ offers that; however, it must be presented within a culture of grace, encouragement, trust, kindness, friendliness, helpful and thoughtful treatment. That culture will not happen by accident but must be consciously created. It must show up in behavior from the parking lot to the pulpit. It’s a leadership responsibility. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.”  People must feel valued. All of us are creations of God and need to be treated in that respect.

My great desire is to be a part of a church culture that promotes a safe environment of authentic worship, trust, realness, transparency and vulnerability. A place where we can carry our struggles and realize that we will be loved, prayed for, accepted, encouraged, embraced as saints who sin, as we work through the difficulties of life; not a place for condemnation, contention, political groupings or judgement. God has an answer for everything we experience, and the church should provide the culture to embrace those answers to life.

What is your church culture like?