Friday, October 31, 2014

Walking a Dog and the Image of God

A couple months ago, I noticed a woman taking her dog for a walk in my neighborhood. She was perhaps in her upper fifties, and not in the best of health. The dog was about a foot tall at the shoulder, weighing maybe twenty pounds.

But the striking thing was that, though I said she was taking her dog for a walk, in reality it was more as if the dog were taking her for a walk. One moment it would be charging down the sidewalk, leash taut and dragging the woman along as fast as she could run (which was not very fast because of her health; she looked as if she could easily stumble and fall). The next moment the dog would stop to sniff the base of a telephone pole, giving the woman a brief respite. Then he would take off again, the woman stumbling behind him.

My first reaction to this scene was to be somewhat judgmental. My mother is a dog trainer, and she had shown us the need for boundaries and training for our dogs. Couldn’t this woman put limits on the disrespectful behavior of her tiny dog? But quickly my perspective changed. Of course this is guesswork as I’ve only just begun to become acquainted with this woman, but I began to wonder how she might have been treated and the things she’d been told about herself, that would bring her to this point of being dragged along by her dog’s agenda.

God delights in and cares for the smallest members of His creation: He even feeds the birds of the air. They are important. But Jesus then says, “Are you not much more valuable than they?”  (Matthew 6:26b, emphasis added)

This scene has haunted me since. Here was someone who has been made in the image of the eternal, omnipotent and majestic God of the universe. Here was someone who had been formed by the One who calls every star by name. Here she was, at the mercy of her dog’s whims, dragged along behind it when she herself could barely run.

What does this woman—and so many others in Bangor and our world, including you and me—need to know? She needs to know the God who has made her, delights in her, and claims her as a daughter of the King in Jesus. In The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis gives a glimpse of what this looks like:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”  (

This woman—and thousands of other men and women in Bangor and wherever we find ourselves—needs to hear the gospel. They and we (for it isn’t just “those people” who need to hear the gospel, but each of us every day: we receive before we can give) need to hear of a new center and grounding of their worth and how much they are loved in Jesus. They need to hear and tell of God’s glorious rescue plan for the lost; they need to hear of God’s love for the unlovable; they need to hear of God’s forgiveness and cleansing; they need to hear the party in heaven that takes place whenever one sinner repents; they need to hear God’s blessing spoken over them. We need to hear God’s Word to us.

This woman is so much more than she thinks she is—as we are also in God’s eyes—and in Jesus, the road is paved for her to live as a beloved and treasured daughter of the living God...the God who, with every Christian as with Israel, “will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph. 3:17) We need to daily receive God’s love and delight in us because of Jesus. And we have the calling to introduce others around us to the God who delights to claim weak and broken sinners like us and them as His own beloved sons and daughters. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October Update from New Hope

October Update from New Hope

Here are a few news items from this past month at New Hope/Bangor...

Small Group StudyOur current Thursday evening small group has been entitled “Fighting Well: Christian Conflict”, and we are using Peacemaker Ministries’ curriculum on addressing conflict from a biblical perspective. Some of us need to learn how to change from destructive patterns of conflict to God-honoring habits. But the leadership team has also recognized that, perhaps for more of us in the church, we need to learn how to actually engage in conflict in the first place—rather than pretending it doesn’t exist or just maintaining a surface-level peace. There has been strong interest in this study, and we pray that God will continue to work through it to teach us healthy habits of conflict and peacemaking.

SoccerMy coaching season wrapped up mid-month, and it was a delight to work with this group of students. My captains even shared that, with the 24 high school girls on the team, there were no cliques. Instead, the players were invested in and excited for each other’s success and the success of the team as a whole. It was a privilege to work with my captains as well; I am slowly learning the value of equipping them and giving them more responsibilities rather than trying to do everything myself. I also had a couple opportunities to discuss matters of faith with girls on the team (particularly noticing how the jump-off point for these conversations is often their curiosity about supernatural forces: something which Jesus was not shy in addressing). I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity to coach, and the mentoring moments during the season.

BuildingAs New Hope has been gathering in a school gym for several years now, we have been open to options for a more permanent space. We have a good relationship with the school, but hope to have a space that would not involve weekly set-up and take-down. So far, we have considered sharing space with another congregation, leasing our own space, or purchasing a building. Please do join us in prayer for guidance as we continue this process. With that said, God has also reminded of the potential danger of seeking a building with the idea that a worship space will itself create a shared mission and vision (an external solution to an internal need). We need to first be listening to (and following) how God is shaping New Hope’s mission and vision as we enter these next years, and then, out of obedience to Him, we can seek a building that facilitates what He would have us do/focus on. This month, our leadership team is taking time in listening prayer, attune to how God has equipped and worked through New Hope in the past, what He’s doing in the present, and how He may be leading us into the future. We will then come together in our December meeting to discuss this further. Please pray for discernment and sensitivity to God’s leading—whether or not the areas in which He would have us focus involve a building.

“Random” Meetings: As I often work in local coffeeshops, there have been many opportunities to meet and build friendships with other regular customers. I have met several individuals in particular who have moved from outside Bangor, and who have expressed feeling isolated in this area. One day, I noticed a woman (I’ll call her “Julie”) at a table by herself, looking quite depressed. I had seen her there before, so introduced myself. We had a relatively brief conversation, but Julie shared how she felt isolated, and a little of her past. Then, a couple months after this initial conversation, I saw her again. This led to a much longer conversation, with her asking questions about many aspects of Christian faith. I was struck by how much she opened up, and I’ve found that although it is very rare for anyone to initiate a conversation with me, the vast majority are quite open when I take the first step. I’m grateful for these opportunities to meet others and hopefully begin to introduce them to Jesus.

Thank you for your prayers, support, and encouragement.

Friday, October 10, 2014

September Update from New Hope

Dear Friends and Family,

I apologize about taking so long to write another update. It’s been a full summer, and below I’ve given just a couple glimpses of what’s happening at New Hope and here in Bangor. Thank you for your interest in reading, and for all your prayers!

Sermon Series: For the past couple months, I’ve been preaching through the story of David in 1 Samuel. We’ve come to some challenging passages, but it’s also been a great opportunity to address how to read the Old Testament (and any difficult passages in the Bible). Each Sunday, we spend time addressing the immediate passage in its own context, then how it points to Jesus, and then what that means for us. So in the story of David and Goliath, we saw the family and political dynamics at work in that time and place, and then saw how Jesus (the “Son of David”) is also our representative champion who defeats sin and the devil through his sacrifice—and how we participate in His victory by faith, like the Israelite army no longer had to be afraid after David had killed Goliath.

Youth night: One of our leaders observed that the youth in the church don’t have much connection, so in July we started a once-a-month youth night. I am co-leading with another couple in the church, and encouraging other adults to join at times, hopefully allowing for informal mentoring relationships. We start by eating together, then do a group lesson (watching a popular advertisement, and then discussing its messages through the lens of Scripture—learning a Christian worldview), and then play games. It’s been exciting to see the response from the youth, to see them engaging with one another and the leaders, and to see the parents’ appreciation of this opportunity for their children. Please continue to pray for mentoring relationships to develop between adults and youth, as well as for friends and visitors who come—that they may experience the hospitality of the gospel and come to know Jesus.

Street Pastors: For the past few months, a management team (of which I am a member) of leaders and members from various churches in the area has been meeting to bring a ministry called “Street Pastors” to Bangor (see for the organization; for the in-the-works local website). This organization began in the U.K., and local chapters train and send out lay “pastors” to extend the love of Christ on the streets—being a listening and caring presence during the high-crime times. Cities in the U.K. have seen crime rates drop dramatically with Street Pastors’ presence, as people experience God’s love through Christians meeting them where they are. In our first “patrol” a couple weeks ago (a group goes out every Friday between 8pm and 1am), it was amazing to see God at work. There have been many opportunities to listen to what people have to share, pray with them, be a presence that prevents conflicts that otherwise might have escalated, provide for basic physical needs and/or direct people to resources and social services agencies, and to share the gospel in deed and word. One of the most amazing parts was to see Christians from many different congregations presenting a united witness. One of the men who had gone summarized it something like this: “An Anglican, a Methodist, a Congregationalist, a Reformed believer, an Adventist, and a Baptist walk into downtown Bangor…It sounds like the start of a joke, but it’s not—it actually happened last Friday!” In fact, one man was so blown away by seeing congregations working together that he just (completely unsolicited) offered a monetary donation on the spot. Please continue to pray for Christian unity (in the midst of the diversity of more peripheral convictions held by believers who are involved). God is at work!

Soccer: In August, I began my second season coaching girls’ JV soccer at John Bapst—a local private high school. Coaching keeps my schedule full, but I find it refreshing and enjoyable. It’s a great opportunity to build bridges within the community, and at our first team dinner, I was able to connect with one parent in particular about a challenging church situation.  This past week, I also met with my captains for dinner to talk about leadership, and the team/season in general. It was neat to see them noticing teammates who are more on the margins—and thinking of how to integrate them. We also talked about leadership as investment in others’ improvement as well as one’s own. I could tell that the captains were genuinely excited as they observed improvement by one of the girls in particular. A couple weeks into the season, and it’s been a great time.

Babies: Over the course of five months this summer, there were four babies born at New Hope. We’re grateful for all healthy deliveries, and the increase in noise is well worth it!

It is a privilege to continue to be able to live in Bangor and work alongside those at New Hope. Thank you for your encouragement and support.

In our Lord,