Category Archives: Church

Remembering and Celebrating Auline Platt

Sunday, March 26, 2017 was a day of remembering and celebrating the life of Auline Platt in Albuquerque, NM. It started with a church service at Foothills Fellowship where her family gathered for worship. Songs of mourning and hope were sung, the church gathered around the family for a time of prayer, and Pastor Jesse Harden of New Creation ABQ (the church Foothills planted and the church the Platts attended) preached a powerful and comforting sermon from Romans 5.

At 3PM, some 600 people gathered to remember and celebrate Auline. It lasted 2 1/2 hours with one person after another coming forward to share about how Auline had touched their lives. There were lots of tears…but probably more laughs!

Below are links to everything that happened that day. May you be encouraged as you listen and watch, and may your heart be ministered to as you hear of all that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, did for and through Auline. To God be the glory!

MEMORIAL SERVICE VIDEO

MEMORIAL SERVICE AUDIO

SERMON AT FOOTHILLS FELLOWSHIP BY JESSE HARDEN

A very special thank you to the several brothers and sisters from Foothills Fellowship who worked hard behind the scenes to make this day special for the Platt family, the Foothills family, and the many in-town and out-of-town guests.

Making Sense of This

I can’t. I can’t make any sense of this. My dear friend, Auline Platt, died yesterday. She leaves behind her faithful husband, Mike, who is a good man. And 11 children.

Michelle and I met Mike and Auline in 1994. I remember it like it was yesterday. The church I was serving as youth pastor in Dayton, OH was growing fast. My youth group was growing fast too. 8 kids at my first youth group meeting had turned into 50 in one year – and 150 in five years. I needed help. I got a phone call one evening from a guy named Mike. He told me that he and his wife were in the military and would only be in Dayton for a year. They had decided to attend my church and wanted to know if they could serve as youth leaders. I had just attended a seminar at a National Youth Workers Convention that had scared me straight about the potential risks of volunteer youth workers. In the seminar, I learned a 10-step process for vetting potential volunteers. I told Mike that night that he and Auline would have to go through all 10 steps. They were the only ones I made do this because after I put them through it, I saw how ridiculous it was. To this day, I laugh when I look at all the paperwork I made them fill out. So do they. I kept it all.

The first night Mike and Auline attended a youth group meeting back in 1994, we let our then 3 year old daughter, Emily, ride with them alone to a restaurant afterwards. We didn’t know them from Adam, but they had passed my 10-step vetting process, so I guess I felt like I could trust them – strangers – with my daughter. Auline reminded me of this often…and laughed. That night began what would become a lifelong friendship – a bond – that would stand the test of time and the test of miles. The Platts moved to Albuquerque in 1996. We had only a bit more than a year with them in Dayton, but our friendship had been solidified. They fell in love with our children there and became dear, dear friends.

A few years later, Mike called me and said that he had put my name in for the open youth pastor position at Foothills Fellowship – the church they were attending in Albuquerque. When he told me this, I told him that he was a jerk for doing it. I was happy in Dayton. Why in the world would he do such a thing? But over the next 13 months, God moved my heart and placed a calling on me and Michelle to take the position. So, by faith – and knowing that we would be reunited with our dear friends, the Platts – we left Dayton for Albuquerque in 1999…and had another year with them. Then they left – this time for multiple overseas military assignments. But our friendship grew nonetheless.

All this time, Mike and Auline loved on our children (and many others) while trying to have children of their own. Even back then, they talked of someday having a lot of children – biologically and through adoption. Ironically, for years, they couldn’t have children. And then along came Seth. And then precious Maggie – who passed away after only a few days on this earth. And then sweet Ava. Then, they set their minds and hearts on adoption, and along came 4 adopted children. And then, foster care…and 5 more children. 11 in all.

They returned to Albuquerque a few years ago specifically to be a part of our church plant in the International District of Albuquerque. They could have gone anywhere. They made deep friendships all over the world, but they decided to return here to move into one of the poorest areas of the city so they could minister to and live among poor and hurting people. They moved their entire family into an area of town that many people try to move out of.

In December of 2016, my church commissioned them and a few other families to begin a new church there – a church made up of people who had sacrificed much to move into one of the poorest and most dangerous parts of our city to bring the Kingdom of God there, and Auline was a key piece of this new ministry. Her ability to connect with and love people – regardless of who they are or what they had done – was unparalleled.

And yesterday, Auline died. And I can’t make any sense of this. And I may never…

It’s in times like these that I must enact my faith – regardless of how I feel or of what I understand or don’t understand. The Scriptures make it clear that God’s ways are higher than mine. It also makes it clear that death is not part of the ultimate and perfect plan of God. Death is part of the curse of sin that Jesus came to defeat. And He did. God’s Kingdom broke through on this earth at the coming of Jesus, but sadly, it’s not here yet in all its glory and perfection. Already but not yet – and as long as the not yet is not yet, we will suffer and we will die.

As Auline’s husband, Mike, walked through these last days with his precious wife, his faith astounded and encouraged me. He led his family in prayer a couple of different times, and through his tears, he proclaimed his faith to the Lord by saying things like, “Lord, even though we don’t understand this, what we do know is that you are good.” This is where I choose to be too. Confused, devastated, incredibly sad…yet still clinging to what I know of the Lord – that He is loving and good.

Will everything be ok? I don’t know. Would it have been better if Auline had not died? I sure do think so, but I’m not all-knowing. Are all of her precious children going to make it through this tragedy ok? I don’t know, but I pray so. Is our church plant in its infant stage going to be as effective in reaching their community with her gone? I can’t see how, but I HAVE to trust the Lord and believe that “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

I truly believe that for Auline, all things are better now. No more struggling with the curse of sin and the brokenness of this sin-stained world. I also truly believe that Mike will be ok too because He loves God and is one who is called according to His purpose. And our church plant will be ok too, because the birth of this church is an obvious call of the Lord.

I can’t make any sense of this, but I have no choice but to trust in the God who knows all, loves His people, and works in mysterious ways. My heart is broken, but my faith is strong. May yours be too.

Dreaming of Northern New Mexico

I was in Northern New Mexico this past weekend, and I took some pictures of my dream house and my dream church there. You can click on each picture to see them enlarged.

My dream house in Taos, NM. Looks like the roof needs some work, but just look at the setting!

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My dream church in Pojoaque, NM. I don’t think they’d have me as it’s a Catholic Church, but the building and setting is exhilarating!

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The Need for Intimacy Among Men

To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it. C.S. Lewis

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On August 27th, I led a men’s breakfast at Foothills Fellowship. My goal was to help men see the need for intimate male relationships, encourage them to be willing to explore this concept more, and eventually pursue such relationships. I gave them 6 reasons why I decided to speak on this topic.

1. Occasionally, I find myself telling my wife, Michelle, “I don’t need close male friends. I have you.” Emotionally, I may convince myself of this, but theologically, I know this is not right.

2. Most churches (including mine) stink at keeping single men connected to the church after high school. Perhaps one of the main reasons is that there aren’t any older men relationally connecting with these younger men.

3. Churches must have an answer for single men who struggle with same-sex attraction but want to honor God by remaining celibate. Deep and meaningful relationships with other men and families in the church is pivotal for helping these men stay connected to their faith and keep their commitment to celibacy. I recently blogged on this.

4. In college, I enjoyed deep male friendships, and I miss it. However, once I was married and had children, these relationships faded. Men must figure out ways to stay connected to one another after marriage.

Yes. That’s me on the right! And yes, I was in college. A senior as a matter of fact!

5. The Bible calls us to deep, intimate relationships with other Christian men, but our culture has made this almost impossible.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in Maidenhead, UK explains why: “Our Western culture has so identified sex and intimacy that in popular thinking the two are virtually identical. We cannot conceive of intimacy occurring without it in some way being sexual. So when we hear how previous generations described friendship in such intimate terms, we roll our eyes and say, “Well they were obviously gay.” Any intimacy, we imagine, must ultimately be sexual. But the Bible conceives of these things very differently. Sex and intimacy are not the same. It’s possible to have a lot of sex and yet find no intimacy. Sex is designed to deepen and express intimacy that already exists; it cannot in itself create it. But it’s also possible to have a huge amount of godly, healthy intimacy without sex.”

6. Men’s discipleship and sanctification is dependent upon deep relationships with Christian male friends. Proverbs 27:17 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Iron tools are made sharp, and fit for use, by rubbing them against the file, or some other iron; so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend. He quickens his ingenuity, enlivens his affections, strengthens his judgment, excites him to virtuous and useful actions, and makes him, in all respects, a better, more godly man.

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There are other Scriptures that point to the need for intimate relationships between Christians (men in this case).

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. I read this passage at most marriage ceremonies I perform, but gender is not specified here.

Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. A friend is sent into the world of another for this among other ends, that he might comfort and relieve his brother in his adversity.

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. This denotes the affection that ought to exist between spiritual brothers and is a badge of discipleship. To “outdo” one another means going before, leading, setting an example.

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Christians are called to love one another – and this goes for men too. By doing this 1) it gives evidence that we are Christ’s disciples and 2) it shows unsaved people that we follow Christ.

John 15:12-13 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” This is what Christ did for us. This is what we should be willing to do for others – including our brothers in Christ.

in I Samuel 18-20, we see the ultimate example of an intimate male relationship in David and Jonathan.  We see that “the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Once Jonathan realized that he would never assume the throne of his father because of his father’s sin and that David was God’s choice to be the next king, he made a covenant with David (rather than try to kill him) because “he loved him as his own soul.” In an act of great humility and love, Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his girdle.

The last time they ever saw each other, Scripture says that “David fell on his face to the ground, and bowed three times; and they kissed one another, and wept with one another.” Jonathan was eventually killed, and David eventually became king, but their friendship and loyalty lasted long after Jonathan’s death. In 2 Samuel 9, we see David caring for Jonathan’s son as his own. “I will show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan, and I will restore to you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat at my table always.”

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Christian men need friendships like this, and it can happen. Pray that God would show you a man of two with whom you can work toward developing a deep and intimate relationship. It will take work and great intention, but it’s worth it. As a matter of fact, your sanctification depends on it!

To see more of these great old photos of men with their buddies and to read about the history of male friendship in America, click here.

To listen to the audio of the men’s breakfast discussion I had with the men from Foothills, click here.

The Significance of Palm Sunday

If you’re a part of Foothills Fellowship in Albuquerque, then read this post as it is a bit more specific to our worship environment.

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Palm Sunday is important. It’s the day that we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It’s the beginning of what Christians call, “Holy Week” – a week that began with celebration and ended with Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.  On that day long ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time.  Many times before, He had entered the city quietly, but this time when He entered, the Jews thought their long awaited Messiah, king, and rescuer had arrived, so they celebrated by cheering, dancing, and yelling out shouts of “Hosanna in the Highest!”  The people were right that Jesus was their Messiah, king, and rescuer, but they were wrong in what His rule, reign, and rescue would look like – and for that, they killed him by the end of the week.

Palm Sunday is profound.  It’s profound because what God did that day by presenting Jesus as King, He does every time God’s people gather together for worship.  This is why our Sunday worship service is SO VITAL to our spiritual lives. The worship of God is the highest purpose of mankind.  It’s the reason for our existence. It’s why we have breath and life.  So, if God presents Jesus as King when His people gather together for worship like He did that first Palm Sunday, then Christians MUST make gathering for worship a priority every week.

Palm Sunday teaches us about how to worship. When Jesus was presented as King on that day, His disciples responded with enthusiastic worship.  Luke 19:37-38 says that “the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!'”  When we gather, do we come even thinking about rejoicing and praising God with a loud voice?  When God presents His Son as King when we gather every Sunday, are you ready to worship?  When the songs begin, are you ready to sing?  Are you ready to hear the Scripture when it’s read and attentively listen when it’s preached?  And are you ready to go and live for Christ and proclaim His glory when you leave?

May we prepare ourselves for worship every week, and when God presents His Son to us as King, may we be ready to respond enthusiastically, sincerely, and with great joy.

Smaller Is Better – For Me

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I pastor a church where 225 people call themselves “regular attenders” and another 60 or so are “trying us out” on any given month.  When people ask me about my church, I often refer to it as a “small” church, because I know of several larger churches.  However, it looks like I’m wrong.

According to Outreach Magazine, 90% of the churches in the world have fewer than 200 people, and 80% have fewer than 100.  Most pastors will spend the majority of their ministry in small churches. 90% will never pastor a church larger than 200 people.

I love my church – the people that is (as opposed to the building or institution) – and I’m very content (and blessed) to be their pastor.  We may be considered “large” by comparison to the rest of the world, but I’m glad we’re not too large.  Years ago, I was offered a position to pastor a church that at the time had 1,000 attenders.  At the same time, I was offered the position I’m currently in.  I had to decide between pastoring  a “large” church or a “small” one.

the-pastorIt just so happened that when I was faced with this decision, I was reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir called The Pastor.  In it, he talked about the “small” church of 300 people that he pastored for 30 years, and in great detail, he described the deep connections he was able to make.  He said that because of the smaller size, he was able to “know” everyone in the church.

This really made an impact on me because at the time, I was serving as an associate pastor at the 1,000 member church and felt unsettled not being able to connect with and know all those people.  Especially unsettling was when people would come up to me during the week in public and tell me how my preaching was making a difference in their lives, and until that meeting, I had never seen them before.

I don’t have a problem with big churches; God has just made it clear to me that smaller is better – for me.  I’m glad that I “know” the people of my church, and I Iove that they invite me into their lives.

But armed with these newly discovered statistics, I may just tell people – when they ask – that I pastor a “very large” church – one of the top 10% in size churches in the world!

Cool Church is NOT Cool

cool-churchChurch attendance has plummeted among young adults. In the U.S. 59% of people 18 to 29 with a Christian background have, at some point, dropped out. According to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, among those who came of age around the year 2000, a solid quarter claim no religious affiliation, making them significantly more disconnected from faith than Gen-Xers were at a comparable point in their lives and twice as detached as Boomers were as young adults.

In response, many churches have sought to lure Millennials back by focusing on style points: cooler bands, hipper worship, edgier programming and impressive technology.

Recent Barna Group research found 67% of Millennials prefer a “classic” church over a “trendy” one, and 77% would choose a “sanctuary” over an “auditorium.” They also exhibit an increasing aversion to exclusive, closed-minded religious communities masquerading as hip places.

Barna’s David Kinnaman said “Millennials are not disillusioned with tradition; they are frustrated with slick or shallow expressions of religion.”