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Friday, December 29, 2006

Hope you (both of my readers) are having a great holiday season. The new year is always such a cool time because of the renewal of hope it brings for most people. It's as if we feel like we have a new slate to write life on. Hope your new year inspires you to great things and brings you many steps closer to your dreams.

I read an interesting story yesterday. I was reading the Atlanta paper on the internet as I do every morning (how else can a Georgia boy in TN keep up with his favorite teams?) Anyway, the story shared that the man who won the Michigan lottery in April, 2005 died this week from a heart attack at age 43. Left his wife with $125 million but...no husband. Think she'd trade every bit of it to have him back? I'd like to think so but, in our society, you never know. However, the story reminded me of a refrigerator magnet I've seen many times. It reads, "Just when I get it all together, I forget where I put it."

Put yourself in that man's shoes a year ago. He's worked all his life trying to get it all, to accomplish that dream of having everything he wants. Who knows how many lottery tickets he had bought over the course of his life while waiting for his ship to come in? Think about all those feelings he had this past 20 months--paying taxes, finding new family and friends he never knew he had, getting some cool things he'd always wanted and, surely, buying many things he never really needed in the first place. Now, put yourself in his place the first 5 minutes after he's gone. Can you imagine what he felt? Honestly, I can't. Was he angry? Was he sad? What was his relationship with God? Did he get to heaven and find out that all he had could not compare with all he was about to receive? Or, was his destination hell, where he would gladly trade it all and much, much more in order to have another chance to get it right?

I want you to think for this reason--you and I have the unique ability to "do over." You know what I'm talkng about? Like in the back yard basketball game when you make a mistake and you simply say, "My bad, let's do over." We get to do that. As long as we walk this earth, we have the distinct pleasure of starting every day new with a God who allows "do overs." All we must do is ask for his grace, receive his forgiveness, repent of those mistakes and move forward. We can "do over. " But only with Him and only by His grace. I know "Mr. Lottery" would do it all over again if he could. Who wouldn't? Honestly, who wouldn't choose to have a second chance to love deeper, live better, dance longer, sing louder or to make their life count for more than just a statistic in their 70+ years? I know I would. Perhaps you would too. And you can. Here's hoping your New Year is every thing you dreamed, everything He planned. And remember, you don't have to have the lottery to have it all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sunday evening I found myself sitting at the Pope’s Table. Okay, before you start to worry and think I may have hit my head while hanging mistletoe or something, I was at a local Italian restaurant with one of our church's LIFE groups enjoying a Christmas dinner. The table had enough room for 14—there were 19 of us. We were so close together, we had to take turns eating to prevent the crashing of elbows. There was this “lazy Susan” in the middle where they would bring out food and it would circle the table. I patiently waited for the low calorie options that never seemed to come. Instead, I dove into the Chocolate Vesuvia—a healthy dish despite its name (the sound you hear is the LIFE group laughing at that suggestion). It was about 3 tiny bites into “heaven”, er, desert that I sat back and began to ponder the situation. Around this table were people I had known for years. There were others who did not know I existed just a year ago. To my left and right sat two of the best friends I have and their exceptionally better-halves. The only thing I could think was, “Life is good.” I know it sounds like a beer commercial but can life get any better than when it’s done with people you love and respect? Is there any other way to live the God life than in the company of people you know and who know you—I mean really know you?

Let me be really transparent with you. Just an hour before that meal, I was trying to think of every reason in the world not to go. Not because I didn’t want to be there and not because I don’t love those people. Simply put, it was because I was in a place that Satan wanted me—tired, frustrated, whiny, and complaining about my lot in life and why I have to be “alone” this Christmas. As I took those last bites of chocolate, I was reminded that I don’t have to be alone—not at Christmas nor at any other time of the year. I have a God who loves me desperately. I have a family—physical and spiritual—that he has given to me. I have friends who would carry me as far as I needed them to. Life is so much better when it’s done this way. Let me encourage you with two thoughts. One, if my pre-meal mood describes you this season, decide now that you will not face life the way the enemy wants you to. You are loved by God and by others. Won’t you make a commitment to be in community with others who are following after the One who loves you most? Secondly, if you can’t relate to that mood, understand that there are others who do. Will you make every effort to extend your love to them this Christmas, to relieve their loneliness and to remind them in the most concrete ways possible that they are loved? Eighteen of my closest friends did that very thing for me last Sunday. I am a blessed man because of it. Thank you, God, for Ridgeview. Thank you, God, for friends and family. Thank you, God, for Chocolate Vesuvia.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wow. I can't believe it's been so long since I typed my last entry. For any of your who care, sorry that it took so long. I guess the holidays have kind of sapped a good bit of my time. Last month, I had the privilege of returning to the seminary I graduated from and delivering the message at the chapel service there (www.swbts.edu). I had the opportunity to share my story and challenge some of the men and women who are preparing for ministry there. I was kind of floored by the response to that message. Just today I received two more e-mails from people who had heard the archived message on the website. I have learned something from these last two years. This world is filled with hurt. It comes in all shapes and sizes and, honestly, no one is spared. I guess that's why I want to tell others about the peace that comes from knowing Christ. And that's why that message strikes home for so many who are on this journey through life. I promise to write more often if you'll continue to read. And hopefully, the words that I share will continue to offer some peace to others who are living through pain.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I can't believe it has been so long since my last writing. I can assure you it is not because I don't have anything to say. I sometimes am amazed that people like to read this thing--that somehow my thoughts and feelings matter to anyone else. On the other hand, I know how much it has helped me when others have been transparent about their feelings and thoughts as they walk through life. I pray that my words can somehow challenge someone to feel a little more normal, a lot more hopeful and maybe feel like the "chaos" of life can be made a little simpler.
One of the things that has broken my heart over the last two years is the fragile state of relationships in America. We've all heard the statistics about 50% of marriages ending in divorce and stuff. But it goes way deeper than that. For the last two years, the different "hats" I wear as an individual have allowed me to see some things that have saddened me. As a pastor, I have been involved with dozens of struggling marriages. I have seen men and women who are hurt deeply by the rejection of their love or betrayal of their commitments. These are good people. They are people like you and me. I hate watching it happen--for them and for their kids. There have been so many instances where I just wanted to sit down with one spouse or another and say, "Do you see how stupid or selfish (or you fill in the word here) you are being?" Honestly, I think I have done that a few times.
Then, as I dad, I have watched from the sidelines of my kids games as children "performed" to meet the pressures of their parents (just one symptom of broken relationships between many parents and their kids). Before any of you women get riled up and jump on all the dads, I have discovered that there are mothers who are just as bad. And there are also kids who you would never know had parents. They are shuttled off to the games with neighbors or friends and then returned and deposited at their doorstep so that they can report the day's activities.
Finally, as a single man, I have come in contact with hundreds of men and women who are longing for intimacy with the right person. Tragically, I see men retreating to bars and pornogrpahy to grab their comfort. Meanwhile, women retreat to churches and volunteering at their schools hoping to find their security and their meaning. What usually happens is that, women who have no support system and no accountability, wind up compromising their values just to have a man. Men, on the other hand, discover that there are enough women willing to do that so they don't have to commit to anyone. They don't have to give up the bar scene or the corporate ladder or the games they play. Sadly, until we get the men back in church and support the women enough so that they can wait on the right man, the two of them will never find each other on the right turf.
I've talked a lot about relationships and doing life together in these blogs. I think this is another area where it is crucial. Not only does shared life help strengthen the good, it helps hurting ones to recover and to stand again. It shows young kids what normal relationships look like. It models for adults what parenthood should be and what their marriages could be. When we do life together, we learn from each others mistakes. We are emboldened by the prayers we pray for each other. We are challenged by the stories that we hear and the ones that are lived in front of us on a daily basis. I guess what I'm trying to say in a nutshell is this, don't do life alone. Don't give up on relationships. Know that God has something better than a broken home, a battered friendship, or a bruised ego. Man, does God have so much more than you and I are usually settling for! But, to get there means that you must surrender, you must give 100% of who you are to Him in order that He can make it what it should be. The restoration process is not an easy one, not a short and, most definitely, not a comfortable one. But it is well worth the journey!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I hate election time. I don't think I'm the only one based on conversations I have with other people. It's not the whole democratic process or the responsibility of voting. I love those privilegs and do my part to take advantage of the liberties we enjoy. It's more about the "ugly" side of human nature. Even the most wonderful people turn into political pundits or biting critics of their opponents. And the truth is, it's not about voting for the right people anymore. It's more about voting for the lesser of the evils. Every candidate has a nasty trail leading to their past. Every candidate (it would seem) has been a liar, a cheater, a thief or an adulterer (this one doesn't seem to bother people as much anymore). What usually happens is that some of the best candidates for office choose not to run or run again because they don't want the shame or the embarassment that it would cause their families, their supporters and themselves. Who can blame them? Our political races are a reflection of our culture. The one with the quickest cut down is the funniest. The smartest comeback or the best retaliation wins more votes and respect than the actual qualities of the candidate. How can the good guys win (just an expression, ladies, I know there are good women candidates as well) when no one can really tell who the good guys are any more?
Which brings me back to thoughts of faith. Is the church any different? Is it any wonder that some of the best leaders have cowered from using their gifts because they are afraid that some self-appointed critic will tear apart their character? Worse yet, how about those who want to follow after Christ but are afraid that submission to Him would cause others to question their intentions or to bring up their past? The Bible says that Satan is the "accuser of the brothers" (Revelation 12:10). It is his nature that causes us to want to hurt, to condemn, to convict and to judge each other. Isn't it refreshing when we find a church where people are free to admit their failures and to find strength to follow Christ? That's what doing life together is all about. It's not our place to condemn or judge the eternal destiny of others. Our job is to surround each other with the encouragement it takes to run the race in spite of the failures that plague all of us. Let us commit to follow after Christ, together, enabling each other to untangle from sin and run more freely. "How can I help you" should be a mantra for every believer? Funny thought. What do you think it would do for our political races if every candidate humbled himself and asked that very question? After all, they are "public servants?"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You find God in the most interesting places. Some times we try to limit Him to a verse of Scripture or the words of some great speaker (testifying on behalf of all speakers, that's a lot of pressure). But God can use anyone or anything to challenge us, direct us or encourage us. Take today for instance. It's yucky here--cloudy, cool, off-and-on rain showers. It is a great day to just stay in bed. Especially when you wake up lonely again. So, I got the kids ready, got them off to school and then crawled back in bed for a few minutes with no real intention of forcing myself out of bed. I didn't really want to sleep so I turned on the TV. I have no idea what movie it was nor do I want to take the time to recount all the details. I was playing through my mind the things I know to be true. "I need to be up and busy. I have a really good life. There are others who need me and count on me and I cannot let them down. God will get me through these moments if I will just ask." Nothing seemed to be motivating me to move. I had even had a friend who e-mailed this morning to say the same kind of things were plaguing her (this one's for you "A"). Then, from the screen spoke God. Not really, I haven't completely lost it. But from the mouth of this old actor came the thing I needed most this morning. Here's what he said, "You know why so many people are afraid of dying Joey (the name is irrelevant here, he meant Ridley). They are afraid of dying for the same reason so many people are afraid of living...they're not sure where they're going." Now, you might read that and go "whoopee". No big eye-popping statement. I already knew that. Me too. The difference is that, at that moment, I needed to be reminded that I do know where I am going. I know how to get there. I know what God wants for me and from me and (this part the actor didn't say, God picked it up from there) I've got absolutely no reason not to live. I'm not talking about walking, breathing, eating and sleeping. I'm talking about really living. I'm talking about knowing where I'm going and heading there full speed. I love the way that Peterson puts it in his paraphrase of the Bible called The Message. "Take your everyday, ordinary life--your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life--and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him....fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out." Romans 12:1-2 MSG
Does that mean I'm good? That everything is fixed just because some kooky actor had a good line in a movie? N0. Wish it did. But what it does mean is that God wants all of me, not just the pretty pictures. He wants the days that are gloomy and sad. He wants me when I'm alone. He wants me when I'm frustrated. Whatever the case, He wants me. And because He does, I know exactly where I'm going. I have no fear of death. No fear of being alone. No fear of being single the rest of my life or raising two kids on my own. And, if God should choose, I don't have to be afraid of marrying again when the time comes. I don't want to get caught "not living life" when there is so much life left to live. So, I will choose to embrace God. I will choose to offer ALL of me to him today and every day. I will not be afraid to let Him see all of me (He already does anyway). And I won't be afraid to go back to bed, watch another old movie and continue this conversation we started. It may well have been the most "spiritual" part of my week. Hope you have yours!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I hate waiting. Anyone who has known me any length of time can tell you that I like to see things happen and make them happen. Patience is NOT my middle name. I think it's always been that way for me. And that's why it is so hard for me to read verses in Scripture like the one I read today. "Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:14 NIV Why is this such an issue? Why does God say so much to us (to me) about being still, having patience and waiting? I believe it's because all good things take time. You've heard the expressions. "Champions aren't built overnight. Rome wasn't built in a day. Good things come to those who wait" (there's that word again). The truth is, spiritual transformation lies at the heart of all these discussions for the believer. Paul tells us that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. That word brings to mind the metamorphosis that takes place when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. There is no microwave version. For that caterpillar, the wait must be excruciating. Especially if he is impatient like me. And so, I am learning to be still and wait. I want to be more for Christ. I want to see answers to problems and prayer requests that are granted via spiritual "drive throughs". But God gently reminds me that what I desire may be good; what He desires for me is best. In order to have that I have to be transformed and transformation takes time. I may not know immediately what He desires for me. I may only know what He wants for this next minute or next hour. And, if I am to be made into the likeness of Christ (the ultimate goal of every Christ follower), then I must be content with that. In the mean time, I think I'll take another bite of my muffin and wait. I mean, if you got to wait, you might as well drop the stress and enjoy the minutes as they pass...right?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I just got back from a visit to SW Montana. What an amazing place! I love being in the mountains--the amazing scenery, the wildlife, the rugged nature of everything that's there. I had made the trip with some of our staff to make preparations for an upcoming mission trip with our church. As the three of us wound our way through the mountain ranges, I was like a little kid looking for the next sign of deer, moose or elk. There was one thought that kept rolling around in my mind. This beauty, all of it, was orchestrated by the hand of an amazing God. There was nothing left to chance, no need that was not contemplated as He formed it all in His mind and then created it with His words. And I was pulled back to the passage of Scripture where Jesus says for us to think about the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Even the smallest parts of God's creation are cared for. He knows when each lily fades and when each sparrow's life ends. Why do I worry about life? How can I believe that one part of my finite mind could "aid" God in taking care of me? Through everything that I have been through and all that still remains, there is not one minute of it that has surprised God. He's got it covered--the pain, the trials, the temptations and the suffering. Through every joy and laugh, through every loss and tear, there's not one thing about my life that God cannot handle if I will but trust Him. Now, that's an easy thing to talk about but a little harder to put into practice. I just got through looking at my checkbook. Talk about trusting God. Where does it all go? You get one paycheck deposited and you are already looking for the next. Even there, I must trust Him to care for my needs and to love me more than I can love myself. I need to know that. I need to trust that. More than anything else, I must allow that to transform how I live my life and how I go through each day. In the end, it's the only real way to live life.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

One of the most familiar passages in all of Scripture is this: "and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." 1 Corinthians 13:13. I have been thinking about these words as I recapped a trip to Chicago for a conference last week. One of the speakers used this passage to talk to us about many things--I held tightly to one. There are a lot of things in this life that compete for our attention. Many of them are very legitimate concerns--family, jobs, school, friends. However, the essence of our life boils down to these three things: faith, hope and love. Every man desires to know that there is something bigger than himself, something that he can place his faith in. Without it, life can seem so out of control and beyond the scope of our understanding. Living life in the absence of God insures that chaos will be the rule. It is God who provides order, God who gives meaning and God who handles life--even the things that we think we have control of.

Hope brings to mind the things that are yet to come. Take away hope and man's life is worthless. I read years ago about some prisoners in a POW camp during World War II. They were given the task daily of moving a huge pile of rock and debris from one side of the compound to the other. Then, the next day, they would come out and move the same pile back to its original location. This continued day after day. The man sharing the story told how so many of his friends lost hope. They saw the futility of their labor and the grim nature of their surroundings. Most of these prisoners died from lack of hope; others lost their mind because of the situation they were presented with. When man has no hope, he has no life. Just look at T.O. (Terrell Owens, wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys). After an accidental overdose (some suggested it was a possible suicide) last week, his publicist, Kim Etheredge, told the press that claims about suicide were not valid. She said (I quote), "T. O. has 25 million reasons to live." (an obvious reference to his $25 million contract). Is that all a man is worth? Is the limit of what he can say about his life found in this--that he had a really good contract? When it is all said and done, God assured us that all the things of this earth would be gone (all 25 million reasons that T.O. lives). What then? Where is his hope...and the rest of the world's for that matter?

Then there is love. The song says it's what the world needs now. Christ said it 2000 years ago. In fact, He believed so strongly in its power, He said that the whole world would know who followed him by our love. Not our contracts. Not our talent. Not our performances. Not our cathedrals or our programs or our political agendas...just love.

This is what life is all about. Paul said it, not me. It comes down to the fact that the meaning of life is found in our faith in God (that higher power). His existence validates ours. His strength and love give us hope that there is something beyond beauty and power and success and prestige. We have a hope that there is a tomorrow that holds more for us. And, with hope and faith, we can love. We can love knowing that He first loved us. We can love knowing that His love paid the ultimate price for us. We can love others knowing that in Christ Jesus, there is great freedom and promise and faith and hope...and plenty of unconditional love.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I wanted to "cheat" a little and use one of the articles I recently sent to my church family here in TN. I think it is something that all men desperately need to read and a challenge that the Christian brothers should accept. I hope you'll agree.

Every Monday morning at 9 a.m., the RCC staff joins around my dining room table (aka the Ridgeview Conference room) for a time of staff planning. We begin each meeting with prayer and discussion regarding spiritual concerns facing our church family. There are prayers of thanksgiving, prayers for healing, prayers for direction, etc. There is one prayer concern that has been on our list for many months now and continues to be of the greatest concern to me. About half way down our prayer list is a request—“prayer on behalf of the RCC marriages.” You see, as I write this, I can think of several families in our church who are in the midst of spiritual warfare regarding their families. Sometimes the cause is financial. Other times it is because of communication. Sometimes the finger can be pointed at poor choices that one or the other spouses has made. Behind every cause is the enemy that we talk about so casually—Satan. He wants to destroy us, our families and our nation. He wants to see us living destroyed, defeated and chaotic lives. What better way to dismantle God’s plan for mankind than to attack one of the first gifts He ever gave us—marriage. Now, the reasons for my sharing this are two-fold. First, to remind all of us how important it is that we pray for each other. We are better together. There is no doubt about that. And my life and your life are made much easier when we are “knotted” together with others in prayer for each other. We should make it a daily commitment to pray for each other—that’s how you “do life together.” The second reason is directed specifically at the men. I can say this because I am one. When are we going to do what God has commissioned us to do as head of our families? When will we take responsibility for the physical safety, emotional stability and spiritual security of our families? How many of us are spending as much time on our knees praying as we are surfing the net or watching our favorite teams? When’s the last time we set aside a whole Saturday to invest in our kids or a whole weeknight to date our wives? Have we bought into the lie that more money and success will satisfy our families or bring them more fulfillment? Or, have we uncovered the truth that the best investment we make as men is in our own personal relationship with God? You see, most of the problems I see as a pastor (even with women who have gone through divorces) can be attributed to the abandonment of Godly principles by our men. When there is work to be done in the church, it is women who lead the way (especially when it comes to working with children). When there is praying to be done, women are considered to be our prayer warriors. When compassion is needed for someone in our community, it is the heart of a woman who drives the response. The question I must ask you is this: what kind of church would we be if our men spent as much time talking about faith as they spent talking about the Titans (and they aren’t even worth talking about these days)? Revival in our churches and victory over the enemy will only come by the hand of God. However, I am increasingly convinced that God is waiting on men who are completely surrendered to Him who will be used as catalysts for this movement. Will you join me in praying for a resurgence of Godly men in our fellowships? More importantly, if you are a man, will you join me in praying that God will use us to re-discover what being a real man is all about?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Fear

There are two kinds of fear. There is fear that paralyzes us, that causes us to freeze or to flee and to never accomplish all that God has purposed for us. Then there is a fear that humbles us, that puts our lives in proper perspective. I was reminded of these this morning by a friend's e-mail. There is a scene in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe where Lucy and Mr. Beaver are having a conversation about the powerful King Aslan. Lucy asks, "Is he quite safe?" Mr. Beaver responds, "Safe? Safe? Who said anything about being safe? Of course he's not safe. But he is good." Isn't that amazing? God is not safe. Following God is not safe. Rather, following after the mystery of Christ is placing ourselves recklessly in the hands of an incredible God we cannot see or touch. He is not safe, but he is very good. This world with all of its pain and sin and death and broken relationships and car wrecks and stuff is a world full of fears...and nothing else. But the world we live for--that amazing Kingdom of Heaven we read so much about--is a place where fear melts away under the overarching theme of the universe: NO! God is not safe but He is very, very good. Whatever your fear today--the dreaded conversation, the inevitable phone call, the relationship that seems at its end--face that fear with this mantra in your heart: "In the presence of a very good God who loves me and wants the best for me, there is no fear. Whatever may come, I will trust in Him."

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

How hard it is to tame the tongue--even in the most innocent of situations. The Bible says to "not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs." On the surface that seems like such a logical command. However, in practice, we find from experience how deep the words of others can cut to our soul. After the accident, there were so many people who tried to offer words of comfort and support. They were wonderful. It is not a stretch to say that the kids and I would be completely different if it weren't for those affirmations during that critical time. But, some equally well intentioned people did not have such encouraging things to say. Many times, there were words and prayers that came from ignorance, selfishness and even anger. There were some who could not understand why we would do such a thing or say such a word. When I preached just two days after my wife's death on Easter Sunday, there were some who said I was out of line and should never have attempted such a thing. God bless them. They really did mean well. They still do. You still do. I still do. Often the things we say are not meant to hurt or to tear down, they are simply words that were not well thought out. The encouragement for us today is that we should speak and speak often to encourage one another. But words should never be spoken without much thought and, when those words still come out wrong, never be afraid to say "I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you." Our words hold both healing and hurt in them. They can raise the lowest soul or can sink the highest spirit. Be careful what you say today. The few phrases you and I utter may change somone's life immensely--let it be for their good and His glory.

Friday, September 15, 2006

It's been great reading the comments that have come from doing this blog (all 3 of the readers, thanks Mom!). Seriously, I am very encouraged that people have taken the time to read and have drawn encouragement from some of the ramblings I have chosen to put on this page. I've even had a couple of opportunities to refer some people to this page who have gone through similar problems. I want this to be a ministry (maybe it's more accurate to say a part of my ministry). I know it will be a ministry to my spirit to write down things as they are on my heart--and it won't always be about my life or the accident we had. But I want to minister to those of you who take the time to read and think about what's being said. I want to talk about what matters to us and to our families, the things that really cause us to stop and think about life. However, I also know that this cannot replace the value of human touch. Studies show that 8 to 10 meaningful touches a day or necessary for a meaningful life and for a sense of fulfillment. Whether it's a hug or a warm handshake, holding hands with your spouse or wrestling with a child, touch means so much to us that we cannot underestimate its importance during the trials of life. I pray that you have those significant moments during the hard times when someone can sit and hold your hand or wrap you in their arms. Don't devalue those times and don't short change their importance. I'm off to get my 20 meaningful touches today (hey, I'm a big man--I need more than most). Hope you find yourself in the embrace of a friend or loved one today.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I awoke this morning with a tremendous sense of urgency...to roll over and stay in bed. After hitting the snooze, I was very convinced that I could have stayed there all morning. Then I was reminded that there were two little angels upstairs that I had to get ready and get off to school. So I rolled back onto my back and began to pray a prayer I have prayed many times in the last couple of years. "God, I don't want to get up. Quite frankly, I feel like I could lay here a good, long while. But that's not your plan for me today so I will get up. In order to do that, I'm going to need your help--mentally, emotionally, physically. So...as soon as your ready, I'll get up."
Truth is, this has happened more than I care to admit. I'm actually a morning person. But I get to points where I feel so overwhelmed and overmatched and overscheduled and overlooked that I really just don't feel like I can move any further. Some have suggested it is depression. Maybe. I tend to believe it's just "single parent exhaustion" (SPE--that way it sounds more scientific). Like today. It's my day off. So, what will I do for my day off? First, I must respond to e-mails that fill my inbox. Then, I will move outdoors to cut the grass. Hopefully, I will get done in plenty of time to do something I love to do--eat lunch at school with my kids. That's made a little more difficult by the fact that they are in separate schools for the first time this year. Then, I'll run to the grocery store, come home and start laundry and supper, check e-mails again and, if all is done in a precision-like manner, I may have a few minutes before my kids get home to sit down and read a few pages of one of the books that are piled on my desk. I'm not counting on that, however. After the kids are fed, the dishes are washed and the kitchen is cleaned, we'll get the kids showered, their homework done and prayer time. My "day off" will come to an end and I'll make myself ready for another morning of SPE tomorrow. But before I do, I'll go to sleep thanking God for another day--every single minute of it. For grass that grows and kids that grow even faster. For the money to buy groceries and to have clothes. For kids that love to snuggle with their dad, even as my boy grows older (he doesn't call it snuggling. For him, it's wrestling. That's okay, he can call it what he wants). I've got no reason to complain and many reasons to pray that prayer again in the morning, "God, I don't want to get out of bed but you've got a bigger plan..."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Surrounded. That word evokes a lot of different images for people. My first thought when I hear the word is the old Westerns I used to watch with my dad growing up. Images of the good guys surrounded by those who would wish to take their life and to destroy it. In those movies, the good guys would take hits and injuries but would always seem to prevail. The Cavalry would arrive or some hero would show up in the nick of time. There's another image that comes from that word surrounded. It's the image of a cold Winter day when it's frigid outside and I'm wrapped up in a throw blanket on the couch. Or, maybe spending a few extra minutes in the bed up to my eyes with sheets and comforters. It's a great feeling--that warmth and closeness and satisfaction. That's the feeling I had this morning. I just got back yesterday from a weekend long family reunion. Talk about being surrounded--our clan numbers almost 100 when we get together for these annual events. I am surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins and their spouses, and more loved ones than I could even remember at this point. And I am surrounded--not just by family but by this overwhelming reminder that God is good. There are many things that can strengthen my faith. One of those is sharing time with family. It reminds me that God created us to have relationships; that, out of all the relationships he gave, family should be the best. He reminds me that, when it's done right, marriage is the most precious of those family relationships. And...He reminds me that He wants to be my Father. Why? Who really knows what makes a Holy God desire to be the parent to a person like me? The answer, I like to think, is that He wants to surround me. In that, there is warmth, there is closeness and there is satisfaction.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Last time I talked about some of the fears that have come into my life since the tragedy. I wanted to continue that thought by sharing another. I think everyone who goes through tragedy asks themselves at some point or another "Am I normal? Are all the things I'm thinking and feeling exactly what they should be?" I remember the first time I thought that--literally within days of the accident. I had already had several recommend counseling (which I agreed with and would recommend to anyone). The problem wasn't their recommendations. It was that there were so many so soon. It made me wonder if something were wrong with me--with my crying, my hurting, and my questioning. I remember reading before the accident that personal grief is like a fingerprint--unique to every person. I thought I understood that when I read it the first time. Then, I came across that statement again just the other day. Man, what a difference time and circumstances make in your perspective. I have come to discover that it's not what you feel as much as the fact that you are given the freedom to feel it without regret. Surrounded by people who love you and care for you, feelings can be shaped into the form they need to take. They can become helpful, healing and constructive emotions. I come back to the importance of transparency and support. It's no wonder that my church (Ridgeview Community Church) has such a community orientation. We value so much the importance of "doing life together" and sharing the journey. There is no way that I could have made it through the last 2 years alone. I dare say that no one can recover from tragedy by themselves. It is the reason that God gave us relationships and made us all to be people who are wired for intimacy with others. I pray you have found your significant others--family, friends, believers and even skeptics--that can help shape you and rebuild you as you face life. Praying for all of you who read today. May you find peace that only He can give.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 29, 2006

It's truly amazing the fears that can enter your thinking after an event like what my family went through. Since that day, I have dealt with loneliness in many different forms. On top of that have been other fears that I had never really experienced, especially with such intensity. For instance, I had never really feared dying. Because of my faith, I just always knew where I'd be if something were to happen. I had no apprehensions about "what lies beyond". I still don't. My fear now centers around the children I would leave behind if I were to go. They have already been through so much. My prayers for safety for all 3 of us are more intense than they used to be and are, honestly, more self-centered as I worry about what they would do if something were to happen to me. Watching the reports on the plane accident in KY yesterday did not ease those fears. As much as I travel with my position as a pastor and speaker, I have to be on the road alot. With family around the SE, the travels are expanded. And with every journey there is this deep passionate cry to God, "Please keep us safe--please keep me safe. Don't let these kids be alone." I know He could handle it. If that were the story that were to be written for them, He could turn it into a beautiful picture just like he has with this loss. I have to trust that the God who knows the future can handle it...all of it. My job is to pray and to live and to trust and to know with confidence that, whatever happens, He will still be God.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17, 2006

Tragedy comes into every life. That's part of living in a world where sin has been allowed to exist. Tragedy does a lot of different things to different people. For one, it may be the reason to trust in God more. For another, it is the sole reason for them to deny God's existence. As it has been said, "The same sun that melts wax also hardens clay." The difference is not in the level of the tragedy or the source of the tragedy. The difference is found in the substance of the person who is touched by the tragedy. What I mean is this...how you and I are changed by the events of our life have far more to do with who we were before the tragedy ever occured than it has to do with the tragedy itself. The make up of our spirit, the confidence of our heart, the strength of our faith and where it is placed will all determine if we are melted or hardened, built up or destroyed. I am very thankful for my background, my family and my faith for all three constructed in me the things I could not give to myself. Because of that, the severe tragedy that struck my family shook us, to be sure, but did not destroy. And all of that, to me, proves there is a God who is not shaken by our catastrophes or blown away be world events. I cannot explain all that He does or does not do, I can only know what I have experienced--the steadfast nature of His hand and the wisdom of all He does.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The reality is that we all worship something. Finding out what that is can tell us a lot about where our time and energy and resourcs will be spent in this life. If success is the focus of our lives, we will spend all we have in order to attain it. If we seek fame, we will muster all of our talent and resources to reach a level of notoriety. If family is the most important thing, we will sacrifice other events and goals in order to keep our commitment to that very thing. And...if we say that God is our priority, it will be revealed by how we embrace this world and what we bring into our lives. The comings and goings of life will be touched in every way possible by the things we most love.
I find it interesting that the root word for our word "priority" was always a singular word. There never was such a thing as more than one priority. In other words, it was either your priority or it wasn't. Today we list numerous priorities in our lives but we can only worship one--only one thing or person or goal can occupy the top spot in our lives. I think its fascinating to watch as people try to convince themselves (and everyone around them) that this thing or that is a priority for them. All the while, even the most casual observer can see that they are only fooling themselves. They may say they love "A" but it is obvious that "B" or "C" is the center of their lives. How much easier it is to find and know what you worship. To not chase the wind or follow after things that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things. How many wasted hours could we save or fruitless dollars that would not be spent if we would live what our hearts reveal to be true about us? That is true integrity--when what we say is most important really serves as the very center of our being. Till next time...

Monday, August 07, 2006

"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book." Psalm 56:8 NLT.
More times than I can remember over the last two years, these words and others just like them have brought me great comfort. How amazing it is that the God of the universe feels the loneliness that has invaded my heart from time to time over these last months. I could not have done it alone--friends, family, church and God (not necessarily in that order). I have learned that going through a tragedy of these proportions necessitates a transparency beyond the norm. It is no time to hide behind walls or to keep people at arm's length. Welcome the love, the embrace, the encouragement, the support--no time for pride. And...rest securely in the thought of knowing that every tear, whether it be from anger or sadness--is welcomed and counted by God.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

August 5, 2006

I just read an interesting article. It talks about the loneliness that seems to be growing in a nation of almost 300 million people. How strange it is that we have better tools for communication and more ways to do it but that we have forgotten what it means to trust someone. How strange it is that we watch reality shows that supposedly take us inside the "private" lives of so many people (that's a subject for another day) but we can't walk across the street or across the yard to share a moment with our neighbors. I see it every day in the faces of people--wanting to be known but afraid to drop their guard. Wanting to be on a new level of intimacy with someone but afraid to find out that they might be different or weird. It's a sad state for us to exist in. It's part of why I do what I do as a pastor. I really feel like that the church community, when it's done right (and it's not often done right), can be such an answer to the loneliness and isolation that fills our hearts. It's a way to find travelers who are moving in the same direction, sharing the same fears and looking for the same help to get where they are headed. I love it when those breakthroughs come--when a face turns from deep loneliness to that sense of belonging. At our church, we call it doing life together. And when you've done it that way, I don't know that there is any other way to do it. I hope you find that place, that community, that someone who can know you beyond all the layers you put up. It's the only way to really "do" life. Till next time...

Friday, August 04, 2006

August 4, 2006

There's something kind of scary about doing a blog, as if you are somehow opening parts of yourself to people you may never know or ever see. My hope is that something that is written here will help to make sense of life for some reader (and probably the writer as well). If you continue to read over the days ahead, you'll hear more about me, more about my story. Some days, what I write may make sense to know one but me. Other days, I believe I may write words and phrases that help bring life into focus for some other traveler. Whatever the case, I want the words to be God's so He can use them to write what He will into the minds of those who read (all 3 of you). About me...I'm a single dad with two great kids. We are just two years removed from the loss of my wife and youngest child in a tragic accident. Much of what you read will be the musings of a man who has known success and tragedy, love and loneliness, heartache and joy unspeakable. I'm a church planter (a guy who starts churches for those who aren't familiar with the term). But, way before that, I am a son, brother, father, and follower of Christ. I hope that whatever those phrases mean for you, you will set them aside and see what we can learn together from the journey. So, as your friend and fellow seeker, welcome to my world. Till next time...