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Thursday, December 20, 2007

...and casts no slur on his fellowman. Psalm 15:3 NIV

I guess this is a great one to end with for 2007. That's right, you probably won't hear from me until after the New Year. I hear the crying now but I've pledged to enjoy the holidays with my family. That may or may not include a blog.

My first thought when I read this was our contemporary environment of "political correctness." Maybe you've heard the stink regarding political candidate Mike Huckabee's audacity to wish Americans a "Merry Christmas." (How dare he!!) This isn't about whether or not you like Mike or support his campaign. This isn't really about the commercial or the greeting. It's about the reaction that was created...a reaction that has grown all too familiar in our country.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, why can't we all get along? What is so hard about the command that Christ gave us to love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourself. The man was offering well wishes to all who would receive them...not preaching an evangelistic message. For that matter, who cares if he was? What happened to the right of one man to hold his beliefs and to share them with others? You think Mike's not being slurred? Then how come Barack Obama wished a journalist Merry Christmas this morning after an interview and not one media agency has jumped on his desire to spread Christmas joy.

Now, bringing it closer to home. I have neighbors just like all of you. If you stand on my front porch, you can see one family that celebrates Kwanzaa, another that is Jewish, a couple that don't celebrate a whole lot of anything and then others who obviously celebrate a secular "winter festival." I celebrate Christmas with a capital C-H-R-I-S-T. There are several others in our area of the neighborhood who do as well. You know what? There has never once been a civil war in our neighborhood. There have been no political rallies. No marches in the street, no chanting or cross burning or tire-slashing either. The worst thing that has happened in our neighborhood is some rowdy kids pushed over some one's reindeer. (Deer slayers!!)

Why is that? Because political correctness did not get involved, loving your neighbor did. And common sense reigned supreme. I don't necessarily agree with the way my neighbors celebrate this season. They don't agree with me either. But that doesn't mean I can't value them as human beings and pray that they someday see the difference that Christ makes in my life. Maybe even through the way that I love them. After all, He is what this celebration (the Christmas one) is all about--irregardless of what CNN or People for the Separation of Church and State or the ACLU may say (another subject for another, very long day).

Since this is my last blog for 2007 (possibly) I want to take the time to tell all you guys who read...Merry CHRISTmas!! My prayer is that you and every one else who knows the meaning of Christmas may live that truth from this day forward through 2008. May you and your families have a tremendous Christmas and a blessed and full and growing New Year. Till 2008...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? 3...who does his neighbor no wrong Psalm 15:1,3 NIV

At first glance, this one may appear to be an easy one. You let out a sigh of relief as you think to yourself, "I've never really done anything to harm my neighbor. We live at peace and treat each other pretty well."

I could talk about a whole lot of things today in regards to how we treat our neighbors (understand here that neighbor means more than just the people that live on either side of you. Jesus made it clear that our neighbors were everyone who came in contact with us). We could talk about how we gossip (see yesterday's blog and quit whining about it). We could talk about jealousy or greed (you know you like that new car they are driving or the hot tub on their deck). Any one of these could fall into the category of doing our neighbor wrong. No, you don't physically harm them but any of these behaviors would definitely fall into the category of "doing them wrong."

Here is the thought that hit me as I re-read that verse this morning. What is the greatest wrong that I could do to my neighbor? I thought about the ones that I listed above--even the physical harm. Then, this thought struck me. Isn't it true that the greatest harm that I could bring to my neighbor would not be physical or emotional or financial? Wouldn't the greatest harm be...eternal?

Let me use an illustration to stir your thoughts. Suppose I drove home today to find that my neighbor's house was on fire. Worse than that, he was still upstairs in the house trapped by the flames crackling all around him. As I emerge from my car, I see my neighbor hanging from his upstairs window asking for help, struggling desperately for some way to escape the danger. I shrug, ask him how his day is going, how his wife is feeling today and, if he happens to escape to live another day, if he wants to come and watch the ball game on Saturday. All the while, I neglect to mention the ladder that is leaning in my garage. The one thing he needs is the one thing I don't talk about. I think we could agree that I would have done him wrong.

And, yet, we do. We do all our neighbors wrong when we fail to talk with them about the one thing that really is important. We will gladly talk about our hobbies, our careers, our families or current events. All of these are well and good as you work to establish a relationship with those that God puts in your path. But, if your relationship never opens the door to safety--if you never take the time to share with him the very thing that you know he is looking for--haven't you wronged him?

If you are a Christ follower today, in your heart there is an answer to an age old problem--what is my life all about? Though many would not admit it, people all around you are looking for answers to that perplexing question. Does my life matter? If so, for what? And how do I find what it is that I live for?

You know. And to keep it a secret or deny that you have it is to wrong your neighbor. It is to deny them the very thing that could save them from a life of fruitless searching, desperation and eternal endangerment. The best gift you could offer your neighbors this Christmas would be to open your "garage" and let them know where your peace comes from. A truly "blameless" life is one that cares enough to go that extra mile.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill?... 3 Those who refuse to gossip... Psalm 15:1, 3 NLT

If you didn't think the psalmist was meddling to this point, he definitely dives into your personal life today. Isn't it funny that many churches like to talk about the "big" sins? We are all over abortion and homosexuality and adultery and smoking and drinking. But what about the others...the less obvious ones that are just as abhorrent to God? Gossip is one of those that comes to mind.

One reason no one wants to talk about gossip is that it's just not popular--you hurt everyone when you start preaching against it. That's right--everyone. Oh, we may couch the information in the form of a "prayer request" or the words of a "concerned friend" but the intentions of our heart will tell us something very different. Most of us fall prey to this game of words.

Gossip has hurt more people, ended more relationships and torn apart more churches than we care to admit. The problem lies with every one of us who have ever begun a sentence with the words, "I'm not supposed to say this..." or "Did you hear...".

The truth is, many times, the words can start out innocently enough or with good intentions. But, soon, we have slumped into negativity, criticism and cynicism.

...keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Psalm 34:13 NIV

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. James 1:26 NIV

Here are two keys to help you with "keeping a tight reign on your tongue:"
  • Ask yourself, would I share what I am about to say in front of that person if they were standing here? Are my words meant to heal, restore or build up? If you can't answer affirmatively to the two questions above, keep your mouth shut.
  • Gossip has never happened with just one person. If someone starts to "share" with you, feel free to change the conversation, move on down the road or ask them politely to shut the heck up.

Words can kill spirit, mind and body. It's no wonder that God places such a heavy emphasis on our willingness to speak ONLY the truth in love. And, it's no wonder that David felt compelled to include this in his guidelines for Godliness. Maybe that's why years later James would feel led to write:

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:6 NIV

Let your tongue be filled with praise and honor today...lest you find yourself slipping into the trap that gossip provides.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The last portion of verse two in the 15th Psalm gives us a third guideline for a blameless life. It reads this way, "...who speaks the truth from his heart..." (NIV)

The Amplified Bible translates it this way: "...speaks and thinks the truth in his heart..." (Amp)

Truth, in this day and age, seems to be such an elusive thing. Have you thought about that? I think for many us, it begins at an early age as we watch older role models (parents, siblings, teachers) who "fudge" their way through life by bending the rules, telling half-truths and white lies, and conveniently leaving out all the facts.

Then, the problem is exacerbated by the age of technology that we live in. Computer generated images give Hollywood the ability to fabricate worlds we only picture in our mind. We can't tell real photos from doctored ones. The news is twisted to support one view over another or to sell ads. At the end of the day, it can leave you scratching your head wondering if anyone even knows the truth any more.

But there is still truth...and it can be found. That's something I keep trying to remind my kids. Truth is not truth unless it's ALL truth. Truth with only a touch of falsehood is still a complete lie. The Bible is clear that God honors those who keep truth in their heart and on their lips. Jesus goes so far as to say that the reason this is so is that truth does us good. It sets us free.

Don't believe it? Just ask me. I remember one time as a child (not the only time, I must admit) when I told a little lie. I promise, it was just a little one. Actually, what I did was tell my classmates that I was born on an airplane over the Atlantic. The truth was that I was born in a hospital in Columbus, GA--but that was just too boring. Now, in my elementary mindset, I justified it by the fact that most of the story was true. I was born. I did have a mother. I even called her by her correct name. That whole business about a trans-Atlantic birth was irrelevant to the story anyway. Or so I thought.

Then one friend passed the story to another who passed it to another and then on to a teacher. With each re-telling, the story got a little bolder and I got asked more questions. The problem is, I never denied the original lie NOR did I squelch the growing rumors that had attached themselves to the original story. By the time it had reached my home room teacher, it was a narrative on the scope of War and Peace. The biggest problem was that the teacher knew my mom and she knew the whole thing was a lie. I was caught--caught in a web of my own making.

I won't tell you the whole sordid story, particularly the very embarrassing ending once I was exposed. Suffice it to say, I love being free. I love knowing that my words are true even if they are sometimes hard to utter. Here's the key: honesty comes from a heart of truth. Truth comes from God's word. And the only way to ensure a blameless life is to be sure that God's word (truth) is buried in your heart. The psalmist put it this way:
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. Psalm 119:30

In Christ their is freedom because, in Christ, their is truth. Bury these things in your heart so that you may know a blameless life.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I want to get back to Psalm 15 today. On December 12th, we talked about the ten measures of character that David listed for us in this Psalm. The first was someone whose walk was "blameless." The next is found in verse 2 as well. David writes, "...and who does what is righteous."

That word "righteous" has always been kind of peculiar to me. It's a very "churchy" word. We sing and talk about it on a regular basis. Sadly, though, I'm not sure that very many of us comprehend what it means to be righteous.

A more secular understanding of the word is an adherence to some established standard of right and wrong. For example, those who obey the law may be considered righteous. I think the Biblical understanding of the word, particularly in the Old Testament (the first half of the Bible), is something a little deeper--more personal, if you will. Righteousness for them meant more. It meant the fulfillment of vows taken in efforts to honor a covenant. Most of the time this was between men and God but could also include any number of human relationships.

More plainly put, a righteous person was one who honored their commitments to God and their fellow man. Obviously, this would encompass a whole lot of things for a whole lot of different situations, but the word caused me to think of something in particular.
Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. Proverbs 14:34 NIV

Most of us have heard this verse tossed around. It's an especially popular thing to do at election time or when one likes to combine their patriotism with their religion (i.e. Presidential candidates lobbying for right wing votes). But what does it mean?

Look at the verse again with our definition inserted for the word "righteousness." The fulfillment of your vows in order to keep your covenant exalts a nation...

A nation is known by right living--individually and corporately. In a day and age where our word means nothing, isn't it easy to see how unrighteous lives (failure to honor our covenants) eat at the fabric of a country?

Presidents, Enron executives, Congressional figures, athletes and heroes. Yes, even pastors. Here's my point. Righteous living changes everyone's lives for the better. Our kids need to see men and women of righteousness--adults who don't say one thing then do another (a la Bobby Petrino--my sports-minded readers will detect bitterness in that comment). Righteousness exalts a nation because God understand the value of community built on trust. Community that is built around lives that are steadfast, dependable and right. That's the place where healthy marriages are built, where leaders can be trusted, where education works and the welfare of every man is considered. A place where children don't have to settle in their choice of heroes.

It's no wonder that God desired this of the ones who would inherit His home. I look at my life and wonder where I have been double-minded, even hypocritical in my dealings with others. What damage did I do to my own character? How did I injure the cause of Christ? And how can I work to make my life what it should be in this critical area of righteousness?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hey. I wanted to get away from yesterday's theme for just one day. I'll try to get back to it tomorrow. The reason being that I had a really good friend who asked me a question about holiday traditions. Specifically, she wanted to ask how I felt about the fact that many people believe that most of our traditions were borrowed from pagan cultures. Here's my thoughts on the subject as I shared them with her.

Your questions regarding the holiday traditions are interesting but not new. Here’s my thoughts. Take them for what they are worth. The fact that traditions have been borrowed from secular parts of our society is not limited to just the Christmas season. The truth is that the free exchange of ideas between Christian and secular culture has gone on for a long, long time. I believe that God doesn’t care very much about our traditions. He cares more about our heart as we observe the season. I really believe that it bothers Him far more that we spend thousands of dollars we can’t afford on gifts for people we really don’t know in order to impress them than He does about whether or not we celebrate with or without a tree.

Let me give you an example. You and I both know that the rainbow was a symbol of God’s covenant with mankind that He would never flood the earth again. For years we have spoken fondly of the rainbow, sold it in our bookstores and sung about it at our kids’ camps. Now, it is a major symbol of the homosexual movement in America. Do we now abandon it as Christians because it has become associated with a movement that does not honor God? Or do we understand that we can still honor God with how we speak and act towards this symbol?

The Bible says that everything belongs to the Lord. The Christmas tree? God’s. The tinsel? God’s. The lights and bows and wreaths and songs? All God’s. But what God desires more than a “correct” Christmas filled with the “right” traditions is hearts that still seek Him and honor His Son’s arrival at this season.

One other note. You can read a whole lot about how many of our traditions extend from pagan practices. They may…or may not. There are some who argue that just as many were started by Christians. The date (December 25th) is not when Christ was born. The date, a pagan holiday, was taken from the secular world in order to reclaim the day for Christ. Maybe we should try to do the same with all those traditions that circulate around the holiday.

Hope that’s been helpful. Just amateur thoughts from a Christmas “junkie.”

Only 12 days remain. Hope your heart is ready for the season...whether your gift list is complete or not.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The last two blogs seemed to strike a real nerve with many people. I have had more responses to these than to any other I've written. And, to this point, they have all been positive. Yeah, there have been a few wanting more clarification or asking me to "unwrap" this conversation further. Most have simply said they appreciated what we were talking about and what was being said. With that in mind, I want to offer some further thought today.

I told you in an earlier post (I think) that I had been challenged to start reading through the Psalms and meditating on the truths that are held there. I'm not rushing to get through them nor am I reading a "psalm a day". I'm simply taking them and pondering them and moving on as God has "released me" to the next. The last two days I've been on Psalm 15. Here it is in its entirety. I want to spend some time unpacking it a little bit today (and maybe in some days to come).
1 Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? 2Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. 3Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. 4 Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord, and keep their promises even when it hurts. 5Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever. Psalm 15 NLT

Just five simple verses but there is some really good stuff in here for us think about. David (the king of Israel and writer of this passage) asks a legitimate question about who can stand in God's presence. He is asking the same question we referred to yesterday, "What must I do to stay as pure as possible?" Remember, I said yesterday that this was the right question.

Then, David begins to give ten "measures" as to how well we are doing in our quest for holiness and purity. Number one is someone who lives a blameless life. Now, we know from the Bible that no one is perfect. In fact, just one chapter before this (Psalm 14:1) David acknowledges that there is no one who does good. So how can anyone make it? The answer is that we can't on our own. A blameless life is out of our reach without Christ. Even our ability to do good comes from God.

What God measures our lives by is not the external activity of our bodies but the inward desire of our hearts. I can't live a completely error free life...but I am expected to try. And not just try out of legalism or obligation or instruction from others. He wants me to seek holiness out of love for him.

I close with this example. As an athlete, I was told by numerous coaches to give "110%"--a physical impossibility. There was no way that I could hit every patch or catch every throw and do it without error or loss of energy. I was, after all, human. All of my coaches knew that (well, there was this one whose grasp of the obvious could be called into question. We'll save him for a later blog). That didn't stop them from pushing me to give more and try harder on a daily basis. In aiming for perfection, I was made to be a better athlete.

In aiming for holiness, you and I are brought to a level of purity that we would not attain if we were not challenged to do so. And every day of "upright" living brings me closer and closer to the ultimate goal--being more like Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My thanks to the posters from yesterday, particularly the one who asked the question for further explanation. I always welcome the opportunity to dig further in conversations about what I write on here. Just glad the comments are continuing to stir this kind of dialogue. (And, no, you weren't rude. It's a legitimate question)
For those of you who have not seen the comment, the reader simply asked why it was bad to watch some of the shows mentioned in yesterday's blog as long as you know what you believe. Again, a great question.
Let me start with a verse that I used to challenge my teenagers when I was in student ministry.
Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23 NIV
This is just one of many instances where God's word challenges us to be careful about what we let into our hearts. Some of you who grew up in church as a child may have sung the little children's song "Be careful little eyes what you see." This song and verse (along with many others) speak to the reality that the things that come into our hearts are the things that "spill" out at later dates. In computer terms, we use the phrase "Garbage in, garbage out."
From a more positive view point, the reverse is true. The Bible is filled with this type of encouragement:
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 NIV
It would seem that there is a heavy emphasis on this undeniable truth...we become what we watch, read and listen to.
Now, after saying all that, let me assure you that my blog yesterday was not a judgment of others. I truly believe that your decision to watch a show or a movie or listen to a song comes down to your personal decision before God. The problem is, most of us have a higher opinion of our ability to stand than we should. On the other hand, we deny our proclivity to sin and always believe that it "won't affect us." I could give you a hundred examples: the alcoholic that denies that the first drink was what hooked him, the teen who only smoked for fun to wind up hooked on even tougher drugs, the stay at home mom who cannot turn off the trashy content of soap operas or the young adult who will tell you the words of many of those "harmless" songs led them to poor lifestyle choices. We ALWAYS believe we can withstand more than we can.
Here's the principle I really want us to take away from the Scripture: why mess with sin? I used to talk with teens a great deal about sex and purity. Inevitably the question would come up from Christian teens, "How far is too far?" What they were really asking is, "What can I get away with and still be okay with God?" The correct question should have been, "What do I do to stay as pure as possible before a God who expects that from me?"
Apply that to my media blog of yesterday. Most of us (and I fall into the same trap myself. Again, I'm not standing in judgment. Just trying to guide us all to good answers) ask, "How much trash can I allow into my heart and still be good for God?" The correct question should be, "What do I do to stay pure and holy for God?"
Every single night, many of us invite murders, liars, adulterers, thieves, slanderers, atheists, etc. into our households and expose our children to the same. That's not what God wants for us. Not one of us would drive our families down to the seediest parts of town, unload the car on the street corner and eat a bag of popcorn while we watched prostitution, drug deals, murders, etc. So why do we pay the cable company to bring it into the comfort of our home? Does that somehow purify it for our viewing?
Let me end today (I know it's been long) by asking this legitimate question. So many Christians "defend" their right to choose what they watch, read and listen to. How would our churches and our country be different if we fought equally as hard for our right to read the Word on a daily basis and talk about it in our streets? Just food for thought. Hope it's worth chewing on.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The only reason I'm taking the time to talk about this today is because the subject came up not once, not twice, but three times over the weekend. I'm talking about the new movie creating all the furor in the theaters this weekend--"The Golden Compass".

It stars Nicole Kidman (I wish I could star in movie bust after movie bust and still get paid millions) and is based on the trilogy written by avowed atheist Phillip Pullman. Pullman, himself, has admitted his dislike of C.S. Lewis the author of the Narnia series.

A quick summary of the novel/movie is this: God is portrayed as a decrepit old man who eventually is killed in the last portion of the trilogy by the little girl (the heroine). She has entered this parallel universe in order to save the world from horrible villains--the church. Now, I'm not going to tell you to not go see the movie (which you shouldn't) nor will I tell you that it's a poor copy of Lewis' Narnia or J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings (which it is). I won't even tell you that it's getting poor reviews (an average of 1 to 2 stars from most secular reviewers).

Here's what concerns me. How come the Christian community has made such a huge deal about not supporting this movie (a move that I firmly support) but we have no problem the other 11 months out of the year supporting the same garbage on our TVs, our i-pods or our car radios? (Dang, there goes that pastor meddling in my personal affairs) Pardon me for saying it, but the same anti-God message portrayed in The Golden Compass is delivered night after night on shows like Grey's Anatomy, Law and Order and The Office, is it not? I mean a message doesn't have to say "kill God" before it already supports that thought.

Don't believe me?

Then you and I haven't read very closely the words of the Bible where God calls for us to live holy and separate lives. We haven't examined the truth that's taught inside that Word--if a man breaks just one part of God's command, he's guilty of breaking it all.

Now, two things I want to make clear. I am not calling for boycotts of anything and everything. What I am calling for is consistency in the voice of believers. What I hear from many of us is, "Don't get involved in what Hollywood's selling...unless it's funny, good drama, an actor I like, gets good reviews, etc." We can't have it both ways. Pullman is simply guilty of stating boldly what many in America try to dance around--there complete denial of God and His claim on our lives.

Secondly, there is still grace. Legalism does nothing but turn off people to religion and religious tradition. God never sought either. He simply desires a friendship with you and me. What does that look like? It's actually very easy. Let me illustrate.

I used to have a friend, a very close one, who was allergic to nuts. He was badly allergic to even the dust from nuts. So, in order to be with my friend, I chose to put away all kinds of nuts--peanuts, pecans, almonds, cashews, etc. I even chose to stay away from places where there might be nuts so that he and I could hang out and develop that friendship. It was worth it for my friend. Did I miss boiled peanuts? You bet. Did I long for chocolate covered cashews? Like crazy. But I wanted the friendship with my buddy more.

God is "allergic" to sin (not really but the word works here to catch the analogy). I don't want any part of it. I don't even want to go where it lingers. Do I crave it? Some times. Do I think about it often? Yep. But I want the friendship I have with God more. Because of that, I am willing to realign my life so that God is not "hurt" by my poor choices. It's that important to me.

God loves me and you. He wants what is best for us all. He knows that this is found in a pure relationship with Him--not in anything this world offers. But, to get it, we have to live consistent lives that honor Him. What that means is must decide for yourself if The Golden Compass (or Grey's Anatomy or the latest Dixie Chicks CD or whatever) is something that's going to make your friendship with God stronger? Or will your choices place your relationship with God in jeopardy? For me, that makes the answers clear. Hope it does for you as well.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I'm going to confess before I get started that I'm a little hungry. I'll leave that with you to decide how much of a factor that is with what I'm about to write--positive or negative.

Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be blessed. (Matthew 5:6). Several interesting things about this as it relates to my life (the spiritual part, not the part with the grumbling stomach).

First, both of those words in the original Greek are present active participles. That's a fancy way of saying that they are perpetual or on-going. The hunger and thirst never go away. They are new every day, maybe every moment. Quite a lot like the physical hungers we have. You and I sit down to a meal when we are hungry. We fill ourselves with whatever is put before us. But it's not long before we begin to feel the pangs of hunger starting all over. It is a renewable desire. We hunger. We eat. We thirst. We drink. We never reach the point where the desire goes away completely.

Righteousness is a fancy word for "what is right." Specifically, righteousness is a life that is lived for what is right. Jesus was saying that you and I will be more fulfilled if we desire what is right continually.

Now, let me make this personal. My wife has done a great job of making me a healthier person. I lift weights, walk and try to eat right most of the time. Why? Because I desire to be healthy. I want to live a long, productive life. I want to see my children grow, watch my grandchildren as they enter the world and I want to grow old with my beautiful wife, Lisa. That doesn't happen because one day I decide, "Hey. I think I'll be healthy and eat a salad. In fact, I think I'll go all out today and walk 2 miles, work out with weights and eat a low-fat dinner tonight." Nice start but it's not enough. (by the way, I've never done all three of those things in one day so don't be too impressed).

Neither is desiring holiness or righteousness for one day--or two or three--enough. Just as it is with my health, it must be a lifestyle. The problem is that many people begin a life with Christ--surrendering themselves to His leadership--and then three or four weeks later, they find themselves back in the driver's seat doing things their way. Change can only be productive as it becomes permanent.

The doctor looked at me in August and said, "Your lifestyle has to change. Your cholesterol is high. Your blood pressure is high. And you could lose some weight." (By the way, that doctor is no longer on my Christmas card list) But he was right. One or two workouts or a few salads would not make the difference. I had to change what I was hungry for. My lifestyle had to be different.

Spiritually, we must do the same. We can easily get caught up in living for the next spiritual high, revival or special moment. Those don't work--lifestyles do. And lifestyle changes mean you eat the salad even when you are craving the catfish sandwich and fries. You long for the "right things" when other things seem to be so enticing. It's the only way to truly satisfy your hunger.

Now...I'm off in search of a salad.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It seems like we are never satisfied. At least, if you looked at most of our Christmas lists, you would get that impression. Take my kids for example. I am the kind of guy who likes to get things done--no dilly-dallying (I am thoroughly convinced that some of you come here daily to figure out what new word I'm going to throw at you. Well, there it is.) I like to get my Christmas shopping done early. In fact, there have been years where I was done with my shopping by the end of August. That's right, not a typo, by August.

Then my kids got older (I'm coming back to my point about their Christmas list now). I learned that their "list" is constantly morphing. It may be one thing this week and a completely different thing next week, especially now that they are into technical things.

But you and I know that satisfaction doesn't come from always wanting more and never being content with what we have. Or do we? Maybe our lists aren't so different from the kids.

God taught us to be grateful and thankful in all things. Take Jesus for example. You remember the story where Jesus fed 5,000 (and you thought your Christmas parties were large?). The story goes that the disciples were in a panic because there were over 5,000 men and even more women and children. And they were hungry!! Jesus tells them to gather what food they have. As the disciples come back to Jesus with five loaves of bread and two fish, what do we hear them say, "This isn't enough. We need more." Instead of looking at what they had and being thankful, they looked at what they didn't have and whined.

Not Jesus. The Bible says that He gave thanks, broke the bread and fish, fed 5,000 plus people and then collected 12 bags of leftovers!! Now, you might say, "Well, of course. It was Jesus. Why wouldn't He be content? I would have panicked, too, with all those people there." But catch these two very important points:
  1. Jesus didn't pray to thank Himself for the food. He prayed to thank God the Father. God is still God. He is still in the business of providing. He has never left His children going without what they needed if they just trusted Him. God still does that for us today. Jesus knew this. Jesus practiced this and believed it with all His heart. Five thousand plus people (and 12 dumbfounded disciples) saw this truth displayed first hand. That leads to the second point...
  2. Mark 6:42 says, "They all ate and were satisfied..." Isn't that amazing? Satisfaction was found, not in wanting more, but in being thankful for what was already in hand.

Let me put it another way. Just this morning I was reading an article on millionaires in America and the lifestyle choices that made them who they are. You know what the number one suggestion of every one of these millionaires was? Stop spending! That's right. Stop spending. Stop wanting more. Stop believing that something else can bring more happiness. Being content.

I guess this is a long way of saying some really important things. Be thankful for what you have. Be content with what's in hand. Get great joy from relationships and not products. And be surprised by two things this Christmas--how quickly you finish your shopping and how full your heart really is the day after your Christmas is over.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

I love this time of year for a lot of reasons (you'll probably hear that a lot over the next few weeks). One of those reasons is the Christmas cards we receive every year. Now, some of them are kind of goofy. They can even borderline on cheesy (some day I'll explain the difference between goofy and cheesy). But, in every case, it really is the thought that counts.

I guess one reason I love them so much is because it's an opportunity to hear from friends and family that I have not heard from since...last year's card. I love seeing the pictures that are sent and reading the notes that come. I love knowing what's happened with the friends and family that God has blessed me with. I really enjoy the (short) letters that come with some of the cards and finding out where some people have moved over the course of the year.

It reminds me that I have a special place in their hearts, just as they have in mine. I know it's not a lot but that little card or letter says, "I was thinking of you and took the time to let you know we care." I hope my cards say the same to them. I hope the letters I write down on paper say how much I wish I could see them in person and talk with them one-on-one.

Just like Jesus.

That's right. Just like Him. Every single morning I pick up His Word and read how much He misses me. How much He loves me. How much He desired that one-on-one with me. So He came...Emmanuel...God with us...Christmas card come to life. I love Christmas. Lots of reasons to love this season. But most of all, I love knowing that God left nothing to chance. He hand delivered His love letter to us so we would always know the special place we hold in His mind.

Monday, December 03, 2007

My wife has me looking for hidden things. No, Lisa has not lost her keys or misplaced her wallet. I'm talking about spiritual things here--hidden spiritual things. It began with an article she was reading this morning. The author made a "wow" statement that Lisa began to ponder: "Don't make the mistake of confusing the unseen for the unimportant." So Lisa began to unpack that statement a little bit. What is unseen or hidden? What was the author referring to?

Her search led her to this passage of Scripture:

3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:3 NIV

What does it mean to be hidden with Christ and why does the Bible use this terminology in regard to our lives. Digging a little further, Lisa found this definition of hidden:
“to put out of sight; to conceal for shelter or protection.”

For shelter or protection...Wow! This is good stuff. You see, many times the things that seem to be hidden or sheltered from us or for us are meant to protect us. The answer you have been praying for may be coming, it just may be delayed because you need protection. The trial that you pray would be relieved may not need to be because you need God keeps the solution hidden for now. Maybe that career change or new house you prayed for is not being given (it's hidden) because God wants to protect you from your own desires.

And, more important than anything is the verse itself. Your life is "hidden" in Christ because it's there that you will be protected from the attempts of the enemy--the evil one--Satan.

It reminds me of an oft-repeated story from years back (don't know if its true but it makes a very good point). It came out that just after the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, some Park Rangers were surveying the damage from that violent event. They came across a bird lying underneath one of the many burned up trees. Dead animals were all over that mountainside so it was not unusual to see another dead creature. What was unusual was the way the mother bird's wings were spread across the ground. As one of the Rangers leaned over to remove the bird's carcass, he uncovered an amazing surprise. Underneath were several baby birds, some of which had survived the horrendous blast. The mother had literally sheltered her babies underneath her wings to protect them. Those babies never saw what was coming (the hidden) because the mother sheltered them. Brings to mind this comforting passage:

He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Psalm 91:4 NIV

As you move through this day, think through the unseen things that God may be preparing for you: the blessings yet to be realized and the answers yet to be known. And thank Him for the unseen things He has sheltered you from. Without His shelter, we would have no hope.

Friday, November 30, 2007

An interesting tidbit of information that I learned this morning from one of the devotionals I read (this one from Rob Bell). The Hebrew language--the one that the Old Testament is written in and was spoken by the people of Israel--has no word for spiritual. None. At first glance, that may not seem like much...just a trivia question for linguistics nuts. But it means something more.

If you had been alive when Christ was on the earth and had asked Him this question, "How's your spiritual life?" He would have looked at you like you were crazy.

"Spiritual life? What's that?" he might ask. Here's why. In the Hebrew concept of life, there was no spiritual versus physical life. Everything that was done was done both in the physical and spiritual sense. To try and label one area of your life as spiritual and another as the physical would have totally contradicted Jesus' world view and the view of most of His contemporaries. Everything they did, they did as part of this integrated world view.

Every act for a 1st century Hebrew was a spiritual act. Working, playing, loving your family, paying your taxes, cleaning your house...all done in Christ and for Christ and for God's glory.

Maybe that's why the first Christians latched on so quickly to this thought:
17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 NIV

It is a radical change from the world view that most 21st century Christians hold. We have our spiritual side, our physical side, our emotional side, etc. But perhaps that's what made the difference as the new believers began the first churches and faced amazing persecution. They didn't see anything in their lives as being "separated" from God's influence. Their doubts, their relationships, their worries, their successes, their work, their trials--they all belonged to God as they lived out fully integrated lives before Him. What's your world view today? And how could changing that view make a difference in the things you are facing in your life this day?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I hate disciplining my children. Maybe hate is a strong word but it's definitely not something that I relish. I'd much rather wrestle with Harrison in the floor or snuggle with one of my girls on the couch while watching a movie. I have been blessed with four beautiful children--each one with a unique personality that brightens my world. All four have these million dollar smiles that can change my temperament in a moment's notice (Josh, my deceased son, was the same way). But there is still that discipline thing. And because I love them and I want all four of them to grow up as God-honoring, God-fearing, responsible adults, I have to "bite the bullet" and put on the discipline hat every so often. It is one of the many responsibilities I have in making sure that my kids transform from naive young children to mature adults.

I wish I had a dollar for the times I made comments like, "You know I don't want to have to do this" or "This hurts me as much as it hurts you...maybe more." (I know, I'm turning into my dad. The first time I said that I almost choked because I sounded so much like him).

The book of Hebrews (For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Hebrews 12:6 ESV) tells us that the same thing is going on in our relationship with God. He loves much that He died for us. Ultimately, He wants to see everyone of us mature from naive young believers into strong, mature Christ followers. That takes discipline. Because I don't always get it right and I make some stupid choices, I need a God who loves me enough to discipline me, to correct my erratic behavior and to lovingly guide me back to where my life needs to be.

The other option is to grow up as a spoiled child. Frankly, I think we have enough of those--inside and outside the church. There are plenty who refuse to accept God's discipline or would rather not learn from what He wants to share.

Yes, discipline hurts. But what hurts more is to find out that we have settled for less than what we could have been because we refused His loving correction. Maybe what you are experiencing today is not a trial or unfair persecution. Maybe it is your loving Father trying to show you where you have gotten outside of His will for your life. With compassion and tenderness (remember, it hurts Him more than it hurts you), He is trying to draw you home.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Somewhere around 7 a.m. last Friday (in the midst of my "Black Friday" experience) I was walking through a very crowded department store. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a little flash of blue as it rounded a display. Making a bolt from the children's section to the housewares was a little boy, hair disheveled as if he had just been pulled from the bed. He was wearing a little sweat suit with some kind of boyish icon. As he tore between the racks of clothes and the legs of tired shoppers, I heard him scream back at the adult chasing him, "I don't want to be here. I'm ready to go home." (I could feel his pain. The only difference was that I didn't think Lisa would let me run through the racks of clothes screaming without knocking me up side the head.)

With as much patience as she could muster, the lady said, "Son, we'll go home soon but there is still some stuff left to do."

Funny the places that God hits us. I think I have said this before (sorry, it's the old age) but I get tired of this place some times. Some times it's because it becomes too routine. Other times I get overwhelmed. Still others, I get just a little tired of all that I have to do as a pastor, parent, husband, son, brother, etc. So, in my own little way, I tear off running through life, thinking to myself, "I don't want to be here. I'm ready to go home."

God's message to us is clear, though. He has much for us to do. Some day, the journey will be over but, till then, we have assignments. One of those is making sure that when we get "home" we are not alone. God doesn't want one of his children to miss out on a chance to know him. Not one! As a friend of mine shared this past Sunday at Ridgeview, "If the whole world knew Christ and I was the only one who had never trusted Him, God would still mourn for me as if I were the only one." That's powerful stuff. The world needs to know that.

I made it home last Friday. I was tired. I was a little irritable. But I made it home nonetheless. I look forward to that other day of homecoming. When I get there, I want to hear the Lord say, "Job well done. You are home and not a minute too soon. You completed the task and ran the WHOLE race. Well done, indeed."

Hope my little friend made it home Friday as well. I'm betting it didn't come without some strong exhortations from his mom. But he'll have another 365 days to get ready for 2008. Guess I will too.

Monday, November 26, 2007

If I live to be 80 and never experience another "Black Friday", it will be completely fine with me. Really. Last Friday, I did something I had not done a lot of in my life time. To the best of my memory, I have only gotten up for shopping on the day after Thanksgiving maybe once or twice. I honestly don't know what we were thinking when we did it on Friday.

Maybe I should have been given a clue when so much excitement was generated by the fact that one of the major department stores was opening their doors at 4 a.m. !! Seriously, how much luggage can one person get? How good can a George Foreman grill be? My philosophy on getting a deal falls under the Dorito's category--buy all you want, they'll make more. So, why hurry?! If the shelf is empty, come back tomorrow. You'll find another in it's place and it might even be the new and improved model.

Nevertheless, at around 5:30 a.m. (about the time I am normally catching my last couple of zzz's before the alarm) I found myself standing in the midst of utter chaos--better known to many of you as Old Navy. The line already wrapped around the store like some kind of giant snake intent on squeezing every last dollar from those caught in its trap. Lisa and I shopped briefly but soon retreated under the overwhelming thought of standing in that long line for something that was 50% off. I was more enamored with the Krispy Kreme just down the road. I was thinking to myself how good a 50% off deal with golden, frosted doughnuts would be. I was quickly snapped backed to my dark reality when I saw the line of people outside an office supply store waiting for it to open at 6. Okay, enough! They are paper shredders, people. For crying out loud, how exciting can they be?

As you can tell, there is nothing super spiritual about this morning's blog. Simply this thought. Is it any wonder that so many people in Bethlehem missed that first Christmas? I'm sure there were no "Black Fridays" yet and the Jerusalem mall was probably not open for business. But, in their own way, the people of that sleepy little village were taking care of business...looking for success, chasing their dreams, pursuing fulfillment. There were innkeepers making a buck, citizens paying taxes, shopkeepers luring the crowds and a marketplace full of "ravenous" shoppers. But most of them missed what happened that sleepy night. They missed the one thing that mattered. My prayer this season is that you won't miss out on Christmas.

If you are in town, we would love to have you visit us over the holidays--friends, family and new relations. Our series this season at Ridgeview is entitled "Missing Christmas!" As you begin to unpack your decorations and prepare for this busy season of the year, I pray that you and I will remain with an attitude of thanks for all that we have and not become consumed by all that we don't. Happy Monday!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

As a kid, I used to think a great deal about some of the complex things I was being taught about God. You know what I'm talking about--the deep things like the fact that no one created Him, He just was. Or, how God already knew what would happen before it ever came to our minds. The whole concept of eternity was fascinating to me--a place where there were no school bells (remember, I was just a kid) or bed times or any reference to time at all. I couldn't wait for eternity to start when I accepted Christ at age 8. It seemed like it would never get here.

My perspective was changed one day when an author I was reading suggested this thought: eternity begins today. That's Your forever--my forever--began the moment we were created in the image of God in our mother's womb. You and I are living our eternity. And because we were created in God's image, we have a soul that will go on forever. The decision is not "will we have eternity?" The decision is where will we spend it and how.

Another thought that crossed my mind recently was this: the people you meet every day of your life are now part of your eternity. They have crossed your path and have changed your life...forever. Some have left small, dimple-like impressions. Others have changed the course of your life in radical ways. I could sit here and give a long list of people who have done that for me. Former students, current friends, co-workers, neighbors, two beautiful wives and five incredible children. The list goes on and on.

This past Sunday, I celebrated part of eternity with five followers of Christ through the act of baptism. My prayer is that this moment made a lasting impression on each of them. Yesterday, I met knew people while preparing food baskets for families in Franklin. Today, my kids and I handed out those baskets. Impressions. Each one different in nature, different in scope, yet significant nonetheless because they were shapers of eternity for everyone involved.

Why all this rambling about eternity? Because yours began the day you were born. And every minute you spend changes part of your eternity. Like a rock tossed in a lake, your minutes ripple into the lives of others. That ripple continues on and on as one life bounces off of another. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to do two things. First, make good use of your ripples. Leave a positive impression on the people you meet and the paths you cross. God did not brush you against other people's lives for you to waste those opportunities.

Second, thank God for the ones who share your eternity. Not just the big players but even the smaller ones--the bankers, the postal worker, the pesky neighbor and the busy-body co-worker. Pray God's blessings on each of them and think how you might be different if your lives had never touched. Chances are, you'll find some new way to spend these minutes in your eternity.

My family will be enjoying the holidays as many of you--eating, watching football and playing the annual Turkey Bowl. I'll be back next week to blog again (a little more rotund, I am quite sure). Till then... be safe, be blessed and may you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving. It will be one more amazing day in your own little eternity. Later.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wow. What a day we had at Ridgeview yesterday. If you missed it, don't blame me. Remember...I invited you to come by. We had over 225 in attendance, 5 baptisms (4 of them adults), new faces and new families and an amazing time of worship.

I guess there is no better place to begin my thanks this week than right here on Monday morning. I am so thankful that God allowed me to be a part of yesterday. I didn't have the privilege of preaching (my student pastor handled those duties) but I got to baptize all 5 people and spend time with them. That always gets a pastor fired up.

I am excited about what God is doing in our church family. The way He continues to move behind the scenes of our church family gets me all goofy acting--kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas. At the same time, like a kid, I get impatient. I want to look ahead and see what He's up to. Most of the time, He knows I just don't need to do that. I'll just get ahead of Him. But I long to be here when it happens...when Ridgeview really collects a full head of steam and starts to do in this community what God desired for us to do all along. Thank you, God, for an amazing worship together...and for allowing me to play a role in what you are doing here in Franklin.

Friday, November 16, 2007

A couple of nights ago, Lisa was doing some cleaning and going through some of the stuff she had moved over to our house. That's right, four months later and we're still trying to find a place for everything. We've given away more stuff than I could possibly imagine so I'm convinced that some of you are sneaking into my house while I'm away and unloading your junk on us. There's no other possible explanation...but I digress.

In going through some memorabilia, she found an old article from a Chicago newspaper that her grandmother had given her years before. I can't find the date on it but it appears to originate somewhere around the mid 1930's. The article is about a famous divorce judge and the problems he sees in marriages that come before his bench. Here's what caught my attention, though. The article closes with rules for marital happiness that he learned after trying over 40,000 divorce cases in a 23 year period. I offer them to you today.
  1. Have patience with each other.
  2. Work together, play together, grow up together.
  3. In all disputes, avoid hot and excited talk.
  4. Do not conceal little differences until they accumulate to the breaking point. Discuss them calmly.
  5. Be frank with each other.
  6. Sympathy and mutual understanding are the pillars of the home.
  7. Good humor in parting in the morning and a cheerful greeting at night.
  8. Share responsibilities.
  9. Establish a home of your own.
  10. Make your bed time prayers a review of the day and never go to sleep without a clean slate, leaving no leftovers for the next day.

My, how far we have come. Good words from what appeared to be a good man. I offer them to you because I know so many of you. Your marriages are crumbling. Your relationships are anemic. You carry around check lists of wrongs done to you by your mate and you are unwilling to forgive.

I thought about this list last evening as I sat in a meeting for a counseling ministry that I have the privilege of serving on the board for. I thought about the hundreds of couples he sees every year (I see dozens myself). I thought about the trivial things that bring marriages to an end too easily. Selfishness. Immaturity. Stupid little things that could be easily forgiven but we prefer to hold a grudge. Impatience. Restlessness. Lack of honesty.

None of this is what God desires for the most intimate of human relationships. God desires...well, you know what He desires. He shows you every day in the way that He loves His Bride--the Church. In fact, the words Paul shares with us in Ephesians say this:

25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage. Ephesians 5:25-28 The Message

Guys, let's do what's right and go all out for our wives. Let's love them like they deserve and, even when we think they don't deserve it, let's strive to make them whole and beautiful and holy. Frankly, I get overwhelmed by the counseling needs I see (and for my friend as well). I wonder how much that would change if we took our commitments more seriously and made our marriages the priority they should be. In my mind, at least one judge got it right.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

I was reading an article in yesterday's paper about the state of things in Georgia regarding the ongoing drought. The article was talking about Gov. Perdue's call for a day of prayer for rain. Keep in mind that the Governor was not even talking about a strictly Christian prayer (although he is a devout Christian). He had invited Hindus, Jews, Muslims, etc. to join him at the capital building to pray for relief from the incredible drought that is crippling most of the Southeast. At the end of the article, the paper had invited readers to blog about the Governor's request and the day of prayer.

My heart was saddened...for two reasons.

First, after scanning through the early replies on the blog, I only found ONE half-hearted paragraph of support for the Governor. Keep in mind this is Atlanta, Georgia--heart of what was once the Bible-belt in our country. In those multiple responses, only one person had taken the time or felt the need to defend a political leader's call for prayer.

Secondly, I was saddened by the hatred and bitterness of the responders who were so outspoken about their feelings. Obviously, this is America. Everyone has a right to voice their feelings. But the words I read were malicious and hateful. They attacked the governor--words like "moron", "imbecile", "backwards" and "bigot" were used. They attacked people who believed in prayer. Again the words were filled with poison.

But the worst was yet to come. I was floored at the number of people who took this opportunity to turn their attacks directly on God. Some challenged Him to make it rain. Some questioned His wisdom and power. Others, of course, wondered why we even conversed with something that was the "figment of our collective imaginations." I was depressed. Then angry. Then confused.

Then, something began to strike me as I moved on through my day and my thoughts bounced back to this blog. It's my fault. And before you get to smug or cynical, it's yours too if you are a Christ follower.

You see, those doubters have not removed God from the throne. It is not His lack of power or wisdom or presence that causes them to doubt. Rather, it is the lack of our ability to reflect Christ purely that gives the world its doubt. Who can blame them? The Bible has always said that God's "Plan A" would be that His followers would reflect Him. When the reflection fades or gets mucky, no one sees the One they are missing.

We talk about a God of power but we trust more in our own economy, our own government, our own wisdom or our own talent to deliver us. We talk about a God of love and we turn our backs on a world dying of AIDs, hunger and loneliness. We talk about peace and we argue over petty things that have no eternal significance (for those who live in the Nashville area, you have to look no further than Belmont or Two Rivers to see what I am talking about). You want to know why the world ceases to's because we have ceased to reflect. In this crazy world, God brings order. In a lonely world, God brings love. In a world ravaged by war and conflict and disease and destruction, God brings hope and peace. And He chooses to put those on display in my life and yours. If they don't know it, it's because we don't show it (that was a pretty cool little phrase there. Came up with that one on my own...but it's true). If we don't show the world what Jesus looks like through our lives, then they will never have a reason to believe. They don't have to look like us or act like us or even like us as we are. They just have to be given the chance to see Jesus.

I pray that the rains come to Georgia. I have people there...lots of family and friends. I want it to rain for them. I want it to rain to honor a Governor who made a stand for his faith. But most of all, I want it to rain so some who doubt may believe and some who wavered will be more inclined to stand, to pray and to show the world who God really is. Let the rains come!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

I keep telling myself I've just got to be patient. It's not an easy thing and I've never been very good at it. It's just one of those character traits that God is dealing with me about. I think He must say to me, regularly, "Ridley, be patient. It will happen whenever and wherever I choose. Until then, you just keep praying and watching and praying and working and, oh yes, praying."

It happened again this weekend. We've been praying hard for our church family to reach its potential and begin to explode with the energy and power that raised Jesus from the dead. On a regular basis, Lisa and I pray for the health of our people (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). In our church office, we are implementing a new practice--stopping everything we do at 9 a.m. to invite everyone to pray. Every day our children's minister and her volunteers are joining together from wherever they are at 10 a.m. to pray for our children and their families and our church. On Sunday mornings, our staff and their spouses gather around a table in the back hallway of the school where we meet. We join in prayer together...for our worship time, for the guests who will come, for the impact and influence we want to have on our city. We are praying all over the place... in our LIFE groups, in our meal times, in our personal quiet times. We are starting to develop the desire for prayer that I have longed for now for almost 3 years.

This week we are seeing the fruit of those prayers--mine and yours. Sunday we will be baptizing at least 4 people (possibly more). Two of these are brand new Christians. All are adults over the age of 30. Everyone of them come desiring to take that next step in their relationship with God.

This Sunday, we get to be part of the three most amazing events that God has ever given us the privilege to do: baptism (symbolic of the new life that has entered into each of these people), the Lord's supper (remembering the sacrifice that Christ made to give us that second chance) and worship (giving thanks to the amazing God who has given us every good thing).

I invite you, friend or family or complete stranger, if you are in Franklin this Sunday and want to be a part of one of the most amazing worship gatherings ever in the short history of our church, come and be a part of Ridgeview this Sunday. We will be celebrating God's greatness and His faithfulness. We will be rejoicing in the new life that has come to these four individuals. We will be praising God for the gift of His Son and His desire to "capture" us for Himself--no matter what the cost.

And I will be praying patiently...for the next big thing God has for us. I believe it will be soon if we continue to pray. I will be praying for victory. For an amazing church is that is about to explode--not because of a pastor or a worship leader or a great staff--but because we serve a powerful and risen God. One that wants us to dominate this city and influence it for the Kingdom. A God who desires that we not be content with 4 when there are 40,000 in our city and 4 billion in our world who need to know Him. A God who works brilliantly behind the scenes while we pray and wait and watch and work and pray patiently and passionately for His will to be done. I hope to see you Sunday (by the way, there's free lunch afterwards). And if you can't join us at Ridgeview, will you please pray for what God is doing in our church as we watch His plan unfold. To God be the glory!!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Thanks for your prayers as we were in Asheville, NC at the end of last week. We had a great week and were warmly received by the medical professionals at this conference. There was some very good response and, hopefully, some new opportunities to meet with others further down the road.

Recognizing that many times others say things better than I can say them myself, I'd like to share an excerpt from a book I read the other day. The book is entitled "The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God in Your Everyday Life" by Gary Thomas.

"If we don't think about God, pray to God, listen for God's voice, and consciously serve God, by definition we live an ungodly life. We usually think of "ungodly" as being against God, but ungodly can also be a life that simply ignores God or—out of busyness, indifference, religiosity, or apathy—simply doesn't tap in to God. In this sense, it is possible to give an ungodly sermon that may be theologically accurate. It is possible to lead ungodly family devotions that nevertheless focus on spiritual truth. Christianity doesn't address only the ends; it has a lively interest in the means. That's why every healthy, growing believer should experience God every day—his presence, his power, his wisdom."

This is some of what I am experiencing in my own life...learning to have Christ every moment of every day. I'm like many of you. I've heard conversations about surrender and His "Lordship" in my life. But, as I truly practice this, I see what a radical difference it makes in my life. Life and death and love and peace all fall into place when the Kingdom of God becomes a priority.

Don't get me wrong. This is still a journey for me. A real hard journey at that. But it's one that I am taking--slowly to be sure--but I am it taking nonetheless. It's a difficult thought to surrender every minute to God. That means that God's agenda quite often "interrupts" our lives at the most inconvenient of times or in the most uncomfortable situations. But surrender must be total or it is not surrender at all. My prayer continues to be that God would make me more sensitive to His promptings in my life so that I can begin to taste what true Godliness is all about. I don't want to be caught ignoring God today...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

I've always said that sitcoms and remote controls will bring the end of this world. Crazy, I know, but what thought have I had on this blog that hasn't been. Here's why I think that.

First, sitcoms. Look past the tired humor, the overdone jokes, the crude punchlines and the predictable stories, I think there are huge problems with sitcoms. (as if those weren't enough). When was the last time you saw an intelligent parent, particularly a dad, portrayed on a sitcom involving a family? Bet you can't remember very many if any at all. It's no wonder we don't have very many heroes that live up to our expectations today. We don't have very good role models. Even in places where we used to find Robert Brady or Ward Cleaver, we can't find one decent dad with good wisdom, sound morals and a backbone to make his kids obey. In addition--and here is the bigger problem--sitcoms have us believing that every major problem can be resolved in 22 minutes with a few punchlines thrown in for good measure. (I know the show is 30 minutes long but they have at least 8 minutes of commercials). No wonder so many give up on their marriages at the first sign of problems and our kids think their parents are dopes; our jokes don't work and our problems aren't resolved by some cunning adolescent who borderlines on genius.

Remote controls cause a similar problem. No one has any patience any more. We can't focus on one thing long enough to develop patience. At the first sign of a commercial, we are off to the next best thing--one channel up the dial. We have all developed a kind of attention deficit disorder. We can't sit in a room with someone and carry on a decent conversation. There are no relationships because relationships take time. Marriages take time. Raising kids takes time. Building churches, starting careers, reaching retirement...everything in life that's worth having takes time. And we just don't have any because there is something better channel up the dial.

Okay, I know they won't end the world but they are indicative of some problems I'm really concerned about. They are areas where technology has benefited us greatly and, yet, it has shot us in the foot. Our kids can shoot out 500 text messages a day (believe me, I know this for a fact--get off the phone Morgan) but they can't take the time to talk to a friend who is truly hurting. Most of our homes have at least two TVs and probably twice as many Bibles but guess which one gets used the most? But you ask someone why they don't read it more and they'll quickly respond, I just can't find the time. I sort through over 200 e-mails in a normal day. Many of you get far more. But we can't take a second to serve someone or love someone or tell someone they matter to us.

Okay, enough ranting. I don't even know that I had a real point today. Just wanted to go crazy with my writing for a second. Maybe it will be more substantial next time around. I invite you to pray for Lisa and I as we travel with my sister and brother-in-law to Asheville, NC this week. It's another engagement with the medical community--another opportunity to talk about God's grace and mercy and love and forgiveness in a secular setting. Hope you'll join with me in praying that God will use my story to tell His story to someone who needs to hear. Till next time.

Monday, November 05, 2007

As part of my quiet time today, I went back and read some entries from an old journal of mine. April 11, 2005--just a year after the accident. I was writing about fears, specifically my own and what led me to fear. It was interesting to see what fears I held then compared to what I feel two years later. It was neat tracing God's hand in dealing with the fears that were a part of me then. But, here's the frustration...there were fears then that I still feel from time-to-time now.

Is there anyone that doesn't fear something? I remember a nightly ritual I held as a child. Because of my fear of what might be under my bed, I would turn off the light by the door, get a running start and dive towards my bed. My thinking was, "As long as I make it to the bed, I'll be safe. Whatever is under there can't grab me." I know, it's silly now as I look back. But you are laughing your head off because you had the same crazy thoughts. Thankfully, I crawl into my bed these days. Frankly, I don't know if my 40+ year old body could make the leap. But wouldn't it be embarrassing if I still held those same fears? How do you think Lisa would feel if I said, "Move over honey. I'm turning off the light and I don't want to hurt you when I hit the bed." I'd have a lot of explaining to do as a "relatively" mature adult.

Maybe I've got some explaining to do to God. It seems like my fears come from two sources. One of them is my poor understanding of who I am in Christ Jesus. I want to perform better and earn His love more--two things I know I can't do. And, because I can't do them, I catch myself in some pretty frustrated scenarios where I've fallen short yet again.

The second source is discouragement. The very definition of the word is "to deprive of courage, hope or confidence." Our enemy, Satan, is a pro at this. He works really hard to discourage me about my parenting skill, my job as a pastor, my role as a husband, my "performance" as a Christ follower and on and on. With each blow, he works to remove my courage, to take away whatever hope I have. The next thing you know, I'm diving into the bed again, hoping to find the cover I need for protection and safety. What does God's word say about this? Plenty. Here's one key passage I'd share with you today.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 1 John 4:18 NLT

Perfect love drives out fear. Sounds good. Anyone know where to get "perfect love?" Anyone needing a dose of some perfect love right now?

Christ is the source of this kind of love. The answer to my fear and discouragement is His love. The more completely I am drawn into His presence--the more intimate I become with Him and His amazing heart for me--the more I will see (you, too) the fears begin to melt away. All of them. To be sure, it is a slow process that will be battled every day by Satan. But rest assured that Christ's perfect love will win the day.

Friday, November 02, 2007

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4 NIV

I was reading the above passage to my children last evening as we shared in our family quiet time. My kids shared some "trials" that they are going through...relationships, school, homework, etc. Then we talked about how God is using those to teach us something. James says here that God is working to make us more complete. So I was re-reading that passage this afternoon and thinking about the things my kids had shared. On the second time through, that word--complete--jumped out at me. That's why I went and looked at this definition.

com·plete /kəmˈplit/
1. having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full

It's not that I didn't know what it meant. I guess I just had to see it for myself again to firm something up in my mind.

You see, the Bible teaches that every follower of Christ is on a journey. The road is long and hard. Jesus called it narrow and said the gate to enter this journey is small. The "toughness" of this life is why James wrote this passage. Here's the news that may shock many of us. It will not get any least not until this portion of the journey is over.

You and I will not be complete (for those of us who know Christ) until the day that we stand before God. Until then, we are under construction. God is working on me. He's refining the edges. Tossing aside the extraneous matter. Breaking me down so that He can rebuild me the way He desires. (For those of you old enough to remember, think "Six Million Dollar Man"...only heavily discounted. You know, "We can rebuild him.")

That's what God is up to in every trial of our life. Now, some of us have big trials (bills outnumber the paychecks); others of us have bigger trials (illness or death). That's God's way of using the right tool. Kind of like a sculptor. If you've ever watched one of those guys work, they don't use the same tools. When the need is detail, they pull out the smaller tools and work delicately with brushes to smooth away the dust. But when there's a big chunk of rock to be removed, they bring out the big hammers--the kind that would make the "Tool Man" proud.

Here's the catch. In order to mature and move towards completion, you have to stand still. That rock can't get up and move and neither can you and I. When the trial comes, it's time to stand still, wait on God. If you don't, you might just mess up the Master's work. He knows best. He knows the tools to use and how to use them. When the pain of trial comes, praise God for the masterpiece He's working in you and that you are one step closer to completion.

One final word. When completed, the work of art does not proclaim itself. These beautiful objects stand as unswerving tributes of their master's ability to build. You and I must do the same. After every difficulty and every trial, we must emerge from the furnace with God's name on our lips...proudly proclaiming to the world the work of our Father.

Whatever your trial today...whether chunk removal or finishing details...thank God with joy that He sees the value in you.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It's Halloween again. With the annual renewal of "festivities" comes the debate over whether or not Halloween is an evil plot to corrupt our children or a harmless excuse for our kids to rack up on candy. My answer is "yes."

Do my kids rack up on the candy thereby affording their dad the opportunity to "taste test" every morsel for safety reasons? Yes. Do they participate in dress up and Halloween gatherings? Yes. But do we talk about evil, dress evil, celebrate evil or use this day as an excuse to forget Who we live for? No.

This may surprise some but I have no problem with Halloween. In my view, it's just like anything else on this is what you make of it. Let me give you a for instance: the rainbow. Those of you who are Christ followers know exactly where the rainbow came from. Remember the story of Noah and the flood? God put the rainbow there to symbolize a covenant he made with Noah never to flood the whole earth again. Today, quite frequently, the rainbow is connected to the growing movement of homosexual activists. How come there is not a huge cry from churches to do away with the rainbow? Because we know and understand it's true meaning.

Halloween is what you make it. Tonight, my two oldest children will be "celebrating" by joining with other youth groups across our city for a "Battle of the Bands". This will be held at a local church and will be a great opportunity for them to meet other Christians and celebrate the talents of some of their peers. My two youngest--one dressed as a librarian and the other as a French painter--will be joining my wife and I at a neighborhood gathering. Why? Because my wife and I are looking for opportunities to meet our new neighbors, invest in their lives and make sure all of them have had an invitation to know Christ. I know some friends who have neighborhood cook outs or hand out candy with invitations to church. One family I knew chose not to do any of the above but declared it a family night every year where they would go to their kids favorite restaurants and go see a family movie. My philosophy what you are comfortable with knowing that you only have to answer to God BUT remember, YOU DO have to answer to God.

I know full well there are some who will use this as an opportunity to embrace the evil of this world. I pray for them. But this Halloween, as always, I encourage you to remember that the "trick" in how you choose to celebrate is in knowing the one "Treat" that will bring satisfaction to your family and friends--Christ Jesus. So, whether you load up on Snickers or gather your family for a time of devotion and prayer, today is just another day that the Lord has made. Have fun with it...and Happy Halloween.

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 NIV

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Here's an interesting twist on death. I remember being challenged with this thought soon after Sarah Ellen (my wife) died. I have always been taught and believed with all of my heart that God has a plan for me. He does for everyone. I believe that true joy is discovered when we find His plan and channel our lives towards fulfilling that plan. Sometimes those are very universal ideals--worship, service, love, etc. But for everyone, there are very specific plans as well--writing a book, planting a church, mentoring a child. God's desire is that every one of us surrender ourselves to the plan that He has given us.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Here's what I had never thought of. God did not create Sarah to complete me or bring me joy. That's something only He could do. He did, however, create Sarah to fulfill His plan. What does that mean? God didn't create Sarah for me. He created her for Him. And He created me for Him. At the end of our lives what we have done for Him will determine whether or not we have brought Him glory. Did Sarah honor God with the way that she loved me and cared for our children? You bet. Was that a part of her purpose? Probably so. But Sarah's life brought glory to God. She loved for God. She worked for God. She served for God. And, at the end, her death brought Him great glory. Sarah had been God's gift to me...but she had always been His.

What are you doing with your life?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Let me start with the really great news...we had a man choose to become a Christ follower in yesterday's worship. Praise God for that! But it's not enough. I am not content for just one or one hundred to know the power of Christ's resurrection. I would desire, just as God does, that every man, woman and child be given that opportunity. Let's keep praying and building for that purpose...

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Psalm 1:1 NIV
I told you the other day I would come back to Psalm 1. I want to talk specifically about this first verse. I've been thinking about it a lot these last few days. It's not the first time I've read it nor is it the first time I've thought about it. I guess, this time, God used it to strike a different chord with me.

I'm worried about the Church (that's the universal church, not just Ridgeview), especially the Church in America. It's anemic. Yeah, there are bright spots here and there. There are mega churches that are growing like crazy and there are rural churches that are being blessed by God in their ministry. But, by and large, the church is a non-factor beyond the doors of its buildings. Honestly, the homosexual movement, PETA, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the United Auto Workers have more powerful voices for change in our present culture. Why is that?

Look at another passage for explanation. Acts 2:44 and following tell us that the early church got together on a daily basis, they praised God, they were filled with joy, they were grateful for what they had and they considered none of it to be their own. They had it "going on" to the point where everyone around them was standing in awe. When is the last time the world stood in awe of the church ...for a good reason? In Acts 4:34, it says there was not ONE needy person among them because they took care of each other. How great would it be to be part of a Church where no one who entered our doors with a need left in that same condition? Why isn't the Church blowing anyone away? Why is it that most of our churches cannot be described in this way--"God added daily to their number?"

Well, there's a lot of reasons. Some are more significant than others. But today, I go back to Psalm 1. We aren't blessed. That's plain and simple. We aren't blessed. Now, if God promises blessings, you know it's going to be on His Church, right? After all, we are His bride, His pride and joy!

Here's where I'm headed. The Church isn't blessed because we are walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing with sinners and sitting with mockers. I'm not talking about the Church. I'm talking about it's members, the individuals with which the church is built. You and I look like the world, talk like the world, and go to the world for advice. We are entertained by the world, changed by the world, transformed by the world and do a better imitation of culture than we do of Christ. No wonder we don't see the daily miracles and signs that the early church saw (or that churches in other places like Africa and Asia are seeing these days).

I heard a friend recently sharing about a mission trip that her husband went on to Rwanda. There, after a few days of praying and ministry, they had seen over 4,000 people receive Christ. There are churches in my area that have been around 40 years and haven't seen that kind of outpouring of God's favor.

So, here's where it gets personal. What is your church doing? How would you characterize it? Is it more like an Acts 2 community or a 21st century social club? Are lives being changed or is your church just making people more comfortable with how they live their lives?

NOW, for the hard one...what role are you playing? Are you more worried more about place than power? Did you pick your church based on what you would get out of it rather than what God would get out of you? Is your church struggling to do ministry because you spend more money on entertaining your family than you do on supporting the kingdom with your gifts? Are you walking, standing and sitting with friends and neighbors who inhibit your growth or quench His Spirit in you? Look at yourself (honestly) in the mirror of God's word. When it comes to your church (His Church) are you part of the problem or part of the solution? The Body is lacking power and direction. It's leaders are failing miserably. It's followers are easily distracted. And surprisingly enough, Oprah has no answer for this one. The blessings of God will only come when "followers" become completely devoted to God's plan for His Church in this world--not ours.

Friday, October 26, 2007

One of the great themes of the Bible is that of God's provision. It literally runs from Genesis to Revelation. It shows up in the Garden, before the Flood, during the Exodus from Egypt, and on multiple battlefields across the Promised Land. It includes an ark, some stones, a sheep, a manger, a cross and an empty tomb. The good news is--let's make that the great news--it never stops. Never. For those who trust God and follow God, He has promised to be our provision.

Let me impress you with my vast knowledge of the Hebrew language. It consists of about 10 words (my knowledge, not the Hebrew language). This was the language that the people of Israel spoke and the language that our Old Testament was written in.

They had multiple names for God. There was such a complete reverence for Him that they would never refer to Him by name so they created these kinds of pseudonyms so they wouldn't be irreverent by calling His name. Most of us have heard the name Jehovah--a common reference to the Creator. But they would attach these character specific references to this name to refer to God. One of these was Jehovah-jireh. It literally meant "the God who provides." That in itself is a really cool thing. But think about the ones who uttered that name. These weren't people who knew about Jehovah-jireh. These were men and women who knew Him intimately from experience.

Take Moses. Every day he spoke that name, there had to be a little bit more significance than the last time. Basket in the river to save his life--God provides. Burning bush in the desert for direction--God provides. Lamb's blood on a doorpost to save him from death--God provides. Plagues...quail... manna...water from a rock--God provides!!! Can you imagine?

Or maybe you don't have to. You see, God is doing the same thing for you every day of your life. Providing. Maybe it's not so dramatic that people want to make movies about you or make Veggietales cartoons about your story, but it's provision just the same. home...friends--God provides!!! You name it and you can bet that it's passed through God's hands to you.

Here's why that is important:
  1. Knowing where things come from takes the pressure off of us to provide. Moses could have stood at the Red Sea and panicked that day. He could have bailed water with a 5 gallon bucket or blown at the water's edge until he was blue in the face. He could have never done what only God could do. How about you? Are you bailing water trying to create your own miracles? Rest in the knowledge that God can and will provide as soon as you shut up, sit down and get out of His way.
  2. Knowing this is the best weapon against depression and selfishness. If you take a long look at your circumstances, you'll start wringing your hands over that medical bill, that broken relationship or that upcoming test. You'll become depressed. But, if you turn the tables on Satan and begin to list all the ways that God has provided in the past, you'll find your hands stop wringing and they start raising in praise to the One who provides. And it's really hard to be selfish when you truly realize that all you have came from Him. It wasn't your genius or your hard work. Just His amazing love for you. So, to be thankful, what do you do with all that God has given you? You start giving it away. That's right. Give it away. Bless others and watch what God does for you. It's kind of like the old Doritos commercial. God says, "Give away what you have. I'll provide more."

Provision. It's one of many amazing gifts offered to us through this relationship with our Creator. But there's one catch. God NEVER forces Himself on anyone. Provision must be received. Until you start receiving, you--and only you--will be the source of all you need. That, my friend, is when the real problems begin.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Welcome back! I know it's been me that's been gone for the last week but, in a sense, you've been gone as well (unless you've just been hanging around my blog waiting for my return at which point I would suggest stronger therapy). We're back. It was an incredible week for all the reasons that I wanted it to be (see the previous blog entry). We saw amazing things. Golden leaves. Incredible mountain lakes and streams. Fenway Park.

I re-traced the steps of some of the greatest moments in American history--a history majors dream. The Old North Church. Old cemeteries. Paul Revere's house. The U.S Constitution. Fenway Park.

And Lisa and I were able to take some much needed time to grow closer, learn more about each other and prove to her that I wasn't a complete goof-ball. Two out of three is not bad.

Some other things happened last week thanks to your prayers. God taught me a lot I was able to clear the fog away for a few days and see where I am and where He wants me. I was able to unwrap new layers of His character, to discover where He is working on me and re-shaping me.

So, you'll probably get glimpses of that trip over the next few weeks. Not every day. I wouldn't dare invite you into my "house" and make you re-live my trip with me. But I hope the things that God is showing me will help to challenge and refine you a little as well. Here are some closing thoughts to make your reading today worthwhile.

Challenge number one is to pick up the Bible and read Psalm 1--really read it. It's an amazing passage. I'll be back to that one later on as God has settled me there for the last two days.

Lesson number one (don't get excited, it's not a real spiritual lesson)...folks don't drive very nicely in Boston, especially when their car is bigger than yours. But, if you really want to make friends, drive slowly with a map in your hands and make sure to smile and wave as they fly past. They will salute you with the finger and welcome you to Bean Town in the nicest way.

Warning number one. Don't ever fly anywhere with me. You are guaranteed to have your flight cancelled, luggage lost, stormy weather or any other number of traveler nightmares. I'm just sort of lucky that way.