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Friday, June 29, 2007

There is a Middle Eastern saying that reads, "On the day that you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. May you live your life in such a way that when you die, the world will cry and you will rejoice." Don't you just love those kinds of quotes? There are a lot of good thoughts wrapped up in those two sentences but I want to focus on one word for the moment..."may." The phrase begins "May you live..." The implication there is that you may BUT that you may not. Some people get life right and the world is saddened by their departure. That person has touched lives in such a way that there is no doubt about the void they will leave because of their absence.

Some people don't.

Why is that? Why is it that some people hit life so dead on that the their whole sphere of influence is shakened by the loss of their life? While others take note of the loss but must admit that their parting would only be a "hiccup" to those who are left behind? Now, there are varying degrees of impact. The good neighbor who lived by you for years and shared life with you might be sorely missed by your family when they are gone. A teacher's life might have ripple affects that reach to her students, their families, their kids and the other faculty. A missionary might touch a whole tribe and a public figure might touch a whole nation. But for those who get it right, it must come down to a few significant choices they make in their lives. So...I've pondered that this morning. Can I name 3 or 4 choices that take ordinary lives and make them into extraordinary life-changers? Here's what I've come up with. I'd love to hear some of yours:

1. Life is not about them. For most, life is about their goals. For a select few, it's about the God who they serve and who, in turn, asks them to put others first.
2. Simple life. They do not allow their hearts and minds to be cluttered by the insignificant things that can distract us from real purpose.
3. Knowing their purpose. I see so many (all ages) who wonder aimlessly looking for some purpose, some crusade, some "agenda" for their lives. They are so busy searching, they miss life.
4. God confidence (as opposed to self-confidence). I know myself too well (and I suspect that you can say the same) to place my confidence for all of my life in my ability to do anything. On the other hand, the knowledge that God will "supply all my needs according to His riches", that He has promised "never to leave me," those are the things that can make me ready to devoid my life of me and invest in others.
5. Peace. This is not the absence of conflict. No such life has ever existed. It is the firm belief that, no matter the size or source of that conflict, the One who is in us is greater than anything.

Just a few...there may be more. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Maybe you'd like to add one or two yourself. Or maybe you'd simply like to thank the ones who modeled these attributes for you--the parent, the friend, the neighbor, the teacher--who made your life better. "May you live your life in such a way..."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My fiance sent me these words this morning. They come from the devotional writer Oswald Chambers.
"To look for justice is a sign of deflection from devotion to Him. Never look for justice in this world, but never cease to give it. If we look for justice, we will begin to grouse and to indulge in the discontent of self-pity - Why should I be treated like this? If we are devoted to Jesus Christ we have nothing to do with what we meet, whether it is just or unjust. Jesus says - Go steadily on with what I have told you to do and I will guard your life. If you try to guard it yourself, you remove yourself from My deliverance. We enthrone common sense and tack the name of God on to it."

As I thought about the significance, my mind was drawn to the words of this verse found in Psalm 20:7 NIV:
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.

What a tremendous reminder to those of us who follow after Christ and who trust in His power. The testimony of men and women throughout the ages has been this--confidence in God brings peace through any persecution, any trial, any struggle that man may bring. Think of the disciples, Martin Luther, Thomas a Kempis and other great saints who struggled for the faith. Something about their lives said exactly what Chambers words above expressed. Trying to defend ourselves or provide for our own needs is to remove our lives from His deliverance. The psalmist said that the strength of armies cannot measure up to the name of God. That kind of power has enabled believers throughout the ages to stand confidently before any force, any accusation, any persecution, any temptation or any trial. It enables you and I to face life if only we will place our hands confidently in the care of God's wisdom. I don't think we can dare live our lives otherwise.

This morning, some friends of mine lost their daughter to a battle with bacterial meningitis. I invite you today to pray for their family, for their faith (they are Christ followers) and for their ability to rest in God's power and care in the days ahead. May they (and every one of you) know the awesome power of His holy name as you pass through this day.

Monday, June 25, 2007

This is a crazy world. About now, some of you are scratching your heads and asking, "How long did it take for him to figure that one out?" I know, it's a statement of the obvious. I was thinking about that while sitting at the gas station earlier today. This sweet old lady got out of her Camry to gas up. She was probably in her late 60s, driving this really nice, really clean vehicle. Movement inside the vehicle caught my attention as I watched the lady cleaning specs off of the windshield. Dancing around inside the car was not one nor two but three full-sized border collies. Two of them were chasing each other from the front seat to the back and then to the front again--a maddening game at best. The third was gnawing (I kid you not) on the headrest like it was a bone soaked in bacon drippings. She was working that thing over, slobber dripping from her chin. All of this while the lady continued to pick and scrape at specs of dirt on the windshield. It just struck me as really funny.

Then, I got home and saw a news report on the $54 million pants suit (not pantsuit, pants suit). A judge in D.C. was suing a dry cleaner for losing the pants to his new suit and trying to give him another pair. The amount of the suit? $54 million!! Somehow, in this guy's mind, his pants were worth more than I will ever make in my lifetime. Worth more than the budget of my church or the school where our church meets for the next 10 years!! Okay, in case you missed it, this guy is a judge!?! Remind me never to show up in his court room. The guy has lost all common sense.

But, alas, there is hope. The judge hearing the case allowed better judgement to intervene. He threw out the case as frivolous (DUH?) and fined the plaintiff for court costs. Here is the cool part--the part that restores my faith in humanity. At the end of the story, almost as an afterthought, the writer includes a final statement from the Korean couple that owns the cleaners. She simply said, " We have no hard feelings against him. If he wants to continue to bring us his business, we will gladly take care of him." Isn't that cool?

That got me thinking. Do you think that couple knows Jesus? Do you think they ever heard "turn the other cheek" or "pray for those who persecute you?" Is it possible that what I read about was a little glimpse of someone being "Jesus" to the world? I hope so. It gives me hope. Restores my faith. Makes me believe in the goodness of some people. Makes me want to lose a pair of pants (couldn't resist).

I don't know. Maybe I'm rambling and looking for something to say. But when did it become so uncommon to see common sense? And what's it going to take for common sense to become common again? Okay, enough rambling. Got to get to the dry cleaners.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I know, it's been a really long time since I updated this blog. I've been gone for almost a week. God opened the door to a couple of speaking engagements in Georgia last week and I took the family down for a little fun as well. Got to do the new Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coke and, of course, a Braves game. One jam packed day. Then spoke a couple of times at Grady Hospital in Atlanta and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. I love having the opportunity to bring good from bad. The tragedy that came on my family in 2004 could have been handled in a whole lot of ways. I thank God that He is giving the kids and me this opportunity to encourage others and bring Him glory. It reminds me of the life of Joseph and this key verse from his story:
You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20 NIV

Isn't that a cool thing? Satan--nasty, vile, dark enemy of all people--wanted to bring me and my family down. By doing so, he hoped to destroy the ministry God had put me in and to bring down others who watched my life. But Satan has this major flaw in most of his plans. He always forgets the "God-factor." You see, every plan of man (and Satan) is in the hands of God. He can use it, change it, rearrange it or do away with it altogether. The day Satan attacked my family, God was looking years ahead to see all the good that could come from that event--"the saving of many lives." Not saving in the sense that my life is bringing anyone the salvation that can only come from God but saving in the sense that what God is doing in my life and in my family's life can offer hope and change and progress to others.

I got engaged last week! News to some of you but not to others. A perfect example of God at work in my life.
I spoke at two different hospitals this past week and encouraged hundreds of health care professionals regarding their role in our communities. God at work.
I write a blog that people actually read that offers encouragement, affirmation and hope to others. God at work.
I get phone calls and e-mails on a regular basis from people who are going through hurt and loss, asking for some sign of hope in their life. God at work.

And in all these things, God is working to save another person's life from the enemy. It's changed my outlook in so many ways (that verse). As Americans, we are prone to sit and pout about the "bad things" that can happen to us--bills too high, life too hard, schedule too busy, looking for satisfaction. Maybe, just maybe, God is looking to save someone else through you and how you handle your difficulty. After all, the testimony of your life is not about how good it was but about how good God is. Your life was meant to point others to a God who can heal any hurt, not lower your taxes. A God who can bring your life purpose, not give you what you think you want. A God who can be your strength and peace in every situation, not take away all your problems. Ask yourself this very important question as you read today: if the saving of other people's lives depended on how you responded to life, would they be rescued or left to die without hope?

To my new friends in Georgia, thanks for a great week, for all your encouragement as we shared the hours together and for all you do to serve God in the place where He has put you. Here's to saving lives...

Friday, June 15, 2007

Currently, our church is going through a series of messages about ordinary people who were made extraordinary by their faith. I say ordinary because, on the surface, these men and women didn't appear to have anything exceptional going for them. Their names are found in Hebrews 11. We have chosen to focus on some of the lesser known individuals--Abel, Enoch, Rahab, Barak, Jephthah--not exactly the Who's Who among biblical characters. But just like some of the giants of the Christian faith, these people made a huge impact within their world by living lives filled with faith.

16Everything depends on having faith in God, so that God's promise is assured by his great kindness. Romans 4:16 CEV

I love those first few words. Get this...your relationships, your future, your effectiveness at fulfilling your promise all depend on faith. All of it; not just some of it. Who you and I are is transformed into who you and I can be by our willingness to trust God. I thought about that recently as I had the opportunity to talk with a middle-aged woman about the loss of her spouse. They had been married for many years and his death was a sudden and unexpected one. Although this had happened several years ago, she was stuck in her grief over his loss. About 30 minutes into our conversation, I said to her, "Here are your options. You can spend the rest of your life stuck in the past or you can believe that God has something more for you to do with your future. You can't do both." There was complete silence on the other end as she pondered that statement. Finally she said, "I know that's true but I just am not there yet." Today, she's still living with the past.

I don't care what your situation is right now--anger, guilt, fear, bitterness, shame, etc.--the only way to move to the next step in your life is by faith. Abel did it when he worshipped. Enoch did it as he walked with God. Rahab did it when she protected the spies of Israel, forsaking her own safety. Every person who has ever made a difference did so because they believed God--faith. Faith, the Bible tells us, can move mountains. Many of us read that and say, "Okay, but I don't have mountains to move." No, but God has something for you specifically to do, some purpose to fulfill. And, it can ONLY be done with faith. God's promise is assured by your belief in that promise. Your faith honors God; God honors your faith. What's next for you in your life? Rest assured that it will only come by faith.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Okay. I admit I'm a little slow to pick up on some things, especially the little things in life that can go unnoticed. But I just love the way that Scripture seems to be never ending in its treasures. For those of you who don't know, I've been in church my entire life. There have been few Sundays in my 39+ years where I wasn't somewhere in some church worshipping with other Christ followers. So, I've read every story in the Bible, many of them numerous times. However, it's not an uncommon thing for me to read a passage of Scripture and have it jump off the page at me in a way that I never understood it. That's a wonderful thing.

Take this verse for instance: 27I give you peace, the kind of peace that only I can give. It isn't like the peace that this world can give. So don't be worried or afraid. John 14:27 CEV
These are great words of promise and hope from Jesus himself. I have used them on many occasions to comfort people and to affirm those who are going through difficult times. I read them myself as I went through the aftermath of the wreck and the loss of my wife and son. Every time, they strengthened my hope and my resolve. I found myself back there again this morning, only with a different perspective.

Catch this. The words are huge and powerful just as they are. But you know what I noticed for the first time this morning? The time and place that Jesus said this to His followers. Jesus had just told the guys about His coming arrest and crucifixion (John 12 and 13). He had just informed Peter (one of His closest friends and followers) that he would play a role in all of this by denying Jesus three times. Within hours, Jesus would stand face-to-face with accusers and the worst form of capital punishment that existed in His age. The topic of the day? Peace!?! I'm sure the disciples did not understand the gravity of what He was saying. But you and I surely can as we look back. Peace--so hard to find and understand in the 21st century. Is there some kind of formula? Some kind of plan for how it should happen? Well, as a matter of fact, yeah. You want to know how Jesus could face His problems with this amazing peace. It's found all over the Bible in different books, different chapters, different phrases. But here is just one way this "mystical" formula is addressed...

4 Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord, who have no confidence in the proud or in those who worship idols. Psalm 40:4 NLT
Did you catch it? They trust in the Lord. The joy they have--the peace that consumes them as the world tries it's best to remove them--comes from an unwavering confidence in the Lord. Their stability and security and health and wellness do not depend on the traditions of men, the circumstances of life or the findings of the latest religion poll. They trust wholeheartedly in the character of God. As those final hours for Jesus came to a conclusion, we see a real man with unreal confidence and peace. Facing His own certain death and the painful events that led up to it, Jesus knew peace like you and I can know peace. And He found it in the intimate relationship He held with His Father. It's still there that we find our source. Unwavering, unfaltering, unchanging--the power and strength of God can and will carry you through the most difficult of times. Will you trust Him?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Hardships are a part of any life. They can range in scope and size and frequency. For one, the hardship may be changing the course of their life in midstream. For another, the hardship could be the loss of a loved one(s). Hardships are very seldom seen ahead of time and never easy to navigate (hence, the name "hardship"). Given that all these things are true, I have learned that we too often see hardship as an intrusion into our lives. Difficult situations surprise all of us. But they do not surprise God. Rather than intrusions, I believe that many of the hardships that come in our life are allowed by God so that He can do His work in our lives.

Take, for example, the fruit of the Spirit that is talked about in the book of Galatians, chapter 5, verses 21-22. Many followers of Christ mistakenly believe that just because they begin a relationship with Him, they are transformed overnight into an individual with the character traits listed there. That's not the case. The Bible is clear that God uses "life" to produce that fruit in us--to cut away excesses, to trim back the dead spots and to produce in us a bountiful existence. Your hardship today is God's way of "increasing production", if you will. Make no mistake, it is most often our own sinful nature or the work of the enemy (Satan) that serves as the origin of our hardship. But God allows those things to occur to make us into the people of character that He desires. It's no mistake that the Bible is filled with stories of people who faced hardship and either failed or came out on top as better people. (God wants us to know that both can happen and it's our choice). It's also no mistake that, in the book of Romans, God puts this all important truth for you and me: And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. Romans 8:28 NLT

My words of encouragement for you are this. First, don't miss the chances you have to see God work in your life because you are running from hardship. Hardships must come so that we can be re-made into the image of Christ. Those hardships serve a purpose.
Second, know that you will make mistakes. Do not allow those to drop you in your path. They must be acknowledged; they must be confessed; they must be avoided. But there has never been a failure that could sidetrack God from glorifying Himself in you if you will only receive His grace and forgiveness. God can cause everything to work for the good of you and me. I believe he is absolutely capable of keeping that promise for you. So, next time you have a hardship (or maybe you are in the middle of one right now) simply say to God, "I don't want to be here. Don't like what's happening at this moment. But I hold to your promises that you can and will bring good from all that I face. Do that now in my life so that you may be glorified by what others will see." Interruptions can be Divine. Allow them to become trophy cases of God's grace in your life.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind... Exodus 14:21 NIV

Okay, picture the scene. Moses is leading his people across the desert to a land that he has never seen solely on the promise that God would deliver him and the million plus whiners following him. They find themselves trapped between the largest, fiercest army of their age and the giant Red Sea--no boats, no tunnels, no grand bridges. What do you do? Me, I think I might want to join the whiners. Maybe in a stronger moment I could form a committee to file a strong complaint to the Lord about how life "just isn't fair." Hopefully, I would eventually come to my senses and turn to the One who made the promise. I mean, after all, He's the one with the big plan and precious promises, right?

So, Moses, being the friend of God that he is, turns his problem over to the Lord and then...waits. Now, somewhere in the darkness of that night, Moses might have had a doubt or two. No more than that because he has seen God work first hand but maybe one or two. As he tossed and turned that restless night, who knows what thoughts went through his head? But then came the morning. The sun breaks the horizon in the east and Moses looks over at the imposing Red Sea. Only it's not so imposing any more. While Moses and the Israelites rested, God was making a way where there seemed to be no possible solution. It's no wonder the Israelites danced and sang when they got to the other side. Their trust in an unseen God had been rewarded and, once again, He had been found faithful.

So, what's your problem this day? What imposing problems have you in "whiner" mode, ready to call off the journey of a life time? Have you lost sleep, lost patience or lost hope because the "enemy" has you pinned against insurmountable odds? Rest in His strength. Trust in His greatness. Know that whatever your problem, it is neither too great nor too small. Simply lift it to God and know that He works on your behalf. One other reminder...Moses had to do his part. He didn't just say, "God, take care of this" and then walk way. It says that Moses lifted his hand. A show of faith? A required act of obedience on his part? I'm not sure. I just know that when you trust God to move, He trusts you to move as well. An act of obedience that releases the power of God on our behalf.

Monday, June 04, 2007

I watch with amusement when the world "discovers" a Biblical truth and kind of plays it up as this grand, new idea. They love to pat themselves on the back and yell "attaboy" as they put into practice some truth that's been around for ages.

I'm thinking specifically today of the flurry of recent commercials that show someone being nice to someone else who does it for someone else and so on. There's a couple of insurance companies, an investment firm (I think) and a soft drink that have recently played up this idea. Hello? Golden rule ring a bell for anyone? In fact, that's not just a Christian principle, it's one that's been in existence in numerous faith traditions in some form or another for thousands of years. The only twist is this--Christ said it differently than anyone else. Rather than "do unto others what they have done to you" (the way it's said in the other religions), Jesus said "do to others what you would have them do to you." It's a kind of "preemptive strike" in the love category. And the world loves the idea. Make someone's day a little easier. Brighten the corner where you live. It makes great sense.

So, why don't we do more of it? How come it only takes one jerk on the road driving like a madman to make all of us go crazy? Why is it an oddity when someone--without notice or fame--chooses to serve someone else, love someone else, or make someone else's day less of a burden? Jesus knew that it goes against human nature, especially when you live in a 21st century "me-first" culture. But wouldn't all of us be a little better served if we took the Golden Rule to be a Godly truth and a Holy mandate for our lives? Starting right now, what would the world look like (at least your corner of it) if you dropped what you were doing and served someone by rolling their trashcan in from the curb, pumping their gas or watering their flowers? Christ said, "He who wants to be first must learn to be last and be a servant to others." I'm not entirely sure what that has to do with good insurance but, hey, let the world think they've discovered something new. We all live in a better world when one person chooses to make a difference.

Friday, June 01, 2007

There is an old saying that I have heard in many places over the last dozen or so years. It goes something like this: "Some songs may only be learned in the valley." I often wondered about the truth of that statement when I heard it in the past--not whether or not it was true but to what degree. I reflected on that this morning as I was thinking about what the last 3+ years has taught me. My life has given me much to think about and to reflect upon. I am a more compassionate man (some would question that) because of what I have experienced. I have a better understanding of what others go through. Where once I said, "I understand" now I can really understand. I treasure things a little bit more and care a little bit less about what others think. I understand, more than ever, what it means to live for the Audience of One.

I guess the area this has affected me the most is in my worship. I think it kind of falls back to the area of appreciating even the smallest of things with a greater admiration. Life is no longer taken for granted. Those chances I have to watch my kids play or to hug their neck are observed with a greater intensity. I worship God for the next sunrise I see and praise him for every new friendship I make. Worship is less about the hour I spend with my church family on Sunday mornings and more about loving God for the 24/7 presence He has given to me. I love laying in the bed on rainy mornings with my kids. I love walking to the ballfield to play ball with my son. I drink in every giggle that comes from my little girls "ticklefests."

As I get older (yes, I have resigned myself to the fact that I can't be 18 forever), the days become more like minutes as they rumble past. I get frustrated because I can't capture every moment. Heck, I have problems remembering people's names now. But I want so desperately to love deeper, remember more, experience it all. And sometimes, I catch myself doing things just so I can complete the things that my son never got to start. I think of what my wife would be doing if she were here. Maybe that's part of the urgency I feel some times; it's why I complain about wasting time on insignificant things. I feel as if I am trying to live 3 lives nows--mine and the two that are left unfinished. I guess it also leads to those days when I become overwhelmed by what I can't and shouldn't do. I am learning to be more content with what I can. Learning to enjoy what is mine to enjoy. Praying that God will give me a longer life to have tasted the things that are still left untouched.