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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Religion is a burden. It always has been. The reason is simple...religion is man's attempt to get back to God. Religion is always man-inspired and centered around the efforts of man. Funny thing, too. Asking a man how to get to God is like asking a lost man who speaks a different language for directions. There has never been nor will there ever be a man who can find God on his own.

That's why there was Jesus. And one of the key teachings of Jesus was that religion would not save you. In one instance, He described it as the cleaning of the outside of a bowl while leaving the inside dirty. And that's where religion fails. It measures the performance of man--the outside. There are many good religions that cause men to "look" good on the outside while failing to bring a change to what really matters--our hearts. In reality, what God has desired all along was an intimate relationship based on love. Love removes the barriers of performance and places all the emphasis--not on what we can do to get to God--but on what God has done to capture us.

See the difference?

Jesus put it another way when he encouraged His followers to take His yoke upon themselves. He said, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." Now, for those of you who have ever been in religion (whether it's Baptist or Pentecostal or Hindu or Islamic) you know that the burden of religion is anything but light. It suppresses us, hinders us and prohibits us from living full lives. But Jesus said this would be easy. And it is, when we quit trusting our ability to do what only God can do. His burden is light because He carries that burden. He carried it all on a cross and invited us to follow after Him. Once again, it was following out of love, not out of performance.

I hope you're getting the difference here. It's monumental. On those days when I fall back into religion, I wonder if where I am personally and where I am leading others is really worth it. Those days are brought on by well-meaning friends who measure my "performance" to tell me if I am meeting man's standards for how a pastor/husband/dad/son/etc. should act. But God says the very best I can do for Him is like a filthy rag so I must quit doing and start being...being His child, His friend, His follower, His lover. All of these are radical thoughts for those of you who are still caught in religion. But for those of you who have tasted the true greatness of God's yoke, you know there is wonderful freedom found in a loving relationship with the Father. I invite you to leave your religion and find Him today...

Monday, July 30, 2007

But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 1 John 4:4 NLT

It's been a tough day. It usually is when you come back from spiritually high moments like a mission trip. It is almost as if the Enemy wants to remind you that the warfare on this planet is not done yet, that he is still there. There were some disturbing phone calls and e-mails from friends and family who are going through difficult times--someone lost a job, someone else had emergency surgery, a friend of mine is headed back into depression after a long struggle to get out, another has discovered that his son is making unwise choices in regards to his sexuality and still another has been attacked by friends at work. Like I needed a reminder that Satan hates my guts, hates everyone who longs to follow after Christ!

What I did need is a reminder that God loves me more. I found it here in an old familiar passage. The junk I'm facing today I do not have to face on my own--nor do my friends. Nor do you. You see, for anyone who will follow Christ, there is this promise that the Spirit that dwells in me has overcome ALL things. Fear no more. Anger conquered. Depressions lifted. Intimidating circumstances overcome. Not that those things go away. My Monday is a reminder that, as long as we walk this earth, we will deal with the Enemy who hates our "ever-loving guts" (that's a South Georgia term). But 1 John is a reminder that God is crazy for me. He has made provision for all that Satan will throw against me and more. He loved me (and you) enough to die so that He could be the final nail in the coffin for the greatest "hater" the world has ever known. Take enormous comfort in this truth. Your problems are great; God is greater. Always has been, always will be. That's enough to make it to Tuesday!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

It's been a long time since I recorded my thoughts on the blog. Alot has happened in these two weeks. I was reflecting a little on that as I watch another afternoon storm cloud roll in over the mountains in Livingston, Montana. We've been here since last Friday, doing sports camps and helping out a couple of guys who will be planting a new church here in SW Montana. I love this part of the country. It's an amazing reminder that there are still parts of our country that are rough and untamed, still unique in their offerings.

Last week, it was a wedding, a 40th birthday, a two day honeymoon (the real deal comes later) and prep time for the mission trip we are now on. Needless to say, the two weeks have zoomed by. As fun as all of this has been, I am ready to get home with my kids and start our routine. I like some routine to my life. Surprises are great and changes of scenery keep things interesting, but I'm only comfortable when I am in the routine stages of my life with my family. Since there is a newly revised version with twice the kids and a significant other in my life, there is much to deal with as we push towards the end of the summer and the start of school.

God is very good to me. I know that more and more. As I watch the shapes that form on the sides of these mountains, I am reminded of the passages in the Bible that tell us that our lives are kind of like that--shifting sand, dying grass, whispy vapors or rolling shadows. One day you are here, leaving your mark on the land and casting a big shadow. The next day, you are a memory in the minds of a few who knew you and cared. Great thought for the day? You better make sure that, while you've got your chance to show your stuff, that you make it count for something important. Solomon said the same thing in Ecclesiastes 2. He had chased all the things that can seemingly make us happy, but he found that only the things of substance will count.

The rain is starting to fall outside. Little drops at first and then the bigger ones that signal that this is more than just a passing weather pattern. I pray that my life spent here this week (and the week I was here last summer) makes some worthwhile impression on a kid who needs encouragement, refreshing and a reminder of God's great love for him. Hope your life makes that same difference for someone today as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Well, here it is. Probably the last blog you'll read from me...as a single man. The next 3 days will be filled with arriving guests, family introductions, last minute appointments and wrapping up loose ends. Needless to say, I won't be spending a whole lot of time in front of the computer or thinking about the blog. I might try to squeak one more in, but don't hold your breath. (I know that you sit in front of your computer screens waiting for the latest words from this depository of wit and wisdom).

As we start counting hours rather than days, I am floored by this gift from God that we call love. What a neat invention! In the midst of all His planning and creating, God came up with this incredible idea that someone could look at someone else and deem them worthy of extra affection, extra time, extra emotion and whatever investments were necessary to maintain a relationship. It's happened to all of us at some point--probably starting with your mom or dad or grandparents. Someone decided to love you. And it made all the difference in the world.

How cool is it that the One who came up with this idea made the decision to love you before He even created you? Knowing that you would be "just another human being" and that you would likely make mistakes and choose to reject Him some where along the way, God still chose you...and me...and the neighbor next door who looks so funny...and the stinky little kid down the street...and that "danged Republican" who keeps meddling in your personal politics. Make no mistake about it. God made it perfectly clear. He loves the WHOLE world (John 3:16) and His desire is that not one of us would pass from this planet without knowing of that great love (2 Peter 3:9).

In just over 87 hours from now, I get to begin my new life with someone I chose to love. Is she perfect? No. Neither am I. Will she disappoint me? Yeah, but not nearly as many times as I will let her down. But in her heart, I see the things that I desire in a wife, a partner, a mother, a lover, a confidant and a best friend. I choose to marry her. I choose to love her. I choose to do so because He chose me. And His love gives me the freedom to love someone else and become her biggest fan. Just like He is for me. Thanks for showing me how, God. Thanks for letting me pour that out on you, Lisa.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I was reading today in one of my leadership books that I pick up from time to time. The author was referring back to one of the lesser known stories about David (1 Samuel 22). It's while he is running from King Saul. Saul has become very jealous of the young warrior's popularity with the people. It says that, as David ran for his life, God began to gather people around him. These would be people that would form his inner circle of buddies. They would help him win his battles, withstand Saul's assaults and ascend to his place as the King of Israel.

Now, if you've never read the story, I want you to stop right here and picture the guys that God brought to David. The wisest. The most respected. Probably a few guys with some money to fund the adventures they would share. All-in-all, they were the cream of the crop in the Hebrew culture...right? Nope. The Bible specifically says that they were a bunch of miscreants. One translation says they were in distress, in debt and discontented. It made me think back to another guy in Scripture (just talked about him last week at my church) Jephthah. Not your biggest Biblical character but, just like David, he surrounded himself with a bunch of thugs who helped him fulfill God's assignment. This kind of stuff happens all the way through Scripture. Think about it. Even the guys that Jesus surrounded himself with left a lot to be desired in our eyes--a tax collector, some fishermen, a doctor, a traitor.

The truth is, God loves doing things this way. Why? Because God has no interest in what I can do for Him, only what He can do for me. You see, guys who have it all together don't need a God who re-builds. They think they've got all the brains, power, popularity, whatever they need. Why bother God? Some of them probably think they can do Him some favors.

No, God's more interested in the failures. The guy who thinks he's at his wits end is exactly where God needs him. Brokenness is a key ingredient for the man or woman who longs to be used by God. Only then is the mixture right for God to come up with something big, so big it can not be credited to anyone else but Him.

Personal application? I guess this is more for me than for you. I've been daydreaming (some would call it vision-casting) today about where my church is headed. God has been so good to us and some cool things are happening BUT we're not there yet. I believe He has just begun gathering the "ones" who will make this become what God desired it to be in the first place. Here's what I need...a bunch of thugs, a bunch of failures, a bunch of losers. I really need men and women who are so broken and torn up that the only thing that's going to save them is a miracle. People who are hungry for something BIG! Know anyone like that? I'm taking applicants. WANTED: HUNGRY PEOPLE DESIRING SOMETHING FROM A GOD WHO DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. Those are the kind of people that God uses to change families and communities and nations. If you've got it all together, take it somewhere else. You don't need me and you don't need God. However, if you found yourself looking in the mirror this morning wondering if you could make it through one more day, I've got a place for you. It's a place where God is getting ready to do something big! It's a dream God gave me years ago and I'm hungry for it to become reality. Are you desperate enough to join me?

Monday, July 09, 2007

From the ends of the earth, I cry to you for help when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the towering rock of safety, for you are my safe refuge, a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me. Psalm 61:2-3 NLT

I just felt like I needed to share that today for anyone who takes the time to read this blog.

For my cousin and my best friend whose wives are facing breast cancer at a very young age. I don't know what it feels like to hear the "C-word" spoken about your very best friend, but I know God will be your fortress.

For the three or four people who visit this blog and have updated me on their frustration regarding their careers. I know there are lots of people just like you who wake up in the morning afraid of what they might find when they get to work. The God who is your Refuge will also be your provider if you will simply trust Him.

For my friend who lost her brother-in-law and nephew to a drunk driver yesterday. Your heart may be faint but God will carry you. Don't ever doubt that.

For my friend who is doubting the move that he put his family through. For the lady who is concerned about her depression and her husband's isolation. For the teenager who can't seem to get along with her mom and dad. For the young man at our church who is seeking God's will for his life. For my friends in Montana who lost their teenage daughter to a scary disease. For the young couple who is packing their entire life into boxes and following God's call to India. For my buddies who are planting our two newest churches in Montana and here in Nashville. For every single one of you who read this blog and who have your own "foes", I felt like I needed to say this.

There is a rock that is higher than you, higher than me, higher than all of life's distractions. He is steadfast and secure. Whatever you are facing will not shake Him. Your past cannot diminish Him. Your future does not scare Him. Your present situation will not confound Him. He will take whatever you give to Him and will turn it to His glory, for His fame, if only you will call to Him.

And know that He knows you better than you know yourself. He hears your cry and He listens to your prayers. Whoever you are, whatever your need...this was for you.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Like most pastors, I try to glean from a wealth of sources when it comes to training, resources, personal growth, etc. For instance, every day, I read about 4 or 5 different devotionals (minimum). Some come from books I own. Some are e-mailed to my inbox on a daily basis. Often, what you read here is a reflection of those seeds that have been sown into my life that day.

So, today, not once nor twice but three times, my devotionals have led me to this passage:
He said: "Listen, King Jehoshaphat and all who live in Judah and Jerusalem! This is what the LORD says to you: 'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's. 2 Chronicles 20:15 NIV

Hey. You don't have to hit me over the head to get my attention. I figure somewhere, somebody needed to see this today and be reminded that God's deliverance comes to those who wait. And it may come from the most unlikely of sources.

Let me set the story for you. Jehoshaphat (we'll call him J for short) is in need. He's the king of Judah and he's got a big problem. Three different groups of people have combined forces and are marching his way, intent on destroying he and his people. J, being the wise ruler that he is, stops everything, declares a fast and starts talking to the only Source he has for an answer--God himself. Just a couple of verses before, the Bible says that "all the men of Judah with their wives and children and little ones stood there before the Lord." What were they doing? Nothing. Not one thing. That is, not until they had heard from the Deliverer.

Now, honestly, if this is me, I'm in the war room drawing up plans of defense. I might have sent riders in every direction looking for a few new friends to help fight off this vast army. I've got men, women and children throwing up defences. Not J. J has seen God work before and He's counting on Him doing it again. God's response? The story says that God went with them. In fact, by the time the people of Judah got to the "battlefield", there was nothing but dead bodies. God had caused the three armies to destroy each other. Can't get much better than that. And all J and his crew had to do was talk to God, sing a few praise choruses and follow God's direction for their actions.

How about you? What formidable foe has you throwing up the defences and casting life lines in every direction but Heaven? Is there something in your life that has you ringing your hands rather than raising your voice to God? Maybe God's idea of a relationship is not the one you have--where you come to Him as a last resort rather than coming to Him first as a lasting refuge. You see, whatever your facing in life, "the battle is not yours, but God's." If you'll just trust Him, he'll take the depression, the anger, the bitterness, the career change, the divorce, the broken relationships, the fear, the ________ (You fill in the blank). He will fight the battle and He'll fill you in on the role He wants you to play. He's always promised that He loves you and He'll care for you. Whatever you're facing in your life, take courage in this verse that comes from the same story about J: "Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them (whatever your problem is) tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you." 2 Chronicles 20:17b NIV

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Couldn't very well let the 4th of July pass without making a comment in that regard. It was a great day here as my family shared some "grill time" with another family in our church and then took in the fireworks. I've always loved fireworks. So, it's really hard to have a 4th without taking in a show. The colors, the shapes and magnificent displays are all part of the celebration for me.

Have you ever seen one from the sky though? A couple of summers ago I was flying home from a mission trip on the 4th of July at night. As cool as any fireworks show is to me, it is magnified by the perspective that comes from flying thousands of feet in the air and watching several shows at once. It was almost like this large, black pallet with bursts of color sprinkled here and there. It was amazing.

Reflecting back on that last night, it caused me to think of perspective with a different, uh, perspective. You and I get caught in the trap of living our lives for the here and now. We enjoy the show, "ooohing" and "aahing" at every explosion, every burst of color. These are fascinating times, special events, significant life changes for each of us.

God, on the other hand, sees the whole pallet of life. Every single day, He is watching from His perspective. Rather than seeing my solitary "show" and being impressed, He places me on the board next to you and a million other displays like them. He understands how my display enhances yours and mingles with the others around me. In additon to that, He has an ability to do something I couldn't do in that plane two summers ago. He can move my display closer to yours or further away from another in order to make the whole conglomeration (I've always wanted to use that word in an intelligent manner. Hope this passes) something that is pleasing to Him.

The challenge for today? Live your life each day to its absolute fullest. Display every color God has given you and live with explosive joy and excitement, BUT, don't be alarmed when the display gets moved or tweaked. Don't complain about too much red or not enough of the blue--God is up to something on a larger scale than my 70 years or your weekly decisions. He is observing the big picture. And daily, He works to pull ALL of this together for His glory. Our lives are beautiful displays of God at work. And, left in His hands, they can cause any observer to stand back in awe, amazed at God's work in our lives. Hope you had a happy and delightful 4th filled with incredible displays...of His glory!!

Monday, July 02, 2007

Okay, I've promised to be honest with my communications on here. If it wasn't something that needed to be talked about, I would not dare to bring it up. But here it goes. I've been plagued by this new doctrine that seems to be sneaking into our churches called "selective grace." (It's not really new. In fact, it shows up for the first time in the NT church in Acts 15--just 15 years after Jesus has left the disciples in charge of spreading the gospel.) It kind of goes like this. God is amazing. God is wonderful. He sent His Son to die for us to offer us grace and mercy. His grace is astounding. It covers the sin of all who will receive it so that they can have a completely new start in their relationship with the Holy God. This grace covers every sin BUT...

...and there's where the problem lies. You see, the last time I checked, there wasn't a single person who did not need forgiveness for past mistakes. I need it. You need it. The Pope needs it. Billy Graham needs it. Even Paul the apostle needed it--and he admitted as much. The problem is the adherents to this "selective grace" doctrine are more than willing to accept the grace for their own faults, but not as willing to extend it to others. In their minds, there are certain people, certain nationalities, certain sins that are contained in the tiny print at the bottom of the "grace contract". (You didn't even know there was such a thing, did you?) This contract says that "my grace is free but yours must be earned." It goes on to say that there are exemptions for God's grace--it does not cover the HIV patient, the dark skinned person, the Democrat, the druggie, the neighbor who won't cut his grass, the kid with the long hair, the man that's been married multiple times or the woman with the criminal record. Basically, grace covers you if you look like me and act like me and don't do anything that I find repulsive.

Here's the shocking news for most of us card-carrying religious types: God doesn't buy in to your contract and He will not be a part of such agreements. I don't care what you've been taught or who you heard it from, Jesus said I have come that the whole world can have a right relationship with God. God, himself, made it clear that nothing we could do could earn His grace (Isaiah 64:6), that it was a free gift (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that it was strong enough to clear away the worst of failures (1 John 1:8-10).

So, why do we have such a problem with this? Why can't we be excited that God can forgive your neighbor just like He forgave you? I'm not sure. Maybe it has something to do with our competitive nature. Maybe it's a pride thing. Whatever it is, it's not Biblical. So hug your hymnals. Chant your religious creeds. Bow down to the "Mecca" of your choosing. I'm going to keep preaching Christ and Him crucified. I'm going to keep offering grace--pure, unadulterated, unlimited and unselective--to anyone who will call upon the name of Jesus. You see, I still believe that the demonstration of his love on Cavalry was enough--more than enough--to cover me and you and my neighbor and the whole world. Without it, I don't have a chance...neither do you.