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Friday, September 28, 2007

Okay, confession time. I am a closet "Winnie the Pooh" fan. He's one of my heroes. Be honest. Who else could put on a shirt three sizes two small, eat all the time with a constantly swelling belly, hang out with all those misfits and still have such a positive outlook on life?


Look at 'em. There was Eeyore ("nobody cares about the donkey"). Wow, talk about a "downer". This guy could find dark shadows on the sun. And, yet, I love the guy (can you call a donkey a guy?). He pulls no punches, never shies away from sharing exactly how he feels--which is usually three heart beats short of a coma.


Then there is rabbit. I think I used to date a girl that was just like rabbit. Always busy, always moving, never quiet. Rabbit wears me out.


Piglet is a ray of sunshine. Timid and shy and yet always able to bring a little sunshine to the rest of the crew from the "Hundred Acres Woods." Poor thing just couldn't stay out of trouble but you would never find a more loyal friend. Just ask Pooh.


(Nice segue to the hero, huh?) So...here he is. The rotund leader of a motley crew. Each with their own set of quirks. Each with their own set of contributions to the fun. None more important than the other. No wonder they called the place "enchanted."


The beautiful thing about creator A. A. Milne's laughable characters is this--as different and odd as all of them may be, no one cares. No one cares that gopher can't see, that owl's "wisdom" is short-sighted or that Tigger can't be still. They just "do life together." (For those of you Ridgeview readers out there, you know where this is headed now). Together. Can you imagine anyone of these characters handling just one story line alone? Can you see Piglet taking on heffalumps or woosles without his fearless friend Tigger by his side? Can you imagine Pooh escaping the jams (literal and figurative) that he finds himself in without the other inhabitants of the woods?

What about you? What keeps you from doing life with others? What's your excuse? Maybe you're like Eeyore and you think no one cares about the trouble you're going through. Bet you're wrong. Maybe you're just a little timid like Piglet or a little too busy like Rabbit. Let me assure you of something. You were not intended to face your life alone. God made you for life with others--no matter what part of the woods you live in. No matter what your life is like, it can be made better by doing it with others. They don't have to look like you (Christopher Robin never cared) or dress like you, they just have to know you care. Give it a try and see if your life doesn't become a little more enchanted.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

From time-to-time my family finds a few days to sneak away for a family trip. Often it's an opportunity to get with other family members. Other times it's a fun vacation or relaxing get away. Regardless of the destination or the reason for the trip, there is something you can always count on. (If you are a parent, you can probably guess what's coming.) Somewhere in the middle of the trip (at any point past the first mile-marker on the interstate) one of my kids will ask, "Are we there yet?" (At this point I usually respond with something really wise like, "Sure we are. Open the door and hop out." Thankfully, none have tried it.) It's their attempt to measure progress and determine longevity--to find out where we've been and when the journey will be over.

Isn't it funny how little we change as adults? We spend a whole lot of time measuring our journeys. We celebrate milestones, birthdays, anniversaries, tenure, etc. all in an attempt to answer one major question..."Are we there yet?"

We wonder how long we have walked this earth and how much further till we are home? Though some don't realize that's what we're seeking, we are seeking it nonetheless. It is no wonder that we have such a fascination with apocalyptic events and dramatic scenarios. The "Left Behind" books that sold millions of copies to believers and non-believers alike resonated with us. How much longer till we are home?

I ask myself that question quite often, especially on those days that seem a little tougher than others. Days where life piles up really high on my shoulders. Days where it seems I don't have a whole lot of energy to do much of anything. Days where I take blow after blow from the "enemy" (Satan) and wonder if I can handle any more. And, especially those days where I want to hear my grandmother pray for me one more time, hear my dad cheering at me from the stands, see my wife's beautiful smile or watch my little boy as he races across the yard. It's those days I wonder, "Am I there yet?" Kind of like these words from the group "Mercy Me" that came out just about the time my wife and son were killed:

I close my eyes and I see your face
If home's where my heart is then I'm out of place
Lord, won't you give me strength to make it through somehow
I've never been more homesick than now

But there's more. Because every time I wonder "Am I there yet?" I know God replies: "No, son. Not yet. There's more road to be traveled. More things left to see. More conversations to be had. More trials to endure. More songs to be sung. More sunsets to take in. More laughter and more tears and more dreams and more frustrations. No, son. We're not there yet. But when you arrive, boy, what a day that will be."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

31When you eat or drink or do anything else, always do it to honor God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 CEV
One of the responsibilities I have on an almost daily basis is counseling. Now, I'm not a trained counselor and, on most occasions, I will refer individuals and couples to someone who is. I don't want to try and be something I'm not. But I will take the time to talk with anyone who calls or schedules an appointment to see if I can get to the root of their spiritual problems first.

Some times it's a marriage issue. Other times it can be a self-esteem problem, an addiction or a struggle with spiritual doubts. Each person who comes to my attention has unique needs. Each one expresses their life frustrations in different ways. Here's what many of them have in common, however. Purpose. Or, more accurately stated, lack of purpose. I honestly believe that so many of the "issues" of our lives revolve around our inability to remember our purpose. Why were you created? Not for jobs, hobbies, families or even religion. The Bible makes one thing clear from cover-to-cover. You and I were made to worship (sorry, Chris Tomlin, not trying to steal your thunder).

We were made to worship. Plain and simple. And every attempt to live outside of that purpose leads us into frustration. Your frustration isn't because you can't seem to get ahead on your debt; your frustration comes because you allowed things to become more important than God. You aren't broken because the pregnancy test keeps coming back negative; you are broken because you forgot Who it is that forms life and determines our footsteps. You have forgotten your place. Your place is not on the throne...it's on your knees. And every attempt you and I make to stand "on our own two feet" and make something of ourselves is a slap at God's face and a journey outside of His will.

So...you want to go it alone and make a name for yourself? Go ahead. Feel free. God's given you that option. And I'll see you in my office in a few months or a few years as we talk about how God's way is the only way that will ever satisfy you. Whatever you do, do it for Him. Do it for His glory. Do it for your own well-being.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I began a new series at Ridgeview this past week entitled "Half-time: Preparing for What God Has Next." It's an interesting look at our lives and how we can all get run down and dry with the mundane things of life. When that happens, we catch ourselves looking for the next big moment to take us to the next level. It may be a promotion, a new relationship, a new home or a spiritual retreat that "boosts" us for the next few weeks and months. But those of us who are fortunate enough to find those moments must admit that life is more than the sum of these moments. Life is found in the little things--the millions of little moments that happen in between the big ones.

God did not intend for us to just "exist" from one big moment to the next. God gave us every single second of every single day to really live. The problem is not that you and I don't have enough big moments. The problem is we don't realize how big the little moments really are.

Don't believe me? Then watch as a loved one dies before it's their time. Watch as she slips away and be reminded every single second of every single day how much you would give to have back those millions of little moments in between. Get that phone call that life is ending because of some disease that reminds man that he is merely man and I promise you that you will gain a greater appreciation of every minute detail of life.

Why wait? Why not embrace life for all that it is before that phone call comes? Sleepy on Monday morning? Thank God you have lived to see another one. Overwhelmed by the electric bill that soars higher and higher? Thank God for a house and home where your family is safe--no matter how big or small or dirty it may be. Frustrated by keeping the schedules of a spouse and numerous little kiddos? Take the time to embrace them and praise God for the blessing of life, new life, young life and the health that we all take for granted.

It's a great new day made of millions of little bitty moments. Your big moment may come today. If it does, endure it. And realize that your life hinges, not on the greatness found in the big events, but in the faithfulness of God found in the little ones.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Boy, the hits just keep coming. Seems like every day that passes the world gets just a little crazier. I'm not talking about being a little silly or offbeat. I'm talking about being down right crazy. Three examples from today's news:
  • a man in Atlanta is arrested for taking his neighbors cats. The reason? He was using them to feed his pit bull. Now, I am not a fan of cats (despite being forced to own 4 of them in my previous marriage) but to take one and give it to the dog as an afternoon treat is just a little bit extreme.
  • in Germany, a politician has spoken out in favor of some new legislation regarding marriage. Ready for this one? She believes that marriages pretty much run their course after 7 years. So, she proposes that every marriage would be dissolved after 7 years. The couple would then decide to move on or, if they liked being married, "re-up" for 7 more. Adds a whole new meaning to the phrase the "seven year itch." Worst part is, she is supposedly a conservative Christian.
  • at least this next guy admits he is an agnostic. A state representative in Omaha, NE sued God last week for "terroristic threats, causing world-wide panic and endangering the lives of billions of people with his behavior." The good news is that God has reportedly responded with a formal reply reminding this gentleman that He made the world good, it's our free will that has the whole thing screwed up. You go, God!!

So, this had me thinking about all this craziness. Seemingly intelligent people doing outlandish things because they believe it's the right thing to do. Then, something struck me.

Why not me? Or you for that matter? Why not something crazy and outlandish for God and for the Kingdom's sake? DO NOT misunderstand me...I'm not talking about turning into a religious wacko. We all know they've done far more harm than good in this world. No, I'm just talking about something unexpected, outside the box, away from the norm. After all, isn't God the best at that kind of thing?

Think about it.

  • Building boats in a desert to save the world from a flood where they have never seen rain.
  • Leading over a million people through the desert with a cloud by day and a "glow-in-the-dark" one by night.
  • Sending a teenager to do a man's work when someone called for a giant-slayer.
  • Three men dancing in a furnace, clamping the mouths of lions shut and causing city walls to fall with only a shout.

Perhaps the most radical intervention plan of all? A teenage virgin delivers the hope of the world...God made flesh. Absolutely, stinking radical. That's what it is. It blows my mind. So, what do His followers do to give him honor? (Shhh ,now. We wouldn't want anyone to hear. It might offend someone and it might cause someone to notice us.) NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. At least, not most of us. Our heads are buried in our hymnbooks while our world is headed to hell. We spend more time fighting each other than we do fighting the enemy. We've taken the simple truth that God loves us and turned it into a convoluted mess that has theologians scratching their heads.

It's time for something radical. Something God-like. Something beyond the definition of man and incapable of being attributed to some good man or some good program. I'm still praying with those of you who committed a few weeks back for God's outpouring. I'm praying that some group, some church, some Bible study somewhere will get it. What is "it"? I don't know. Can't exactly put my finger on it. But I can tell you this...it starts and ends with God. Not me. Not you. But somewhere in the middle is the story of one life so completely surrendered that God finds the vessel He needs to change others.

I'm praying for over 200 people at my church this week. I'm praying for new believers. I'm praying for sister churches and pastor friends and missionaries and disciples all over the world to do something radically different. After all, isn't that the purest reflection of a God who is in the business of living outside the norm of our expectations? I think so.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

40. It's a cool number with a lot of significance. Forty seconds can change the outcome of a football game and even a season. Forty days was how long Jesus stayed in the wilderness after His baptism and the amount of time some experts say it takes to develop a life-changing habit. Forty weeks is how long God uses to develop a baby inside the womb of its mother. Forty years is how long God's children wondered in the desert before being allowed to enter the promised land.

It just so happens that's how long my wife has been alive. I know that's a bad thing to reveal (a woman's age) but that's only if the woman has something to hide--like she looks like 40 when she's only 30. That's not true with Lisa.

I love Lisa. She has been a blessing to me and my kids and an incredible addition to my life. She's been through a lot in 40 years. She's faced really, really dark times and lived through some amazing highs. She's given birth to 2 children and adopted for herself two more (that would be mine). When faced with challenges, she has risen to the occasion and trusted that God would deliver an answer (How sad that, in my case, the best answer He could give was me--just kidding Lisa) She handles herself with grace and love and offers the same to any she comes in contact with. She is a full time mom and a full time realtor--a difficult combination.

And today she's 40. And everything those 40 years have brought her way have made her who she is today. I love it. I love you. I'm praying for another 40 years of life so we can see, together, what God chooses to do with our stories. Happy birthday, Lisa! Here's hoping the rest of our lives are a pure reflection of what a loving God can do with two people who are completely surrendered to His will.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In life, there are certain things that you can just know for sure. For instance, given the choice between carrot cake and a brownie, I will choose the brownie 99-1/2 times out of 100 (the other percentage is when my wife is standing nearby and reminds me of my blood pressure or cholesterol). Another one is this, I love my kids. Are they perfect? No way. Do I get angered, frustrated or discouraged by their behavior? You better believe it. But it never changes how much I love them. Nor does it change how much I want to bless them as they grow.

Even more certain than these facts is this statement: God is good. For those of you reading this blog who just received a raise, won your ball game, woke up on the right side of the bed or married into the right family, you are echoing your "amens" to that statement.

For the rest, the ones of us who are living in the middle of "questionable" events in our lives...we need to be reminded. You know who I am talking about. The man who requested prayer for the mistakes that he made that may cost him his family. The lady whose husband has died and left her to raise the family on her own. The couple who is caring for their aging parents, feeling the financial strain that hangs in the balance between life and death. The teen who has screwed up so bad so early in life that he wonders if his damaged life will ever be good again. For all of you, take confidence in this fact--God is indeed good.

In fact, the Bible says that there is nothing bad found in Him. Nothing. While that fact alone should give us great confidence, here is another that may change your outlook at your present situation. God wants you to be like Him. ("Be imitators of God" Ephesians 5:1) What does that mean for your marriage? your family? your future? Because God is good and he wants you to be the same, you can have absolute confidence that whatever you are going through has been allowed into your life to refine you and reshape you. If your life is surrendered to God, He is working through every situation to make you like Him. Every situation. Does that mean God caused it? Know. Does that mean that God wanted you to have to go through this? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that, just like with my children, He will use whatever means necessary to teach you, train you, discipline and correct you. That includes the present events in your life.

So, for those of you chest deep in trouble, don't leave His side. Don't give up or give in or give out. God will bring you out on the other side if you will just trust in His goodness. And the person who emerges on the other side will be someone new, someone stronger, someone more like Christ--good...very good.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Little bit of a different blog this afternoon. Just kind of thinking and reflecting on a recurring subject in my ministry these days--even in my personal life. It's the issue of trust. It seems like it's popped up in numerous places: our recent sermon series, conversations with some of my close friends, numerous counseling sessions over recent weeks and my quiet time this morning. So, in no particular order, here are some random thoughts on the issue of trust:
  • Contrary to what some people believe, trust is not given, trust is earned. A life time of building trust can be thrown away with a few thoughtless words or one careless action.
  • Trust, like most other parts of a relationship, can grow but, like most living things, it must be tended to regularly to maintain the life and growth.
  • It's impossible to trust someone in a relationship when you keep secrets of your own. Underneath is the nagging suspicion that you are being treated with the same dishonesty.
  • Trust involves risk. You don't take risks, you never learn to trust.
  • Sufficiency found in Christ allows you to take greater risks, embracing bigger opportunities for trust.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Just when I think I have seen and heard it all, something new pops onto the screen. Maybe you have seen this one but I must admit that it really took me off guard. This morning's paper had an article about comedian Kathy Griffin. Some of you know her. I know very little about her. Whatever the case, she was awarded an Emmy for her performance on some show that's so good, I've never heard of it (yes, that was major sarcasm). Doesn't surprise me though. Hollywood has focused its efforts in recent years on pushing the envelope and being out of touch with main stream America. Why not award an Emmy to a second rate comic? But that's not the point here. Here's where it gets crazy. The following is a portion of her acceptance speech, which will be edited from the TV showing of the awards show.

"a lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."Then, lifting her Emmy award up high she continued, "This award is my god now!"

Wow! I was blown away. What an awful statement. What an arrogant attitude. What reckless disregard for everything holy: God's love, God's authority, God's justice. Here's the kicker though.

Is she any different from many of us? No, we don't get on stage and thumb our noses at God. But doesn't every sin scoff at His justice. We may not hold a golden statue in our hands, but how many times have you allowed your job, your hobbies, your friends, or your status to become "your god now." I feel for Kathy. She's a poor soul in need of love and direction. She is a hurt individual who thinks her career and her success will satisfy her when she gets to the end of her life. What about you? Is God really the center of your life? Can I just be honest and offend a few of you a little bit? I'm really talking to a lot of my churched friends--you know, the members of the club. You know the secret handshake and the right words to use but if you were completely honest with yourself you would have to admit that your attitude is very "Griffin-like." You toss your perfunctory praise to heaven each Sunday and then live like hell the rest of the week. Your speech and your actions are no better than Kathy's or any other who denies the existence of God. How dare we believe that God would be any more satisfied with us than He is with her? With God, it's all or nothing. May you and I both be found giving Him our all today.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'm sitting in a hotel room in Euless, TX this morning. I'm watching ESPN and listening as the rain falls outside my hotel window. In between, I'm reflecting on last evening. I had the opportunity to worship with the people of First Baptist Church. What an incredible time it was as their choir and orchestra led us with some uplifting and amazing music.

I had the opportunity to talk a little about the recent events in my life and what God has been teaching me. During the response time and immediately after the service, I had the chance to hear the stories of many people who are hurting. There were a lot of different stories that filled that room last night. Recent deaths, marriages in danger, bad news from the doctor, careers in jeopardy--a whole lot of reasons for people to be seeking hope and help from God.

It got me to thinking this morning. (okay, this next statement is going to be painfully obvious for most of us...bear with me). We all have a story. All of us. There are no exceptions. There are some guarantees that come with these stories. (okay another obvious statement coming) They all have a beginning and an end. They all have their share of twists and turns. They all have ups and downs, victories and failures. But there is a difference. And I think this is where it lies--it's in the credits. You know, that part of the movie that no one pays attention to unless it's filled with outtakes from the film that were cut during editing. The place where everyone who had anything to do with the story is mentioned: stars, editors, producers, car drivers, wardrobe people, grips (what is that anyway?), and the kind people who cater the food for everyone of the people listed above. If you have just viewed a major movie, this list of credits can go on for 5 minutes or more. It's amazing.

Here's my question: who does you story give credit to? Who are the people who have played different roles in your life? Who were the encouragers, the challengers, the ones who distracted you, the ones who belittled you? Who do you give credit to?

Now, here's where I am headed...is there room for God? Do you and I really believe that God has all of our lives in His hands? I believe He does. I believe every event and circumstance has been allowed into my life because the Editor deemed it necessary. Every person that has ever crossed my path came for a reason. My wife, my kids, my friends and my "non-friends" (hate to use the word enemies there) were all characters in the story of my life--a story that was thought up and directed by God Himself.

So, when I get to the end of my story (and maybe when you get to the end of yours) there's got to be this footnote to it all: "Created, directed, produced and edited by God" That enables me to live this story with a different perspective. When problems come it's because God believed I could handle it. When victory comes, it's because God wanted me to use it for His glory. When difficult people come into my life, it's because God wanted to use them to teach me. When life gets hard, God is using it to draw me closer to Him. Just like a good movie, every scene has a purpose. Every character has a role. The difference is...who do I give the credit to?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

One of the most discouraging things for any pastor is watching Christ followers as they delight in God's mercy and grace but refuse to share it with others. It seems that no matter how much we talk about the mission God has given us to share His love with others, the number of people willing to do so stays minimal. In my 15 years as a student minister, I used to hear kids say, "I don't know what to say. What if they ask a hard question? What if they reject my offers? What then?" As a pastor, I watch adults who feel the same thing, they are just afraid to say it.

I was reminded this morning of a cool story in Matthew 9. It is a story where 4 guys get together and they bring a paralyzed friend to Jesus. In the end, Jesus heals the man, forgives him and gives him back his life--very cool. But that's not what caught my attention this morning. It was this portion of the story, "Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat." Matthew 9:2 NIV

You know what's interesting about that. There's not one mention of pedigree or knowledge, training or background. The story records no dialogue or questioning or debate by these men. It doesn't reveal that these men had degrees from respected theological schools. All we can gather from this story is one amazing truth: their friend had a need and they knew who could fix it. That's it. That's all it took. In fact, the only thing these guys are recognized for in this story comes in the next verse..."Jesus saw their faith..." Matthew 9:3 NIV

You and I are given two calls in this life. The first is personal...Jesus says, "Come, follow me." And we must either accept or reject that call. The second is contingent upon your answer to the first. As soon as you and I say "yes" to Jesus, we must accept the call to invite our friends. There are no options, no second choices, no "Plan Bs". Plain and simple...if you aren't inviting friends to Jesus, you're telling them to "go to hell." What's amazing to me is this fact: there are many reading this who will be more upset that I just typed that last sentence than you are that your friends are "paralyzed" by sin. We get upset about some of the most stupid things when the one thing in all of Scripture that makes God cry is the sight of a lost soul.

What's your lame excuse? What's your pitiful reason for not doing the one thing God has commanded you to do? Would your boss accept such an excuse for you not doing your job (which is infinitely less important)? The Bible is clear. All it takes is faith. Faith that God matters. Faith that He is real. Faith that He is the answer for your friends and the whole world. Now, what are you prepared to do about it?

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I'm back in my office this morning after a great Labor Day weekend. We made our annual pilgrimage to the family reunion for my mother's family. These aren't your typical reunions--at least, not in my mind. First of all, there are a ton of us (this year we were in the vicinity of 100 without everyone in attendance). Needless to say, we take over the little hotel in North Georgia where the event takes place. There are family members of all ages from at least 3 different states. Most of them still live in South Georgia but, with time, the family continues to stretch a little further apart.

I guess another reason it's a little different is that, every year, we rent a room at the local state park and we have a time of worship. I think that speaks volumes about the role that God has played in this family for many generations. My grandfather was a Freewill Baptist pastor in South Georgia. There he would farm all week long and then travel to different churches as their itinerant pastor each weekend. I would say well over 90% of my family continues this tradition of faith with their own families, even as we get larger. There are a few exceptions but not many.

It's quite comical when we get together (for a lot of reasons that I will not list here in order to save my good standing with the rest of the family). In particular, it's been fun watching my mom and her brothers and sisters get older (there are 8 total). It's great sitting around and listening to them talk about old stories for the fifth and sixth time. It's great to see the pride in their faces as they watch, first their children, then their grandchildren, then their great-grandchildren become a part of this tradition. Most of the time, they'll have to call 10 names before they get to the right one. Lots of times, they forget whose grandchild belongs with which niece or nephew (that happens when you don't see each other all year). But, from beginning to end, there is something strong that underlies all of this--it's that bond of family and the expectation that comes with the family name. (Okay, I'm headed somewhere with all of this...are you ready?)

I thought about this all the way home yesterday as we drove through the mountains. Then, this morning, I came to this passage. "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43:1 NIV

Isn't that awesome? God calls you by name. God claims ownership over you. If you listen when He calls, you become part of His family. It's a large family, a diverse family. It comes from 50 states and a 1000 nations. It speaks languages like Slavic and Yiddish and Mandarin and, yes, South Georgia English. Every member has its story and every story points to Him and His greatness. And, He calls you by name! The best news of all is that it is a name He'll never forget. Once you enter into the family, you are inscribed on His hand and kept there forever. Makes me proud to be part of the family. Proud to know the heritage we have and the future we've been promised. I look forward to the day we have the greatness reunion ever known. We'll meet brothers and sisters we never knew. We'll be introduced to children and adults who became part of the family because we did our part. And...as one great big family, we will worship. Worship the God who calls us, every single one of us, by name.