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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 earth...it 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 is...do 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. Paycheck...health... 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 about...me. 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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

If you detect a little excitement in my blog today, it is not a mistake. This time tomorrow I will be in "Beantown" (Boston, MA for those of you who don't know your city nicknames). It will be the first day of mine and Lisa's 7 day-long and long-overdue honeymoon. We decided to take a few days and cruise around New England. I'm excited for 3 reasons:
  • The history of New England. I was an American History major in college and I love visiting the sites where America was shaped--battlefields, courtrooms, meeting halls and churches. Yes, churches. Despite what revisionists want to tell us, America was founded on some very sound Biblical principles as well as distinctly Godly values. Start by looking at the Mayflower Compact and read all the way through some of the letters and journals of our Founding Fathers and you have a hard time missing it. That is, unless you do what "modern" historians are doing by taking phrases and portions of history out of context to make it say what you want it to say. Kind of like church goers who pull Scripture out of context to justify their behavior and judgments. (Now I have gone to "meddlin" as my grandfather would have said).
  • The beauty of New England. I'm going to see parts of the country that I have never seen. Five states in 8 days. Coastlines, mountains, small towns, fields, changing leaves...what more could you ask for. I'm one of those guys who is amazed at what God did with just a few words. I'm amazed how it all fits together and how it was given to us by God as a gift to enjoy (for the hard-lined environmentalists who have forgotten that point, re-read Genesis. I'm all for protecting the environment but it is ours to use and enjoy without apology. We simply must be good stewards of how we do that. It's called "balance" people so quit getting so whacked out about it).
  • The beauty of my travel partner. Every day that passes I see a little bit more of the gift that God gave me in Lisa. Let's face it, yesterday was just 3 months of marriage and there is much that I still have to discover about my new wife. The scary part is there is still much she has to learn about me (Yikes!!). I want these next 8 days to be a time of friendship and prayer, laughter and learning, love and awakening. She and I have both been through a lot these last 3+ years. We're ready for some down time.

So, here are my promises to you who continue to read the blog (by the way, thanks to all of you new readers who have joined us. Hope it's been worth the effort to log on).

  1. I will enjoy myself.
  2. I will not answer my cell phone unless it is my children calling. The rest of you can leave messages and know that, unless you are bleeding, dying or offering me money, I will call you back when we get back to Tennessee.
  3. I might blog...I might not. (How's that for decisiveness?)
  4. I will be reading. Got several books to catch up on.
  5. I will not be bothering you.
  6. I will pray for you and am hoping you will do the same for us.
  7. In the words of General Douglas MacArthur, "I will be back." (Some of you thought that originated with the Terminator didn't you? Just a bad copy-cat). And I will be back ready to take on what's next for me and my family and my church. This journey of life is not done until God "blows the whistle" so I'll enjoy this break and come back ready to do my part in God's plan.

What's next for you?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 NLT
Many years ago, I remember taking a family vacation to the beach. I was probably about 10 or 11 (I told you it was many years ago.) On one particular day, my cousins and I had been at the ocean for a few hours when my mom yelled from the boardwalk that lunch was ready. Being the bottomless pits that we were, we dropped our shovels and stuff and went racing for the tower of condos that sat a few 100 feet off of the beach. As I made my way towards the boardwalk that stretched across the dune, I ran past a bunch of teenage guys who had a mound of sand almost half my height. Running too close to the mound, I accidentally stepped on the edge and incurred a tirade of expletives for my careless steps. Honestly, I was floored. I couldn't figure out why the guy was so upset about his big pile of sand. It's not like he couldn't put another bucket full in its place. I quickly apologized and continued my race upstairs.

It wasn't until I got to our 11th floor balcony for lunch that I understood what had just taken place. Looking out over the beach below, I got the big picture. What I had stepped on was not just a mound of sand. It was a very detailed replica of Busch Stadium (the old baseball stadium where the St. Louis Cardinals played). The "mound", as I had seen it up close, was way more than that. It was a work that had been in progress for hours. It was really quite an amazing feat. I had not understood the value of the pile because I was too close to the finished product.

I thought about that as I was reading the above verse. It's really not much different from the things that you and I face in our lives. We can catch ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and not see how it effects the big picture. We can be the victim of a tirade of complaints or expletives for no apparent reason and never see how our "innocent mistake" rippled down through years of a person's personal journey.

More importantly, you and I will never understand (this side of heaven) all of the different circumstances of life. We just don't have the right perspective. The events you face today may seem out of place, unfair or overwhelming. Maybe it's because you're standing too close. Rather than looking at this week or even the 70+ years that God may give you in this life, try to understand the world from God's "penthouse" view. He sees all of eternity and He understands how every step and misstep can lead to the unfolding of His plan. My question mark may be your exclamation mark. My missed opportunity may lead to an open door for someone else, somewhere else.

The trick is not in knowing the meaning of every event in your life. It is in knowing the One who holds all events and searching to find how each step we take may bring Him greater glory through our victories and our failures.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

16Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. Hebrews 11:16 NIV

I love my kids. I love to hang out with them, love to talk with them. I love watching them play ball and dance around the room in their sillier moments. I love to hear them laugh. And I try real hard, even in those moments when I am being the big mean daddy, to let them know that I am very proud of them. It's important to them and it's important to me that they know that. Typically, those words are accompanied by a hug or a kiss on the forehead (don't tell Harrison I told you that). You can see what an impact it has--the way their faces light up with the words that I believe in them.

Can you hear the Father's voice in the words above? He is saying, "I'm not ashamed to be yours. I long to have this. I desire to be associated with those who are longing for the right things."

That got me thinking about the opposing perspective on this verse. If God is not ashamed of some, does that mean He is ashamed of others? Of course. I think that's pretty obvious. There are some people who God gets frustrated with and would rather not have any association with. Who are they? Look at the verse again. It says God is not ashamed of those who are longing for heaven.

The ones who bring shame? Those of us who get caught up longing for the things of this world. I know what you're thinking. What Christian in their right mind longs for this world? The answer...a great many of them. Want proof? Pull out the check book or credit card receipt of your nearest Bible toting, Sunday-go-to-meeting believer and find out where they spend their money. Cars, house, clothes, vacations, technology, hobbies, etc.--all of them are good things. But none of them matter. God says we can enjoy these things as long as they are in the right order on your list of priorities. Ready for the list as He sees it...God first, everything else in the world a distant "it don't matter."

Here's the basic principle as it's applied. You get a check, the first 10% goes to him. That's it. Plain and simple. Anything else is robbery. It's pointing a gun at God and saying "You owe me." How dare we? No wonder He is ashamed.

Now, as a pastor, I get asked a lot of questions like, "Do we tithe on the gross or net?" That's like going up to your wife and saying, "Hey, honey, what's the least amount I can spend for your birthday without having to sleep on the couch tonight?" We're not asking what do we get to give; we're asking what do we have to give. We're not saying how can I grow God's kingdom, spread His glory and bless others. It's all about me, me and, oh yeah, me. God says, "Give me the first fruits and watch how you will be blessed." I say I dare you to give it a try.

I don't care what kind of debt you have or what kind of bills you pay or how little you think your income is or how little you've put away for retirement. You can't out give God. And, you can't take it with you when you're gone. So, the smart investment is to put as much as you can in a Kingdom that never fades, knowing that the blessing will be yours for eternity...not just until the next bills are due. Then, when it's all said and done and you're standing in front of God, you can hear Him say, "I wasn't ashamed of this one. She had her sights set on the right kingdom...a Heavenly one."

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I awoke around 3 a.m. this morning to the gentle touch of Lisa's hand on my arm. I didn't think much about it at first. Lisa is a snuggler and likes to be close as we sleep at night. Then, I heard a light sniffle followed by a second and a third. I realized she was crying. I'll recount our conversation (with her permission) as best as I can remember it almost 5 hours later:
"Are you okay, baby?"
"Yes, I'm fine"
"What are you doing? You aren't getting sick are you?"
"No, I'm praying."
"You're praying? Are you crying?"
"Yes, God woke me up, told me to pray and, so, I'm praying."
"Praying for what?"
"You"
Being the spiritual giant that I am, the next question was a natural. "You couldn't do this in the day time...like when we are all awake."
"No! God told me to pray and I learned a long time ago when He tells me to pray, I pray."
"What are you praying about?"
"You. Every part of you. I prayed for your mind that God would help you take every thought captive. I prayed for your eyes that they would always seek God's way and see people as He sees them. I prayed for your mouth that He would keep it shut...(I think the pause was deliberate here) until He is ready for you to speak and has given you words..."
The next question I can only attribute to the fact that it was 3 o'clock in the morning and I was delirious from being awake before the sun. "You said you were praying for all of me. Did you pray for my rear end?" I chuckled a little at my own sense of humor. Her response silenced me.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I prayed that God would teach you to sit still and wait on him."

Do you understand now why I love this woman and feel so blessed to be beside her?

She makes me a better person. She sharpens me. She takes no crap (the Greek word here would be dunga) off of me and she gets me to thinking. Our conversation this morning reminded me of the warfare that we are in daily.

Ephesians 6 encourages all believers to be dressed for war--a spiritual battle that takes no breaks and offers no peace treaties. It is a war that rages around us every single second and will not end until the day Christ ends it.

So, how naked are you? As you begin this day (and every day henceforth) what are you doing for yourself and those you love to be sure they are dressed for the day ahead. Every morning, I kiss my kids and make sure they have homework, lunches, signed papers and other things they will need for school. I also make sure they are dressed for whatever the weather holds. Shouldn't I be doing the same for them as they walk out into the warfare that surrounds them every step of the way? Shouldn't you be doing the same?

I can honestly say that this was the first time I ever had someone pray for my rear end. But at least I know I'm covered. So, I ask again, as you begin this day, how naked are you?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Before I get into the topic today, I wanted to take a second and address something regarding the use of this blog. Many of you have chosen to respond with comments. The number of comments has increased greatly since the release of the article this month. For that, I am very grateful. God is honoring my prayers to allow my story to touch and minister to other people. Here is something you must keep in mind, however. I really want to take the time to respond personally to everyone who writes, comments, or calls. When you make a comment on this blog, it does not give me your name and/or e-mail address unless you include it in the body of your comment. So, I can't respond to comments unless you give me that information. I had a couple of comments just this week where people wanted me to reply but I had no way of contacting them. Here's the solution. Either you e-mail me directly at rbarron@rccfranklin.com or you include your name/e-mail address in your blog comments. If you don't care about receiving a reply, feel free to use the feedback section as always. Thanks.


By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8 NIV

Last night my wife and I had the chance to go and visit with some of our church family at one of our community groups (we call them LIFE groups at RCC). Shortly before we left, she did what a good wife is supposed to do and asked me, "Do you have any idea where we are going or how we get there?" Fortunately, I did and I told her so. Obviously she believed me because, without further questioning, she got into the car and we drove to the house. (Yes, I did make one wrong turn but we made it on time anyway).

That's kind of what I picture here with Abraham. The Bible says that God told Abraham to stick a "For Sale" sign in the front yard of his tent, round up the cattle and move to a new place. I find it interesting that no where does the story say that Abraham asked the question that my wife asked me. Lisa showed faith in me by believing that I was in control and knew where we were going. How much more faith did Abraham have in that he never once questioned God on the plan? He heard what God said and called his realtor (not really, just follow the story with me here).

In recent weeks, God's really been talking to me about the whole issue of faith. Or, maybe I should say the whole "action" of faith. It's one thing to say I believe in God. It's another thing to add "...so I will..." Abraham heard God's voice and He believed. And, because He believed, he moved.

You and I must do the same. God speaks to every one of us every single day. Do we listen? Do we try to explain away our disobedience by pretending we didn't hear or that we didn't understand? Do we act like God owes us more or that, somehow, we've given Him enough? The challenge is that I must listen and obey even though I don't know where this road may take me. I sure didn't 3 years ago when I prayed the prayer that day. When I told God "use this and use me for your glory" I had no idea what doors that would open and what hearts that would touch. There are decisions that loom in front of me now with my family and my church and this ministry that God has given me. In every situation, both mine and yours, our response must be, "I believe you God so I will ..." I may not know where I'm going but God surely does. In His care and in His time, He will get me there.

Friday, October 05, 2007

As a pastor, I often get told that this "faith thing" can be kind of hard. And for lots of different reasons. I fully realize that. I have those same feelings from time to time. For instance, when God tells me to trust Him for something, some provision. I fully want to believe Him. I do...I think. Then I start questioning what my role is to be in the process. If God is providing, do I sit back and watch or is there some effort He would require as my part in the journey?

I bet some of you have been there (are there) too, learning to walk that fine line between complete faith in God and complete trust in yourself.

I am learning from Scripture that there is NEVER a time where God says that He will do all the work, we should just sit back and relax.

God opened the Red Sea but the Hebrew people still had to walk through it.
God told Noah it would rain; he still had to build the boat.
God told David that He would deliver him from Goliath; David still had to find the rock, place it in the sling and take down the giant.
God brought food to the wandering Hebrews; they still had to collect it.
He provided the world a Savior. We still must put our faith into following Him.

So, what does that mean in practical terms? I don't have giants to slay or arks to build or seas to cross. But I do have a family to provide for, kids to raise, a wife to love and a church to grow. God has told me clearly that He will provide in all these instances. There is, however, a part I must play. The trick is learning to do my part without taking His part out of His hands.

Here's the key: intimacy. That's right. Communication. My wife and I don't get along without it. My kids fight me all day long without it. My church falls into chaos without it. And God...He desires it. He wants to hear from me every day and, in learning His voice, I learn my part. I know what it is He is seeking. I know what it is that I should be doing. Through knowing His voice, this "faith thing" becomes easier.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

I want to continue my thoughts from yesterday with another great quote. "...the one who is honest in his failures is the one who can be strongest in his faith." Chris Tiegreen

I thought of my wife as I read those words. Many of you don't know much about Lisa. Truth is, most of you don't know a whole lot about me besides what you read on this blog. Lisa is an amazing woman. I recognized that right away when I met her (blind dates do work. I am living proof). There is an amazing confidence that comes from her knowledge of Christ and His love for her. She is smart and strong and hungry--hungry for more intimacy with the Lord. To be that way would be enough. It would satisfy most of us. But you need to know the rest of the story...

...Lisa grew up going to church in a very good family. But that was it. There was no genuineness to this religion she observed and it wasn't long after becoming an adult that the religion took a back seat to her own drive and desires. It was in the midst of a second failing marriage that God got her attention. She and her ex-husband were in a plane crash that almost took both of their lives. Immediately, Lisa turned her attention to this God she had been familiar with but had never really known. After her second marriage ended (both divorces were Biblical so don't get on your spiritual high horses out there), Lisa's relationship with Christ took an even deeper turn. She knew how she had failed miserably in her personal and professional decisions before knowing Christ and it was in her heart not to allow that to occur again. For three years she refused to date anyone but Jesus and focused her attention on her relationship to Him and her daughters.

After all that she had been through there are a lot of avenues that Lisa could have chosen to escape. She could have made excuses. She has none. She could have been bitter...and she was. But she has chosen not to live her life that way and has allowed God's peace to slowly remove the seeds of bitterness. She could have ignored God altogether. She realized that He (not another husband or more business) was her only hope. She could have hidden because of her failure. Instead, just as the quote above signifies, she took her failures to God so that she could rest quietly in the strength of her new found faith. That was over 10 years ago and, today, she still speaks to hurting women with the wisdom that can only come from one who has "been there." One might even think that she is an advocate of divorce as an easy escape for hurting marriages. On that point, I will let her speak for herself:

"My heart aches to think people may look at me and think divorce is the answer. I will admit I entertained the thought to quit more times than not, but I never could find scripture that said to stop….give up. I actually kept reading to “press on”. There were so many days that I wished my Bible had a hole in those parts, but I had to obey the Bible in its entirety. If I could share one verse that was so powerful for me during those draining days it would be Hebrews 6:12 'We DO NOT want to become lazy (bored, tired etc.), BUT to imitate those who through FAITH and PATIENCE, inherit what has been promised.' I always related this to my love for sports. Thinking about training hard and running well. I would even get out and physically run which I used as prayer time to keep me running spiritually. The key to that verse is this….we have to do our part first and THEN we inherit. The only way to get to the happily ever after is to do our part in faith and patience never quitting. We can’t try to write the story ourselves. Then and only then will Jesus give us the happily ever after the way He sees it."

I love it where she says "we can't try to write the story ourselves." You see, we can't. No one ever has. When we try to do it, that's when we fail and trip up. There's only one "story writer"--God Himself. And when we trust the Author, He brings the "happily ever afters" we dream of. Who would have ever guessed that my story would have taken the twists and turns that it has? I laugh when I think about where I thought I would be compared to where God has me today. The times I failed the most were those times that I dared to believe that I had a better ending. Thank you, Lisa, for boldly showing the world what a love affair with Jesus looks like. Thank you for becoming the strong person you are after all that Satan did to destroy you. You didn't allow your past to keep you from God's future for you. May we all learn to live that same confidence in Christ.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"A walloping great congregation is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre." Martin Thornton

I am pondering this statement this morning. It's kind of rattling around in my brain and in my heart. Particularly that final phrase. Doesn't that really define most "Christians" in America today--bound up in the cult of the mediocre? Which leads to a deeper and maybe more difficult question: what does it take to become mature as a Christ follower, to be "emancipated from mediocrity?"

Because you're not sitting next to me as I write, you don't know that there was this really long pause right there. Followed by another as I contemplate the answer(s) to that question. Here are some random thoughts. Maybe before this is over I will pull them together in a logical order. Maybe that will come in a blog to be written later.
  • Maturity does not come through programs. Programs are convenience. Our churches watch individuals come to be Christ-followers, hand them a book and stick them in a room with 20 or more other individuals and hope that maturity happens.
  • Maturity does not come when true believers hide their faults and failures. One of the unique things about the Bible from cover-to-cover is that it never hides the faults of its greatest heroes (Moses, Noah, David, Peter, Paul, etc.)
  • Maturity is developed in the halls of real life. It is found around tables stacked with empty Starbuck's cups. It is found in quiet restaurants where two or three gather to be real with one another. It is found in dens and bonus rooms of a thousand different houses where small groups gather to talk about real life Christianity (as if there were a "fake life Christianity").
  • Maturity does not come by ignoring our faults and failures but by admitting them and giving them to Jesus.

That last point was driven home in a quiet time I had this morning. The author was pointing out this passage of Scripture: But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. Luke 22:32 NIV

Now, we all know that, because of their intimacy, what Jesus prays, God hears and responds to. So Jesus prays that Peter's faith will not fail--and it doesn't. "But he denied Jesus three times, didn't he?" you might ask. Yes, but here is the beauty of this passage. Jesus, himself, points out that Peter's failure does not indicate a failing of his faith, simply a bump in the road. God looks at your whole life--not this mistake or that one. God values you for everything He sees, not the blips that dot your screen. (follow me, I'm coming back to my point above). Jesus' words were this, "When you have turned back, strengthen (mature) your brothers."

Jesus was saying to Peter, the other disciples and every Christ follower since that day, "I don't expect you to be perfect. I expect you to try. I don't expect you to never get it wrong but when you do and have found your way back, use those lessons to mature your brothers and sisters in Christ." That's it. That's the answer. How does a new believer go deeper in their relationship with Christ? They learn from the lives of those who have gone before them. How does an existing believer make it from the "milk to the meat" as the apostle Paul put it? By living a real and genuine faith before others, exposing himself to God's word on a regular basis and opening himself to regular accountability with other maturing Christians. (Okay, warning, here it comes). It comes from "doing life--real life--together."

One other comment before I shut up. Exposing yourself to God's word on a regular basis does not mean attending worship once a week. It doesn't mean attending a Bible study and it doesn't mean reading it on a daily basis. All of these things are good and they can contribute to maturity. In fact, you cannot mature without these in your life. However, truly exposing yourself to God's word means taking it in for yourself and allowing it to change your behavior. I can deliver the greatest message on Sunday morning (that's bringing you the Word) but until you allow your life to be changed in light of what you have heard (that's lifting the fork to feed yourself) then it's just empty words. The same is true for reading the Bible. Let me tell you, there are plenty of atheists who know the Bible backwards and forwards, better than me or you. You and I become "practical atheists" when we read the words of the Bible endlessly but do not re-arrange our lives based on its teaching.

Lots of stuff in here today. Just kind of got fired up by Thornton's words. Bottom line is this, what are you doing to emancipate yourself from spiritual mediocrity? Wherever you are, are you moving forward towards maturity or languishing in a mediocre spirit that is killing you and paralyzing the church where you worship? The Church needs true saints. Why not you and me?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8 NLT
My pantry has become a black hole, partially because I now have six mouths to feed and partially because the four younger mouths in our household have morphed into human vacuum cleaners. I have threatened to have "Hoover" imprinted on my son's forehead. My middle daughter is constantly wanting to eat--obviously going through a major growth spurt. Seems like all four of them have chosen to "spurt" at once. But I don't fault their bodies for craving food. Growing bodies need that or they stop to grow. The problem is when healthy meals and snacks are replaced by the sugary stuff. I am told a handful of chocolate covered raisins, much to my chagrin, does not qualify as a serving of fruit. So there is a constant battle between parents and offspring about what should be eaten for their bodies' changing needs.

I thought about this last night as I received another e-mail from a single parent (probably a dozen or more in the last week) who was reeling from the loneliness that comes with their status in life. This particular guy was struggling with the loss of his wife (almost 4 years) and talking about all those desires and longings that come with being a young adult and missing your best friend. A body, heart, soul that has needs...

Here's what I've learned though. Just as a growing body has changing needs, so does a heart that's growing. From one event to another in life, our heart experiences different emotions and shifts from one need to another. One constant is this, every heart needs to be loved. Every heart. The married. The single. The young and the old. Those who are looking ahead to a life full of potential and those who are staring death in the eyes. God created us to long for and need the warmth of affection and compassion. You can't fault a heart for needing it.

Here's where the problem lies. Too many of us are looking for fulfillment in things that cannot be a substitute. And it's not just things. Too many times it's people or status.

"If I could only be married, I'd be okay."

"If she ever left me I don't know what I would do."

"If our relationship ended my world would be over."

I know those thoughts are out there. I've heard them from dozens of people these last 3 years. I had them myself before my wife died. How in the world does someone carry on when the divorce is final? when he's walked out for good? when death ends your happy marriage?

It comes back to a reality that we all must embrace. No one satisfies like Christ. I know, for some of you that's old news. Yet, we still live like "practical atheists" chanting this truth and living like we have to have something more. As I told my congregation on Sunday, Jesus is not all you need until He is all you have. Letting go of the past, of that career that consumes you, that relationship that has eaten you alive is the only way to freedom in Christ.

You see, not everything in the world's pantry is good for you. It may satisfy your heart temporarily but only in God can you find what your heart is really longing for.

Monday, October 01, 2007

I wanted to share something really cool that came out of our small group last night. We were talking about different characteristics that God was building into each of us (the Bible calls them "fruit of the spirit"). We each shared some weaknesses and some strengths. After sharing our strengths, someone pointed out an interesting fact. There was a common thread that ran through each of our stories as we went around the room. In every instance where someone felt God had strengthened a certain characteristic in their life, there was a trial or test or tragic event that brought that trait forward.

For instance, one of the things that has changed most in my life over the last 3 years (since the accident) is the amount of kindness/compassion I have towards others. If you ask anyone who knew me before April 2004, they would tell you that compassion was not one of my strongest traits. Let's be honest, I was downright hard and unforgiving in some areas.

Now, 3+ years later, I can see how God has used the events of my life to soften my heart, to give me greater empathy for people and the circumstances they find themselves in. Rather than saying I want to understand where you are coming from, I find that I truly can. The newspaper articles from the events of that day, the front page story the following January in our local newspaper in Nashville and the release of the Home Life article this month have opened the door for ministries I never imagined. And God has softened my heart so that I can understand the needs associated with the countless phone calls, e-mails and letters I have received. Would I have chosen this path? Not consciously. But I guess, in a way, I did the day that I said, "God, whatever you do, I want to be used by you." That day, and every day since when I have prayed that prayer, my life became less about me and more about Him and His glory. John put it this way: "He must increase, I must decrease." When my wife died and my son followed five days later, I had to ask myself a really tough question: "Did I really mean it when I said you could have it all? I said I would follow you and give you my everything, God. That was easy when things were good, Lord, but now is when it really counts."

Think hard about this next part. Where is God taking you? Is it possible that the trials you endure today may be the proving ground for your victories tomorrow? What is it that God is trying to develop in you that He could only do by placing you in the fire first? And, when it's all said and done, will your life still point others to Him? Will it be a purer reflection of Christ, a greater example of God's grace or a stronger vessel of His love? Or maybe God's just trying to get your attention so that you will stop settling for second best when He has a kingdom to offer you? Whatever the case, endure...God will carry you through and show you His goodness in the end. Guaranteed for those who persevere.