Friday, November 30, 2007
If you had been alive when Christ was on the earth and had asked Him this question, "How's your spiritual life?" He would have looked at you like you were crazy.
"Spiritual life? What's that?" he might ask. Here's why. In the Hebrew concept of life, there was no spiritual versus physical life. Everything that was done was done both in the physical and spiritual sense. To try and label one area of your life as spiritual and another as the physical would have totally contradicted Jesus' world view and the view of most of His contemporaries. Everything they did, they did as part of this integrated world view.
Every act for a 1st century Hebrew was a spiritual act. Working, playing, loving your family, paying your taxes, cleaning your house...all done in Christ and for Christ and for God's glory.
Maybe that's why the first Christians latched on so quickly to this thought:
17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17 NIV
It is a radical change from the world view that most 21st century Christians hold. We have our spiritual side, our physical side, our emotional side, etc. But perhaps that's what made the difference as the new believers began the first churches and faced amazing persecution. They didn't see anything in their lives as being "separated" from God's influence. Their doubts, their relationships, their worries, their successes, their work, their trials--they all belonged to God as they lived out fully integrated lives before Him. What's your world view today? And how could changing that view make a difference in the things you are facing in your life this day?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I wish I had a dollar for the times I made comments like, "You know I don't want to have to do this" or "This hurts me as much as it hurts you...maybe more." (I know, I'm turning into my dad. The first time I said that I almost choked because I sounded so much like him).
The book of Hebrews (For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives. Hebrews 12:6 ESV) tells us that the same thing is going on in our relationship with God. He loves us...so much that He died for us. Ultimately, He wants to see everyone of us mature from naive young believers into strong, mature Christ followers. That takes discipline. Because I don't always get it right and I make some stupid choices, I need a God who loves me enough to discipline me, to correct my erratic behavior and to lovingly guide me back to where my life needs to be.
The other option is to grow up as a spoiled child. Frankly, I think we have enough of those--inside and outside the church. There are plenty who refuse to accept God's discipline or would rather not learn from what He wants to share.
Yes, discipline hurts. But what hurts more is to find out that we have settled for less than what we could have been because we refused His loving correction. Maybe what you are experiencing today is not a trial or unfair persecution. Maybe it is your loving Father trying to show you where you have gotten outside of His will for your life. With compassion and tenderness (remember, it hurts Him more than it hurts you), He is trying to draw you home.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
With as much patience as she could muster, the lady said, "Son, we'll go home soon but there is still some stuff left to do."
Funny the places that God hits us. I think I have said this before (sorry, it's the old age) but I get tired of this place some times. Some times it's because it becomes too routine. Other times I get overwhelmed. Still others, I get just a little tired of all that I have to do as a pastor, parent, husband, son, brother, etc. So, in my own little way, I tear off running through life, thinking to myself, "I don't want to be here. I'm ready to go home."
God's message to us is clear, though. He has much for us to do. Some day, the journey will be over but, till then, we have assignments. One of those is making sure that when we get "home" we are not alone. God doesn't want one of his children to miss out on a chance to know him. Not one! As a friend of mine shared this past Sunday at Ridgeview, "If the whole world knew Christ and I was the only one who had never trusted Him, God would still mourn for me as if I were the only one." That's powerful stuff. The world needs to know that.
I made it home last Friday. I was tired. I was a little irritable. But I made it home nonetheless. I look forward to that other day of homecoming. When I get there, I want to hear the Lord say, "Job well done. You are home and not a minute too soon. You completed the task and ran the WHOLE race. Well done, indeed."
Hope my little friend made it home Friday as well. I'm betting it didn't come without some strong exhortations from his mom. But he'll have another 365 days to get ready for 2008. Guess I will too.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Maybe I should have been given a clue when so much excitement was generated by the fact that one of the major department stores was opening their doors at 4 a.m. !! Seriously, how much luggage can one person get? How good can a George Foreman grill be? My philosophy on getting a deal falls under the Dorito's category--buy all you want, they'll make more. So, why hurry?! If the shelf is empty, come back tomorrow. You'll find another in it's place and it might even be the new and improved model.
Nevertheless, at around 5:30 a.m. (about the time I am normally catching my last couple of zzz's before the alarm) I found myself standing in the midst of utter chaos--better known to many of you as Old Navy. The line already wrapped around the store like some kind of giant snake intent on squeezing every last dollar from those caught in its trap. Lisa and I shopped briefly but soon retreated under the overwhelming thought of standing in that long line for something that was 50% off. I was more enamored with the Krispy Kreme just down the road. I was thinking to myself how good a 50% off deal with golden, frosted doughnuts would be. I was quickly snapped backed to my dark reality when I saw the line of people outside an office supply store waiting for it to open at 6. Okay, enough! They are paper shredders, people. For crying out loud, how exciting can they be?
As you can tell, there is nothing super spiritual about this morning's blog. Simply this thought. Is it any wonder that so many people in Bethlehem missed that first Christmas? I'm sure there were no "Black Fridays" yet and the Jerusalem mall was probably not open for business. But, in their own way, the people of that sleepy little village were taking care of business...looking for success, chasing their dreams, pursuing fulfillment. There were innkeepers making a buck, citizens paying taxes, shopkeepers luring the crowds and a marketplace full of "ravenous" shoppers. But most of them missed what happened that sleepy night. They missed the one thing that mattered. My prayer this season is that you won't miss out on Christmas.
If you are in town, we would love to have you visit us over the holidays--friends, family and new relations. Our series this season at Ridgeview is entitled "Missing Christmas!" As you begin to unpack your decorations and prepare for this busy season of the year, I pray that you and I will remain with an attitude of thanks for all that we have and not become consumed by all that we don't. Happy Monday!
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My perspective was changed one day when an author I was reading suggested this thought: eternity begins today. That's right...today. Your forever--my forever--began the moment we were created in the image of God in our mother's womb. You and I are living our eternity. And because we were created in God's image, we have a soul that will go on forever. The decision is not "will we have eternity?" The decision is where will we spend it and how.
Another thought that crossed my mind recently was this: the people you meet every day of your life are now part of your eternity. They have crossed your path and have changed your life...forever. Some have left small, dimple-like impressions. Others have changed the course of your life in radical ways. I could sit here and give a long list of people who have done that for me. Former students, current friends, co-workers, neighbors, two beautiful wives and five incredible children. The list goes on and on.
This past Sunday, I celebrated part of eternity with five followers of Christ through the act of baptism. My prayer is that this moment made a lasting impression on each of them. Yesterday, I met knew people while preparing food baskets for families in Franklin. Today, my kids and I handed out those baskets. Impressions. Each one different in nature, different in scope, yet significant nonetheless because they were shapers of eternity for everyone involved.
Why all this rambling about eternity? Because yours began the day you were born. And every minute you spend changes part of your eternity. Like a rock tossed in a lake, your minutes ripple into the lives of others. That ripple continues on and on as one life bounces off of another. So, this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to do two things. First, make good use of your ripples. Leave a positive impression on the people you meet and the paths you cross. God did not brush you against other people's lives for you to waste those opportunities.
Second, thank God for the ones who share your eternity. Not just the big players but even the smaller ones--the bankers, the postal worker, the pesky neighbor and the busy-body co-worker. Pray God's blessings on each of them and think how you might be different if your lives had never touched. Chances are, you'll find some new way to spend these minutes in your eternity.
My family will be enjoying the holidays as many of you--eating, watching football and playing the annual Turkey Bowl. I'll be back next week to blog again (a little more rotund, I am quite sure). Till then... be safe, be blessed and may you and your family have a Happy Thanksgiving. It will be one more amazing day in your own little eternity. Later.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I guess there is no better place to begin my thanks this week than right here on Monday morning. I am so thankful that God allowed me to be a part of yesterday. I didn't have the privilege of preaching (my student pastor handled those duties) but I got to baptize all 5 people and spend time with them. That always gets a pastor fired up.
I am excited about what God is doing in our church family. The way He continues to move behind the scenes of our church family gets me all goofy acting--kind of like a kid waiting for Christmas. At the same time, like a kid, I get impatient. I want to look ahead and see what He's up to. Most of the time, He knows I just don't need to do that. I'll just get ahead of Him. But I long to be here when it happens...when Ridgeview really collects a full head of steam and starts to do in this community what God desired for us to do all along. Thank you, God, for an amazing worship together...and for allowing me to play a role in what you are doing here in Franklin.
Friday, November 16, 2007
In going through some memorabilia, she found an old article from a Chicago newspaper that her grandmother had given her years before. I can't find the date on it but it appears to originate somewhere around the mid 1930's. The article is about a famous divorce judge and the problems he sees in marriages that come before his bench. Here's what caught my attention, though. The article closes with rules for marital happiness that he learned after trying over 40,000 divorce cases in a 23 year period. I offer them to you today.
- Have patience with each other.
- Work together, play together, grow up together.
- In all disputes, avoid hot and excited talk.
- Do not conceal little differences until they accumulate to the breaking point. Discuss them calmly.
- Be frank with each other.
- Sympathy and mutual understanding are the pillars of the home.
- Good humor in parting in the morning and a cheerful greeting at night.
- Share responsibilities.
- Establish a home of your own.
- Make your bed time prayers a review of the day and never go to sleep without a clean slate, leaving no leftovers for the next day.
My, how far we have come. Good words from what appeared to be a good man. I offer them to you because I know so many of you. Your marriages are crumbling. Your relationships are anemic. You carry around check lists of wrongs done to you by your mate and you are unwilling to forgive.
I thought about this list last evening as I sat in a meeting for a counseling ministry that I have the privilege of serving on the board for. I thought about the hundreds of couples he sees every year (I see dozens myself). I thought about the trivial things that bring marriages to an end too easily. Selfishness. Immaturity. Stupid little things that could be easily forgiven but we prefer to hold a grudge. Impatience. Restlessness. Lack of honesty.
None of this is what God desires for the most intimate of human relationships. God desires...well, you know what He desires. He shows you every day in the way that He loves His Bride--the Church. In fact, the words Paul shares with us in Ephesians say this:
25-28 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ's love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring the best out of her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They're really doing themselves a favor—since they're already "one" in marriage. Ephesians 5:25-28 The Message
Guys, let's do what's right and go all out for our wives. Let's love them like they deserve and, even when we think they don't deserve it, let's strive to make them whole and beautiful and holy. Frankly, I get overwhelmed by the counseling needs I see (and for my friend as well). I wonder how much that would change if we took our commitments more seriously and made our marriages the priority they should be. In my mind, at least one judge got it right.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
My heart was saddened...for two reasons.
First, after scanning through the early replies on the blog, I only found ONE half-hearted paragraph of support for the Governor. Keep in mind this is Atlanta, Georgia--heart of what was once the Bible-belt in our country. In those multiple responses, only one person had taken the time or felt the need to defend a political leader's call for prayer.
Secondly, I was saddened by the hatred and bitterness of the responders who were so outspoken about their feelings. Obviously, this is America. Everyone has a right to voice their feelings. But the words I read were malicious and hateful. They attacked the governor--words like "moron", "imbecile", "backwards" and "bigot" were used. They attacked people who believed in prayer. Again the words were filled with poison.
But the worst was yet to come. I was floored at the number of people who took this opportunity to turn their attacks directly on God. Some challenged Him to make it rain. Some questioned His wisdom and power. Others, of course, wondered why we even conversed with something that was the "figment of our collective imaginations." I was depressed. Then angry. Then confused.
Then, something began to strike me as I moved on through my day and my thoughts bounced back to this blog. It's my fault. And before you get to smug or cynical, it's yours too if you are a Christ follower.
You see, those doubters have not removed God from the throne. It is not His lack of power or wisdom or presence that causes them to doubt. Rather, it is the lack of our ability to reflect Christ purely that gives the world its doubt. Who can blame them? The Bible has always said that God's "Plan A" would be that His followers would reflect Him. When the reflection fades or gets mucky, no one sees the One they are missing.
We talk about a God of power but we trust more in our own economy, our own government, our own wisdom or our own talent to deliver us. We talk about a God of love and we turn our backs on a world dying of AIDs, hunger and loneliness. We talk about peace and we argue over petty things that have no eternal significance (for those who live in the Nashville area, you have to look no further than Belmont or Two Rivers to see what I am talking about). You want to know why the world ceases to believe...it's because we have ceased to reflect. In this crazy world, God brings order. In a lonely world, God brings love. In a world ravaged by war and conflict and disease and destruction, God brings hope and peace. And He chooses to put those on display in my life and yours. If they don't know it, it's because we don't show it (that was a pretty cool little phrase there. Came up with that one on my own...but it's true). If we don't show the world what Jesus looks like through our lives, then they will never have a reason to believe. They don't have to look like us or act like us or even like us as we are. They just have to be given the chance to see Jesus.
I pray that the rains come to Georgia. I have people there...lots of family and friends. I want it to rain for them. I want it to rain to honor a Governor who made a stand for his faith. But most of all, I want it to rain so some who doubt may believe and some who wavered will be more inclined to stand, to pray and to show the world who God really is. Let the rains come!!
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
It happened again this weekend. We've been praying hard for our church family to reach its potential and begin to explode with the energy and power that raised Jesus from the dead. On a regular basis, Lisa and I pray for the health of our people (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). In our church office, we are implementing a new practice--stopping everything we do at 9 a.m. to invite everyone to pray. Every day our children's minister and her volunteers are joining together from wherever they are at 10 a.m. to pray for our children and their families and our church. On Sunday mornings, our staff and their spouses gather around a table in the back hallway of the school where we meet. We join in prayer together...for our worship time, for the guests who will come, for the impact and influence we want to have on our city. We are praying all over the place... in our LIFE groups, in our meal times, in our personal quiet times. We are starting to develop the desire for prayer that I have longed for now for almost 3 years.
This week we are seeing the fruit of those prayers--mine and yours. Sunday we will be baptizing at least 4 people (possibly more). Two of these are brand new Christians. All are adults over the age of 30. Everyone of them come desiring to take that next step in their relationship with God.
This Sunday, we get to be part of the three most amazing events that God has ever given us the privilege to do: baptism (symbolic of the new life that has entered into each of these people), the Lord's supper (remembering the sacrifice that Christ made to give us that second chance) and worship (giving thanks to the amazing God who has given us every good thing).
I invite you, friend or family or complete stranger, if you are in Franklin this Sunday and want to be a part of one of the most amazing worship gatherings ever in the short history of our church, come and be a part of Ridgeview this Sunday. We will be celebrating God's greatness and His faithfulness. We will be rejoicing in the new life that has come to these four individuals. We will be praising God for the gift of His Son and His desire to "capture" us for Himself--no matter what the cost.
And I will be praying patiently...for the next big thing God has for us. I believe it will be soon if we continue to pray. I will be praying for victory. For an amazing church is that is about to explode--not because of a pastor or a worship leader or a great staff--but because we serve a powerful and risen God. One that wants us to dominate this city and influence it for the Kingdom. A God who desires that we not be content with 4 when there are 40,000 in our city and 4 billion in our world who need to know Him. A God who works brilliantly behind the scenes while we pray and wait and watch and work and pray patiently and passionately for His will to be done. I hope to see you Sunday (by the way, there's free lunch afterwards). And if you can't join us at Ridgeview, will you please pray for what God is doing in our church as we watch His plan unfold. To God be the glory!!
Monday, November 12, 2007
Recognizing that many times others say things better than I can say them myself, I'd like to share an excerpt from a book I read the other day. The book is entitled "The Beautiful Fight: Surrendering to the Transforming Presence of God in Your Everyday Life" by Gary Thomas.
"If we don't think about God, pray to God, listen for God's voice, and consciously serve God, by definition we live an ungodly life. We usually think of "ungodly" as being against God, but ungodly can also be a life that simply ignores God or—out of busyness, indifference, religiosity, or apathy—simply doesn't tap in to God. In this sense, it is possible to give an ungodly sermon that may be theologically accurate. It is possible to lead ungodly family devotions that nevertheless focus on spiritual truth. Christianity doesn't address only the ends; it has a lively interest in the means. That's why every healthy, growing believer should experience God every day—his presence, his power, his wisdom."
This is some of what I am experiencing in my own life...learning to have Christ every moment of every day. I'm like many of you. I've heard conversations about surrender and His "Lordship" in my life. But, as I truly practice this, I see what a radical difference it makes in my life. Life and death and love and peace all fall into place when the Kingdom of God becomes a priority.
Don't get me wrong. This is still a journey for me. A real hard journey at that. But it's one that I am taking--slowly to be sure--but I am it taking nonetheless. It's a difficult thought to surrender every minute to God. That means that God's agenda quite often "interrupts" our lives at the most inconvenient of times or in the most uncomfortable situations. But surrender must be total or it is not surrender at all. My prayer continues to be that God would make me more sensitive to His promptings in my life so that I can begin to taste what true Godliness is all about. I don't want to be caught ignoring God today...
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
First, sitcoms. Look past the tired humor, the overdone jokes, the crude punchlines and the predictable stories, I think there are huge problems with sitcoms. (as if those weren't enough). When was the last time you saw an intelligent parent, particularly a dad, portrayed on a sitcom involving a family? Bet you can't remember very many if any at all. It's no wonder we don't have very many heroes that live up to our expectations today. We don't have very good role models. Even in places where we used to find Robert Brady or Ward Cleaver, we can't find one decent dad with good wisdom, sound morals and a backbone to make his kids obey. In addition--and here is the bigger problem--sitcoms have us believing that every major problem can be resolved in 22 minutes with a few punchlines thrown in for good measure. (I know the show is 30 minutes long but they have at least 8 minutes of commercials). No wonder so many give up on their marriages at the first sign of problems and our kids think their parents are dopes; our jokes don't work and our problems aren't resolved by some cunning adolescent who borderlines on genius.
Remote controls cause a similar problem. No one has any patience any more. We can't focus on one thing long enough to develop patience. At the first sign of a commercial, we are off to the next best thing--one channel up the dial. We have all developed a kind of attention deficit disorder. We can't sit in a room with someone and carry on a decent conversation. There are no relationships because relationships take time. Marriages take time. Raising kids takes time. Building churches, starting careers, reaching retirement...everything in life that's worth having takes time. And we just don't have any because there is something better waiting...one channel up the dial.
Okay, I know they won't end the world but they are indicative of some problems I'm really concerned about. They are areas where technology has benefited us greatly and, yet, it has shot us in the foot. Our kids can shoot out 500 text messages a day (believe me, I know this for a fact--get off the phone Morgan) but they can't take the time to talk to a friend who is truly hurting. Most of our homes have at least two TVs and probably twice as many Bibles but guess which one gets used the most? But you ask someone why they don't read it more and they'll quickly respond, I just can't find the time. I sort through over 200 e-mails in a normal day. Many of you get far more. But we can't take a second to serve someone or love someone or tell someone they matter to us.
Okay, enough ranting. I don't even know that I had a real point today. Just wanted to go crazy with my writing for a second. Maybe it will be more substantial next time around. I invite you to pray for Lisa and I as we travel with my sister and brother-in-law to Asheville, NC this week. It's another engagement with the medical community--another opportunity to talk about God's grace and mercy and love and forgiveness in a secular setting. Hope you'll join with me in praying that God will use my story to tell His story to someone who needs to hear. Till next time.
Monday, November 05, 2007
Is there anyone that doesn't fear something? I remember a nightly ritual I held as a child. Because of my fear of what might be under my bed, I would turn off the light by the door, get a running start and dive towards my bed. My thinking was, "As long as I make it to the bed, I'll be safe. Whatever is under there can't grab me." I know, it's silly now as I look back. But you are laughing your head off because you had the same crazy thoughts. Thankfully, I crawl into my bed these days. Frankly, I don't know if my 40+ year old body could make the leap. But wouldn't it be embarrassing if I still held those same fears? How do you think Lisa would feel if I said, "Move over honey. I'm turning off the light and I don't want to hurt you when I hit the bed." I'd have a lot of explaining to do as a "relatively" mature adult.
Maybe I've got some explaining to do to God. It seems like my fears come from two sources. One of them is my poor understanding of who I am in Christ Jesus. I want to perform better and earn His love more--two things I know I can't do. And, because I can't do them, I catch myself in some pretty frustrated scenarios where I've fallen short yet again.
The second source is discouragement. The very definition of the word is "to deprive of courage, hope or confidence." Our enemy, Satan, is a pro at this. He works really hard to discourage me about my parenting skill, my job as a pastor, my role as a husband, my "performance" as a Christ follower and on and on. With each blow, he works to remove my courage, to take away whatever hope I have. The next thing you know, I'm diving into the bed again, hoping to find the cover I need for protection and safety. What does God's word say about this? Plenty. Here's one key passage I'd share with you today.
18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 1 John 4:18 NLT
Perfect love drives out fear. Sounds good. Anyone know where to get "perfect love?" Anyone needing a dose of some perfect love right now?
Christ is the source of this kind of love. The answer to my fear and discouragement is His love. The more completely I am drawn into His presence--the more intimate I become with Him and His amazing heart for me--the more I will see (you, too) the fears begin to melt away. All of them. To be sure, it is a slow process that will be battled every day by Satan. But rest assured that Christ's perfect love will win the day.
Friday, November 02, 2007
I was reading the above passage to my children last evening as we shared in our family quiet time. My kids shared some "trials" that they are going through...relationships, school, homework, etc. Then we talked about how God is using those to teach us something. James says here that God is working to make us more complete. So I was re-reading that passage this afternoon and thinking about the things my kids had shared. On the second time through, that word--complete--jumped out at me. That's why I went and looked at this definition.
1. having all parts or elements; lacking nothing; whole; entire; full
It's not that I didn't know what it meant. I guess I just had to see it for myself again to firm something up in my mind.
You see, the Bible teaches that every follower of Christ is on a journey. The road is long and hard. Jesus called it narrow and said the gate to enter this journey is small. The "toughness" of this life is why James wrote this passage. Here's the news that may shock many of us. It will not get any easier...at least not until this portion of the journey is over.
You and I will not be complete (for those of us who know Christ) until the day that we stand before God. Until then, we are under construction. God is working on me. He's refining the edges. Tossing aside the extraneous matter. Breaking me down so that He can rebuild me the way He desires. (For those of you old enough to remember, think "Six Million Dollar Man"...only heavily discounted. You know, "We can rebuild him.")
That's what God is up to in every trial of our life. Now, some of us have big trials (bills outnumber the paychecks); others of us have bigger trials (illness or death). That's God's way of using the right tool. Kind of like a sculptor. If you've ever watched one of those guys work, they don't use the same tools. When the need is detail, they pull out the smaller tools and work delicately with brushes to smooth away the dust. But when there's a big chunk of rock to be removed, they bring out the big hammers--the kind that would make the "Tool Man" proud.
Here's the catch. In order to mature and move towards completion, you have to stand still. That rock can't get up and move and neither can you and I. When the trial comes, it's time to stand still, wait on God. If you don't, you might just mess up the Master's work. He knows best. He knows the tools to use and how to use them. When the pain of trial comes, praise God for the masterpiece He's working in you and that you are one step closer to completion.
One final word. When completed, the work of art does not proclaim itself. These beautiful objects stand as unswerving tributes of their master's ability to build. You and I must do the same. After every difficulty and every trial, we must emerge from the furnace with God's name on our lips...proudly proclaiming to the world the work of our Father.
Whatever your trial today...whether chunk removal or finishing details...thank God with joy that He sees the value in you.