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Friday, October 31, 2008

It’s funny how God can stop you in your tracks and give you a different perspective.

It’s funny how God can stop you in your tracks and give you a different perspective. It’s not so much the events as much as the timing of those events, sometimes. Case in point, my trip to Arizona this week. I thought I was visiting Scottsdale so God could use me to encourage and challenge people. Instead, God used a new friend to change me.

I had just finished up my third presentation of the day. Honestly, I was pretty wiped out after sharing my story again. (Each time is kind of like tearing the scab off of an old wound. It never gets easier). We (Lisa and I) were hanging around to chat with some new friends we had made at the hospital. I noticed one lady hanging around till all the others had left. She had joined the conversation a few minutes earlier and talked about the presentation. When everyone else had excused themselves from the room, she said, “Can I ask you a question?” I assumed she was going to ask something further about the presentation so I told her yes.

As tears formed in her eyes, she began. “I’m sorry to bother you but…” she hesitated. “My brother is upstairs in this hospital. He’s been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and told he doesn’t have long to live. Would you mind praying for him?” I glanced at Lisa and the look in her eyes told me what we needed to do.

“Do you mind if we go up to see him?” I asked.

“I don’t want to bother you guys. You really don’t have to go to that trouble,” she said.

“It would be our pleasure.” Understatement of the year.

We made our way to the elevator and through the cancer ward there at the hospital. Before we reached his room, I asked the woman to check and make sure her brother was comfortable with a stranger visiting the room. After doing so, she confirmed that he was interested in talking with me.

As I approached his bedside, I asked God to give me something good, something encouraging to share with him (I’ll call him Scott to protect his privacy). “How are you feeling, Scott?” I asked. “And before you answer, tell me how you are REALLY feeling.”

Scott began to cry. I leaned closer to hear what he was trying to say. “I’m scared,” he whispered.
“What scares you the most?” I asked. I was genuinely interested, curious as to what this fifty year old man was facing; even more curious as to how Lisa and I could encourage him.
“Scared of the pain. Scared of death. Scared of what lies after this. Scared for the family I’m leaving behind.” The words came out slowly but with a steady nature. He had obviously spent many hours thinking this through before I had ever arrived.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked him. “Yes,” he replied. “What do you believe?” I continued.
Scott spoke words I have uttered hundreds of times to thousands of people. The difference? Scott said them with more conviction than I could muster as he lay there anticipating what was to come. “I believe He loves me more than anything or anyone.”

I won’t share the rest of our time with you. Some moments are best left for the hearts of those who get to experience them. I knelt by Scott’s bed, took him by the hand, and begged God to give me the words to pray so that Scott would feel stronger and more at peace with what he is facing. When I finished, Scott wouldn’t let go of my hand. I didn’t want him to. I needed him as much as he needed me in those moments. His confidence reminded me that economic downturns and impending elections don’t define life—only God does. And only those who know Him can really know what life is…no matter how long or short that life may be.

I finished my time with Scott. I bent over, kissed him gently on the forehead and said, “I love you.” We both cried a little. I don’t know what Scott took away from our time together. But I know I took his spirit of courage with me. I promised that Lisa and I would pray for him every day.

I’m a better man for knowing Scott. Lisa would tell you she’s a better woman. My prayer for us—all of us—is that we can embrace the challenge of each new day with the quiet confidence that comes from knowing what Scott knows—God loves you desperately.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well. Luke 17:19 NIV

Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well. Luke 17:19 NIV

These words, spoken by Jesus, hold the key to many of our unanswered prayers. For many of us, God can sometimes seem absent, unavailable, slow to act (according to our timing) or just indifferent. But nothing could be further from the truth. God cares deeply for every hurt and heartache we have. On some occasions, God is using this “quiet” to test our faith and to make us stronger. More often, God is simply acting in response to your faith. He is acting exactly the way your faith expected Him to.

If you are looking for big answers to big prayers…then you better have a little faith in a big God.
“Praying without faith is like trying to cut with a blunt knife—much labor extended to little purpose.” James O. Fraser

I covet your prayers this week as Lisa and I are in Stocksdale, Arizona Tuesday through Thursday for another speaking engagement. I’m looking forward to what God will do over the next couple of days. Please pray for our kids as we are away as well. “Talk” with you when we get back later this week.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I got one of those e-mails last night that pastors get far too seldom.

I got one of those e-mails last night that pastors get far too seldom. It was one of my dear friends, one of my sisters at RCC, reminding me how much she and her husband pray for me. Right on time. Believe me, no gift was ever more appropriate for Pastor Appreciation month than an e-mail like this one.

I’ve never felt like Satan was more at work than he is right now. I see him going after our families. He’s worked over time on mine in recent weeks. I see him tearing at the fabric of our nation. Don’t fool yourself into believing that an election in a couple of weeks will bring the end to it. It’s just beginning. He’s working overtime on distracting our churches and keeping individuals in bondage. At the top of that list are the men and women that head your churches and hold places of leadership. Just as any smart military leader would, Satan goes after the leaders. Yeah, he’ll take an enlisted man when he gets the opportunity. But the chance to depress or bring down a major or a general is high priority for the “father of all lies.” And he puts an all out effort into targeting those called to lead.

So do your part. Pray for your pastor. Pray for your staff. Pray for their families and for their protection. Pray for the words that are said about them and the truly hateful ones that might be said to them. Do your part to encourage and to strengthen. Serve them, love them, and stand by them. Never forget that they have to answer to God for the leadership that they bring to you. You, however, have to answer for the prayers you failed to pray on their behalf.

Wherever you attend church, whoever your leader may be, don’t hesitate to love on them year round when God brings them to mind. The truth is that you’ll be rewarded with leaders who are more fit for battle and more ready to lead you in the journeys of the Kingdom.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

These days, much conversation centers on the subject of values.

These days, much conversation centers on the subject of values. Election years tend to do that for us. Journalists and campaign spin doctors, alike, are making much of the values that they say represent a candidate or his party. I submit to you that most of our political figures have only one value—them.

Look at this definition of a value: “A principle, standard, or quality considered worthwhile or desirable.” Though it’s not stated, I think it’s implied that when one determines something to be of value for them, they are willing to sacrifice to see that “value” upheld. Values become the lens by which we see our world. When we come to value something, it’s not easily changed by culture, conversation or an opinion poll. Values are formed over the course of time and are weathered by the storms that life brings to us.

Now, what are your values? For Christ followers, much of what we value is given to us from God’s word. We value life, forgiveness, grace, family, love and service among many others. These are values that Christ modeled, the prophets taught and Paul preached. Have our churches clung to those values? Or, have we tended to become like political candidates seeking a swing in the popularity polls? Do we compromise what’s important for what’s convenient? Let me get real controversial here and tell you that I believe that’s exactly what many Christ followers have done (some I know and love but am struggling with this election season). Consider a recent conversation I had with a young lady who professes to follow Christ. Her particular support of an anti-life (or pro-death if you choose) candidate wasn’t sitting very well with me. In the interest of friendly debate, I asked her why the candidate’s stance on this issue didn’t bother her. Her reply was, “Oh, I don’t agree with him on this. I just think he’s the best solution for our economy.”

I pondered her response for a brief moment and came back with the only thing I knew to say, “I’m sorry.”

“For what?” she asked.

“I’m sorry that you, along with other Christians who have chosen to support this man, have come to the conclusion that God is more concerned about your stock performance and your fuel bill than He is about unborn babies and families that are under attack.” Our conversation ended there.

Don’t get me wrong. I am equally concerned about my wife’s ability to sell houses and the financial stability of the hundreds of people who are part of my church family. I want them to be able to pay their bills and feed their families. Here’s my concern. I believe our economy has suffered because we’ve forsaken our values, gotten away from what really matters to God, and chosen to seek our comfort rather than keeping our character intact. God help us when bailouts and tax relief become more important than unborn babies and the sanctity of marriage as one man and one woman. When we reach that point (as millions of us have) no amount of economic stimulus can relieve us from the judgment of a God who is holy.

Hope you are making plans to vote if you haven’t already.

Monday, October 20, 2008

It’s a tale of two birthdays.

It’s a tale of two birthdays. Actually, they are tomorrow (October 21st) but it’s a tradition in our family to celebrate your birth as long and as hard as the people around you will allow it. So, I’m thinking about these two special people today.

The first is Joshua Blake or, as I liked to call him, “Joshie.” Josh would be 6 years old tomorrow and God only knows what he would be like. From time-to-time I catch myself day dreaming about the “what might have been” scenarios. For the brief time I had him, Josh was a joy. At 17 months he was already into baseball and chocolate—favorites for both me and his older brother, Harrison. He had won many hearts with his smile and growing personality. Unfortunately, most of you will never know him and we’ll never know exactly what could have happened in his life. The flip side, I often remind people, is that he’ll never know the pain of braces, a chemistry test or being rejected for a date. And he never had to pay one penny in taxes. I’ll get to see him again someday. In the mean time, we continue to celebrate his birthday because of the precious gift he was.

The other birthday belongs to Ermias—someone I’ve yet to meet in person. Ermias is from Ethiopia and loves school, his church and “football” (soccer to us Americans). He lives there with his mom and other siblings. He is a bright-eyed little boy with big dreams of being a doctor. My family’s goal is to do what we can to get him there. In the mean time, my kids pray that his family will get the goat that they need, the clothes to keep him warm and the food to keep them alive. We adopted him just a few months ago and it was my wife’s idea to find a young boy Josh’s age. It was God who gave us a young man born the same day as Josh.

To me, it’s a wonderful illustration of God’s mercy. I will never get the chance to hold my Josh this side of heaven; I hope to someday shake the hand of a young doctor from Ethiopia. Tomorrow (today), October 21st, both are celebrating life and in that celebration I worship a God of second chances—the God who gives back over and over again. Happy birthday, Josh. Happy birthday, Ermias. Whatever you are doing, I pray that both of you know how much you are loved.

"I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…” Joel 2:25 NIV

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I haven’t talked much about this election.

I haven’t talked much about this election. It’s not because I don’t care. I’ve watched the reports, read the articles, seen the forwarded e-mails and done a little research of my own. I don’t think that it’s overly dramatic to say this is one of the most important elections our country has ever faced. I would equate it to the providential election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860—a calm hand to lead our nation through the most turbulent of times.

I believe every election grows in importance because our nation grows increasingly polarized with each new term. Our newly elected President will face the issues of immigration, abortion, homosexuality, economics, national security, the environment, energy concerns and a burgeoning national debt. Any one of these would be a challenge but all of them combined present a formidable task for our leadership. Partisan politics has only handicapped the progression of our nation and special interests and selfish government have placed a huge obstacle to forward momentum in dealing with the real issues. (Anyone discouraged yet?)

I have prayed numerous times in the last months about what God wants for our nation. I have recalled the promises of Psalm 33:12 (Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD...) and 2 Chronicles 7:14 (…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.) Here’s where I am today. Five key statements that every Christ follower should keep in mind as we race to November:

· Register and vote. We have absolutely no right to criticize if we don’t participate in the representative form of our democracy. Speak your mind, contact your leaders and don’t just sit back and…gripe (there are other words that could be used here but you get the point). DO NOT be afraid to speak out as a Christ follower. We have as much right to speak as the homosexual activists, the pro-death marcher, the anti-American preacher and the loud mouth who denigrates the Christian voice.

· Don’t listen to the media. They have proven over and over again their willingness to bend the truth and outright lie to make their point. Research facts for yourself and search your heart.

· Pray…over and over and over again. Pray about your involvement. Pray about your vote. Pray for the man who wins whoever he may be.

· Finally, pray (I know I just said that but this one is very specific) that the name of God is glorified. God was magnified in the Civil War and during the Great Depression. Grown men came to recognize God during the Watergate scandal, the Iran hostage crisis, double-digit inflation under Carter and race riots in Selma, AL. Don’t for a second believe that God cannot be glorified in even the darkest moments of our history. He can and He will be again if we will just pray.

· Remember that Obama is no Savior and McCain is not God. The One who will restore our nation and bring her to prosperity again was born 2000 years ago and died so we could be free in the truest sense. Don’t expect a man to do that for us.

God bless America! He is our only true hope. We don’t need change. We need Him.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Being transformed begins in the mind.

Being transformed begins in the mind. (Romans 12:1-2) This is true for all of us. The question is, what are we being transformed by? Transformation by the culture that surrounds us leaves us down, frustrated, depressed and discouraged. Why? Because this world is not what God wants for us. There is so much more. So, an economy that struggles, children that disobey, a spouse that doesn’t understand you or a job that seems like a dead end will never “renew” your mind. Renewal only comes from one source—God.

I challenged my staff with this thought this morning in our staff meeting. What are you doing on a daily basis to be sure that your mind is being transformed by renewal, not by a culture gone crazy? A steady diet of negative news or frustrating commentary will keep you from living the life God intended. That’s why it’s critical that you and I take time away (every day) to study the good stuff, to meditate on God’s promises and to truly be renewed by the hope that Christ offers us. Give it a shot. Once a day for three weeks—just you and God—and see if your life doesn’t begin to be transformed by His vision for your life.

Monday, October 13, 2008

“Do you want to get well?”

“Do you want to get well?”

There’s this interesting story in John 5. Jesus is walking past the pool of Bethesda on his way into Jerusalem. It’s a pool recognized for its healing power. Anyone who would dip themselves in the pool immediately after it had been stirred by God’s hand would find healing. There lies a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. Can you imagine? Thirty-eight years of lying in the dust. No real hope; no real plan for getting better. You can almost feel the desperation as it pours from his flesh. His life has as much room for bitterness and regret as anyone. Along comes the Healer. He passes by the man and turns to him. In what had to rank as one of the most perplexing questions in all of Scripture, Jesus asks, “Do you want to get well?”

One would imagine that the man’s heart leapt within him. Years of crushed dreams and fading hopes have now been given a second chance at life. Instead of responding with a thousand “yeses”, the man offers excuses for why he is where he is when the Master finds him. To his credit, though, when Jesus offers a plan for healing, the man responds and the rest is history (or should we say “his story”).

I’ve got a question. Do you really want to be well? You know who you are as I’m typing this (and you’re reading it). Do you really want to know wholeness and strength? Do you want to be released of your burdens and running free of the bondage that has held you to this point? Or, like so many, have you grown comfortable there in the dirt? Is your response to His healing just one more excuse for keeping things just like they are? Maybe you like playing the victim?

Get over it. (I say that in love). The Bible is clear that there is no infirmity, no failure, no addiction, no handicap that God can’t help you through. Sometimes it’s healing He brings. Always, it’s strength to live your life like He intended. You simply have to want to get well. You. Not your friends. Not your pastor. Not your church or your small group or your family. You.

So, quit asking for more prayer if you aren’t willing to get up and walk. Don’t call out for more accountability if you don’t want to receive it. And, by all means, don’t seek a hand up unless the hand you stick out is ready to be healed and whole and used by God for what’s next in your life. So, I ask it again: Do you WANT to be well?

Friday, October 10, 2008

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart..."

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Luke 10:27 NIV

If you were at RCC just a few weeks ago, you heard me share this verse as part of our messages on the family. It was the Sunday that my wife, Lisa, joined me on the stage to challenge our women with God’s plan for their lives. You also heard Lisa make this statement, “The interesting thing about this command is that you can’t really do the second part well until you’ve learned to do the first.” She’s right. For a husband or wife to love their spouse, they must first learn the deeper love of God.

I thought about the implications as it relates to us as a church this week. I’ve challenged our staff to take one day a week to prayer walk. It might be somewhere in downtown near our offices. It might be their neighborhood or the park near their home. It may be the mall or the theater or the ball field. Just one day a week of praying for those around us. Part of that prayer, for me, as I have walked the streets of Franklin has been, “Give me your eyes so I can see this world as you see it, love it as you do and minister to it as you would.” Those kinds of prayers will change you. They have me. And, as always, the enemy has followed closely on the heels of those prayers to try and defeat me.

I invite you to join your staff in the weeks ahead in praying for “our Jerusalem.” Prayer changes things. It very well may change your heart for the people around you.

NOTE: Don’t forget Saturday evening’s event at the Cool Springs Theater. We’ve bought out the 6:30 showing of “Fireproof” and there are still discount tickets available. Five bucks a piece. Make plans to come and bring those you know. This is an exceptional movie with a timeless message. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

“The gloves are off. You know that, right?”

“The gloves are off. You know that, right?” Those were the words of one of my friends this past Sunday immediately after our worship. He was challenging me to think about the position we put ourselves in when, as Christ followers, we dare to take on and expose the lies of Satan. Leave him alone and you’ll skirt by with minimal interference. But dare to take him on with the truth of God’s Word and you must prepare to do battle. My friend is right. Satan doesn’t go down easy. Never has. In fact, God’s word teaches us that he knows what his fate is. He’s been defeated for thousands of years. But he won’t go down without a fight.

The question my friend was asking me on Sunday is a worthy one. He was checking my heart to see if I am ready for whatever the “roaring lion” would be bring our way. I have to ask you the same. Will you go with me? As we take these next steps in our journey at Ridgeview, will you be willing to strip away all that remains of your old self and embrace all that God wants to give you? Will you stand arm-in-arm with the other followers at RCC who choose to challenge the lies of Satan with the timeless truths of Scripture? There is a battle that must be waged for the hearts of people that you know and love. It is worth the struggle that is to come. I can promise you that. But you must ask yourself, are you ready to come out swinging?