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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanks.

Thanks. It's a simple word not often said--at least, not nearly often enough. Because it's that time of year and I didn't want to branch way out on a limb, I decided to share my gratitude via this blog. Here's a few things I'm very thankful for (I'm way too blessed to name them all).

I'm thankful for friends that come in all shapes, sizes and colors. I'm thankful they love me when I get stupid, challenge me when I get lazy and encourage me when life gets tough.

I'm thankful for a mom who knows how to make the best dressing IN THE WORLD and that, long before I was old enough to taste it, she and my dad were encouraging me to love God. I've found that dressing satisfies for hours; God is eternally more sufficient.

I'm thankful for my staff. Nobody in America has as much fun with the people they work with. Just come stand outside our office (don't do it on Mondays. It's crazy in here) and listen to the laughter that fills this place as we work side-by-side.

I'm thankful for my cars. I can't imagine climbing onto a buckboard for the five hour trip to Georgia nor can I imagine climbing the ridge at Monteagle with a team of horses and four hungry children.

I'm thankful for my church family. Ridgies are the best. You do such an amazing job of being the "bride of Christ." I pray for you daily and know that you do the same for me. Together, we will make a difference for the Kingdom of God.

I'm thankful for Godly examples in my life--those people who best exhibited Christ to me over the years and are patient with me as I learn what being an "imitator of God" is all about.

I'm thankful for my extended family from Virginia to Georgia, from East Tennessee to West Franklin. God has blessed me more than I deserve in this area so thank you, all of you--in-laws, outlaws and just one step ahead of the law. You guys are the best and I love you.

I'm thankful for three beautiful daughters who make my heart dance when they are around. I want to be a hero for them. I want to teach them what real love is all about. I want them to know that there are good men left in this world. I'm thankful they understand me when I get that wrong.

I'm thankful for my son. There's no way I can deny that child is mine. He looks like me, eats like me and argues like me (the perfect trifecta for any woman). I pray the lessons he learns from me are far more plentiful than the mistakes I have to apologize for. He's a good kid; they all are.

I'm thankful for my beautiful wife, Lisa. As I told a friend recently, God knew when I got married again I would need someone who was beautiful (check), smart (check), Godly (check, check) and tough enough to stand in my face and make me a better man (triple check). Lisa is so good for me. God is even better.

It's my last entry for the week as my family heads out for the holiday celebration. I pray that you and your family have a wonderful, safe and preservative free Thanksgiving. I'll see you back here in December. Do yourself a favor. Take time to say thanks to some people in your life this week.

Monday, November 24, 2008

It's a very cool wet day.

It's a very cool wet day. The kind that make me want to go home, put on my sweats, grab a hot chocolate and sit with Lisa in front of the fire. Instead, I found myself out with my executive pastor, Eddie, delivering some food baskets our staff had put together for some under resourced families in our area. What amazing joy is found in the little things that you and I take for granted.

It got me thinking back to one of my favorite worship songs, one that was written by Chris Tomlin:

A refuge for the poor, a shelter from the storm
This is our God
He will wipe away your tears and return yourwasted years
This is our God
Oh... this is our God
A father to the orphan, a healer to the broken
This is our God
And he brings peace to our madness and comfort in our sadness
This is our God
Oh... this is our God
This is the one we have waited for
Oh... this is our God
A fountain for the thirsty, a lover for the lonely
This is our God
He brings glory to the humble and crowns for thefaithful
This is our God

My heart leaps when I hear those words. This is our God. No matter how the world may deny Him or try to re-write Him into their image, this is what God is really about. He is a restorer, a Creator, and a Helper. He fixes broken things, finds lost things, gives purpose to life and offers hope where there once was none. This is what the world has waited for. This is the One who was predicted. This--this image of a Father loving on His children--this is the one our souls long for. Now we must share Him. Now, we must tell others. NOW! The world needs to know the One their souls desire.

"You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the need in his distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat..." Isaiah 25:4

Friday, November 21, 2008

We are in a recession.

We are in a recession. Okay, I get that. You don't have to hit me over the head to help me understand that many people are struggling. But would it be too simple to say that the majority of our problems (as families and as a nation) come back to one simple principle--we're greedy.

I read this recently in a book written by a financial planner. In talking with a group of successful businessmen who earned over six figures in income annually, he asked the question, "How many of you earn twice what you did ten years ago?" They all raised their hands.

The next question was, "How many of you, if you had been asked ten years ago, would have been thrilled by this kind of income?" Again, they were all in the affirmative. But, when asked if they were content with where they are today, not one would raise his hand.

You get the picture? Here is the simplest financial bailout plan the world has ever seen. Don't spend what you don't have. I, for one, think it is absolutely crazy for us to be bailing anyone out--banks, insurers, mortgage companies and, least of all, the big (stupid) three auto makers. I mean, let's get real. Thirty million dollar bonus packages and we can't figure out why they can't earn a profit?

But let's get personal. Do we really need the third TV set, the XM on our radio or the latest cell phone with the ability to touch the screen ("OOOOOOHHH")? You know the answer and so do I. Now, I'm not saying you can't have those things. Many of you can afford them without placing additional strain on your family's finances. More power to you. But if you're cutting your tithe to make sure you don't have to cut the cleaning lady, your priorities are as messed up as the federal government. You better do the simple math and learn to live within your means (minus the super mega limit credit card) or you'll have collectors banging on your door. And, for you and I, there won't be a federal government bail out. Simply a rude awakening to the fact that we should have done what we should have done when there was time to do it. A friendly reminder before your holiday buying season begins.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

There is no doubt that we need each other.

There is no doubt that we need each other. I don't have to go very far to show you examples of how much people need the contact of other people. Not just physical contact but emotional, spiritual and mental as well. I hear it in the voices of people I counsel with. I see it in the faces of people who I speak to on the street.

If you don't think people want to get beyond the Twitter and the Facebook entries, just sit down and write a personal note to someone and see what kind of reaction you get. I did it recently to one particular couple in our church. The wife responded as if I had written a NY Times bestseller (which I hope to do some day).

Our lives are filled with...well, you name it. We live in homes with garages that have doors that work by remote. We pull in without ever getting out of our car. We actually can have "relationships" with people around the world without ever hearing the sound of their voice. And never before have we needed each other more.

I'm thinking specifically of one couple I had the opportunity to be with recently. After we had finished our evening with them, the young lady came up to my wife and began to talk to her on the side. She was sooo hungry for more, wanting to have relationship with someone whose name wasn't Mac or PC--someone who could feel and laugh and smile and hug. After all, God created us to be these kinds of people and, if we lose this art form, we have lost a very special gift.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I was thinking about my loss today as I reflected back

I was thinking about my loss today as I reflected back on my friend, Steve, who passed away this weekend. I guess my thoughts were stirred by his death along with the fact that I have several friends who are awaiting test results, facing surgeries or battling personal illnesses right now.

When I think back on those days, I'm amazed at how God sends His grace in the most amazing ways in the darkest situations. In the first moments after our van was struck that April afternoon, I screamed and prayed as loudly as I could to God. God didn't save my wife... but He did send an incredible peace into that chaotic moment. It was a peace that I would absolutely need to survive those next hours and days.

I think back on the days our family shared just prior to the accident. Wonderful memories, lots of laughs and dozens of pictures--pictures that would serve as a wonderful connection to what God had blessed Abigail, Harrison and me with.

In the midst of a loss, never doubt that God will give you comfort. His peace is constant and gentle. He promised that He would "never leave you or forsake you." Whatever your loss today (maybe a loved one, maybe a loss of security because of desperate news from the doctor, maybe you lost your significance because your occupation has been taken) you can rest in knowing that God's power is supreme and His way is best. Trust Him.

Personal note: Kristin, thanks for your kind words and for sharing your dad with Lisa and me. Please know that we are praying for you in your loss this week and the weeks to come.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Here's to going home.

Here's to going home. There's something special about those first minutes when you walk in the door. The sights. The smells. The memories that let you know that this is where you belong. I remember the first time I went away to school. I was in seminary in Fort Worth, TX. My family lived in Macon, GA--easily 12 hours driving time. That entire first semester, I was crazy homesick. I knew where I needed to be and I knew why God had me there. But I also knew where I wanted to be. I missed mom and dad. I missed my bed and my room and all the things that make a house your home.

That first Thanksgiving break, I completed my finals, went back to my dorm room and packed my bags so I could make the early start the next morning. I wanted to be home as soon as I could. That night, I lay in bed wide awake. The anticipation was killing me. So, somewhere a little after midnight, I did the only thing this homesick boy knew to do. I loaded my truck and made the 12 hour drive home in the middle of the night. Probably not the wisest thing to do nor the safest, but I did it. Sometimes the urge to go home is so strong it overpowers everything else. I remember the greeting I got from my dad as I walked in the front door. (He had not been expecting me till much later that evening.) That alone would have been worth every mile of the journey home.

You might think I'm writing this tonight because I'm looking forward to the holidays. I guess, in many ways, I am as much as ever. But tonight, I'm writing with a mixture of emotions. I'm writing because of another homecoming. Just a few minutes ago, I got the word that my new friend from Arizona that I wrote about a few weeks ago, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. Tonight, he's home--a place he longed for, a place he was not sure of. Tonight, the pain that had ravaged his body for so long is no more. Tonight the tears that filled his eyes that day we first met have been dried. The fear and uncertainty are no more. I believe with all my heart that he is in a place where the sights are beautiful, the sounds are astounding and the faces let him know that he'll never have to leave again. He's home.

In that blog a few weeks back, I called him "Scott" to protect his privacy. Today, I'll let you know that his name was Steve...Steve Kerr. And in the few minutes I knew Steve in this life, I became a better man. Tonight, Steve is just one more reason I can't wait to get home. I love you, Steve. Your family and friends are in our prayers this evening.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Words are powerful things.

Words are powerful things. They truly have the power to heal and to harm. Sometimes the most innocent of phrases can rip to shreds years of healing and hope. At other times, a simple word or two can lift some one's spirits farther than they ever imagined. And, yet, they are simply words.

But God knows the power of words. Think of some of the most powerful words that Scripture shares with us. In the encounter between Moses and God, Moses asked the Creator, "Who are you?" God responded with two very powerful words--I am. I am? What does that mean? It is a very powerful phrase that says, "God was and God is and God will always be what we really need Him to be." God is not limited by our imagination or by science or by natural law. He just is…in a very powerful way.

There is another word that contains much power in the Bible. It appears many places but most frequently during those encounters between man and God (or someone representing Him such as an angel). Peace. Now, if I came up to you and said "peace," it would mean one thing. But for the Creator of all things to look at you in your present situation and say this word means something wholly different. Peace...strength in the midst of chaos, no presence of fear.

The strength of words cannot be denied. Whether it's a parent disciplining a child, an individual dealing with a co-worker, or a husband reacting too strongly to his wife and best friend (are you catching my humility here?), we must understand the power of Words. After all, when the world was in a desperate situation and needed to hear from God, He didn't put on a display. He didn't send an army. He didn't cause the sky to go dark or the mountains to crash into the sea. He simply gave us His...Word.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God....The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." John 1:1-14 NIV

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It has been chaos around here today.

It has been chaos around here today. We've had a pregnant Mary, two opera singers, a very bad guitarist and a donkey (yes, a live one). Here at the office. No, it wasn't a staff meeting. We were shooting one of the final scenes for this year's Ridgeview film. It is going to be great so you're going to want to make plans to come (and invite everyone you know) for the showing on Christmas Eve. Make sure you're there.

That got me thinking about some of these commercials you see on TV. You know the ones.

"Not sold in stores."
"As seen on TV."
"New and improved..."
"Call now. Operators are standing by."

They make some pretty heady claims. Especially as we head into the holiday season, you'll see the promising to do a whole lot of stuff. Organize your life. Clean your clothes. Remove all calories from your cooking (okay, the last one was just wishful thinking). You get the picture. One particular magazine just did their annual review of the best selling of these products. Their findings?? Most of them simply don't deliver. Even the ones that do were questioned as to the real need that they fulfill.

Is real life any different? Which one of us has never fallen prey to the claims that culture wants to make on our lives?

"You can't get this anywhere else."
"It's just like you see on TV."
"Better than ever before."
"Get it now because it might be gone tomorrow."

Let's be honest. The only One to ever live up to His claims was Christ. No spastic announcers needed. The angels broadcast His birth. No select audiences. His salvation is free to all who will take it. No new and improved because it just doesn't get any better than life on the road with Christ. No money back offer because He's never failed. I will tell you this though. It is a limited time offer. And you better believe you don't want to get caught having this One. Blessings!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why do we make things so hard?

Why do we make things so hard? Especially when it comes to the things of faith. Salvation is simple. You accept a free gift from a loving God who paid a price for your sin that you couldn't pay yourself. You rearrange your life to give Him ownership and leadership. It's done. It's really that easy. Now, the life that follows this decision may be a little harder. But the act is as simple as acknowledgement and obedience.

And obedience is another area where we try to take the simple and make it really difficult. The religious leaders in the Bible took the 10 Commandments and turned them into dozens of books of laws that had to be kept in order to stay in good standing with God.

But Christ summed up the desires God had for us in two simple little sentences. Love God with all your being and love others more than you love yourself. (my translation) Just think how that last little sentence would radically change the world if we practiced it. Road rage would be a think of the past. Contracts would never have to be signed. We'd never here people screaming about their rights or their needs because we'd all be looking out for one another. Marriages would last forever as they were intended to be and no child would ever go uncared for.

Our churches would be radically different. We'd have to have crowd control at the doors because the world would want to come in and be part of the loving. Pastors wouldn't burn out because small groups of people got together and were dragging him down behind his back. No guest would ever feel out of place in a church. And we'd never have to talk about how to carefully use the offerings because the bigger concern would be how to deal with the excess we had in our church's accounts. We'd spend more time praying for each other than talking about each other. And the "law" of God would become almost unnecessary.

Why can't we get this right? What is this selfish nature that says I have to look out for me and mine because no one else will? All it takes is a few people who choose to do the right thing in a world that has seemingly forgotten what the right thing is. The right thing, as Paul put it:

8 Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law. 9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law. Romans 13:8-10 NLT

Monday, November 10, 2008

I’ve heard it said that difficult times provide a mirror to our soul.

I’ve heard it said that difficult times provide a mirror to our soul. It’s during the most difficult of times that we find out who we really are, what we really believe. But it’s those same difficult times that give God His best opportunities to shine and to really show us how much He cares.

I’ve already seen it a half dozen times in recent weeks. Like most of us, some of my Ridgies are feeling the squeeze of a poor economy. My family is doing like most of yours and taking more sack lunches, turning off our lights more frequently and cutting more coupons to insure that a down economy doesn’t catch us off guard. But some of my families are already being damaged by the financial woes. Let me tell you a tale of two families.

Family A has been hit by income too low to keep up their lifestyle. Their income has been driven lower than normal by the hit that his industry has taken. Since the day the news first became obvious to them, they have scrambled around with great effort to try and figure out how to stop the bleeding. When I spoke to them, the lengthy conversation never revealed one word of prayer, God, surrender or priority. Rather, there were apologies that they had cut back on their tithing to make sure they could make ends meet…God will understand.

Family B has been hit equally hard. Struggling with a low income that couldn’t get much lower. Just wanting to do the right thing for their kids. When they first mentioned this to me over lunch, we talked about some ideas for re-arranging priorities, dumping some debt and learning to live within their means. I knew they would be alright because the last request before we parted company was, “Would you pray with us, Ridley? We know with all our heart that God will take care of our needs. We simply have to surrender.” They got it right.

Now, the two families above aren’t real. Well, actually, they are. They are compilations of dozens of phone calls and meetings I have had with people in recent weeks. They are all families that have been struck by the aforementioned difficult times. And their character is showing. My prayer is that all of us would learn to trust God in ALL things—good and bad. Knowing God intimately in the best of times makes our confidence in Him more steadfast in the worst. Let me close with this encouragement from David.

“The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in times of trouble.” Psalm 37:39 NIV

Thursday, November 06, 2008

My wife tells me we are in the midst of trail mix moments.

My wife tells me we are in the midst of trail mix moments. It’s just another one of those creative phrases she uses to keep life in perspective for all of us. Like many of you, we are facing “stuff”—weird economy, growing kids, changing church and personal challenges that every believer deals with. Any way, I’ll let her words explain the whole “trail mix” thing to you.

“We are having some of the sweetest moments and some of the saltiest moments all at the same time. Obviously, I would much prefer to pick out the M&M’s and just enjoy the sweet moments but I am excited about what we are learning about being salt and light to the world in our salty moments. It makes me smile to say we have both. Too much salt leaves you dry and thirsty. I may not be “nuts” about the salty lessons but I do get excited how we know we are on the right track when we are in the midst of salty moments and boy, I sure can taste those M&M’s better when they are mixed in with the salty. Can’t you? Think about it. What a “sweet” reminder that ministry offers both. What a blessing that we are experiencing both right now. I am excited to take the next bite that Jesus has to offer. I pray that you and I enjoy our healthy trail mix and that we continue to hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Good words. Great truths. Isn’t she “sweet”? Hope you enjoy all the flavors that life brings you today and remember that God is in both.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Anyone who has not signed on for warfare has not fully understood the call of Christ.

Anyone who has not signed on for warfare has not fully understood the call of Christ. Jesus never said, “If you have problems in this world…” but “When you have problems…” One of the saddest things to see is a person who longs to follow Christ but is not willing to stay in it for the long haul and withstand all that Satan wants to throw at him. We love to applaud people like Job (from Scripture) who have the enemy’s worst thrown at them but continue to stand. However, we miss that Christ’s call on us is for that same kind of faith and perseverance.

That is why God gave us the Holy Spirit as a comforter and guide. He works deep inside us to change our desires from pleasing ourselves to pleasing God. It is the Holy Spirit working through the Bible who gives us the ability to control our thoughts (or, as Paul put it, to take every thought captive). The Holy Spirit is the only one who can relieve the strong urgings of the “old self” and help us to subdue them to the desires of the new self. It is His power that enables us to break habits that have been repeated countless times, to step away from the bondage of our enemy and to overcome Satan and all his subtle temptations.

At RCC, we’re beginning a series called “The Campaign” this Sunday. It talks about these very issues—advancing God’s kingdom while stepping away from ours. I ask that all you Ridgies out there will be in prayer for one another as we dig into a subject that Satan hopes you never understand. Be prepared for his schemes and don’t be surprised by what lengths he will go to to keep you from being a part of these days in the life of our church.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

“Be simple; take our Lord’s hand and walk through things.” Brother Andrew

“Be simple; take our Lord’s hand and walk through things.” Brother Andrew

“The greatest worries of this world are brought on those who are entangled the greatest by this world.” Brother Ridley

Where do you draw your strength? Is it from the mission you are living out in your life? Or, do you spend more time worrying about the props? Are you more concerned about the “things” God gave you to serve Him or by the ones that God has called you to serve?

Those who go through life unencumbered find that the race is more easily run and the grace of God is more easily felt. God will give you strength for whatever portion of the journey you are on but you must know the difference between living in His power and living in yours.

Monday, November 03, 2008

I read this excerpt from one of the leadership e-mails I get just this past week.

I read this excerpt from one of the leadership e-mails I get just this past week.

“Last week I attended the Willow Creek Association's REVEAL conference. Bill Hybels was the opening speaker…I was surprised by what he identified as the church's biggest challenge. Hybels says the largest gap exists not between seekers and believers, but between less mature Christians and "Christ-centered" Christians. The less mature, he says, believe that "God is for me, my plans, and my agenda in this world." But the truly Christ-centered have given up their lives and dreams in complete surrender to him. "A big honkin' thing has to happen for a Christian to move from self-centered to Christ-centered."”

Looking to tomorrow’s election (hopefully for the last time. Like many of you I am tired of hearing about all of this) I thought about the agendas that we take into the polling booth. As I have mentioned before, I am shocked by the number of “Christians” who say that the economy is more important than the many moral issues that face our nation (One could easily argue that economic issues are a result of poor moral choices in our past).

More importantly, I think Bill Hybel’s words hit home for many of us in the area of worship. We have adopted a shopper’s mentality when it comes to looking for a place to worship with our family. We hop from church to church, looking for the one that “meets our needs,” without ever consulting God’s desires for us. I often wonder how many times a day that God shakes His head and thinks to Himself, “They really don’t get this, do they?”

Here’s what I encourage you to do. Stop thinking about yourself. (That’s a pretty basic concept for a Christ-follower). Find the way to where God wants you in your career, your goals, your place of worship. And STAY there till He tells you to move. NOTE: the first sign of trouble is not an indication that God wants you to move. In fact, none of the following are acceptable reasons for leaving a church:

*Church is too big/too small
*They don’t have enough programs for my kids
*They aren’t meeting budget
*They don’t appreciate me/my family enough
*That pastor/staff member never does… (fill in the blank with a thousand different things you could do in service to your church like hospital visits, writing potential members, inviting new people to church)

I think you get the picture. Contemporary churches in America are filled with those who think that worship is about their preferences and that service is something limited to paid professionals. I am thankful for the many Ridgies who are changing that mentality and getting it back to what it needs to be. You guys really get this (most of you, anyway).

Wherever you are and whatever your place in your church, recommit yourself to serving God and the family of your church with all your heart. The Kingdom will be blessed and you will find more contentment than you ever would in your present self-focused existence.