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Monday, December 22, 2008

There is a lot to love about this time of year...

There is a lot to love about this time of year...it's really hard to choose. This morning, we awoke to single digit temperatures. I love that. It makes it feel like Christmas to me. I used to have the hardest time living in South Georgia where it was just as likely to be 75 on Christmas as it was to be 40. One day, I hope to awaken to a white Christmas. It hasn't happened yet in 41 years but I'm still holding out hope. That's not my favorite thing though.

I love hearing from family and friends that I haven't talked to in forever. Whether it's an e-mail, phone call or Christmas card, I enjoy catching up with old friends and being reminded of special memories. As good as that it is, that's not my favorite part either.

There are family gatherings, children's excitement, well wishes and plenty of good eats. Each part of the Christmas season holds a special meaning and a special place in my heart...or my stomach as the case may be. But what's my favorite part?

I've narrowed it down to one special moment. It's that point on Christmas eve when everything is done. The presents are neatly wrapped and stacked under the tree. The kids have finally settled down for the night. Church responsibilities have been put on hold and the last parties have become sweet memories for future years. It's that point when I sit down on the couch with my wife in front of the fireplace with a glass of skim milk (Santa's watching his fat intake) and chocolate chip cookies prepared for St. Nick. The world is perfectly still--it's as if 2000 years later creation is still observing the arrival of its Maker. The last few hours of one year are filtering away and I'm looking ahead to the start of one more. There, in that stillness, there is no missing the significance of that night. Angels singing, shepherds bowing, wise men seeking, father rejoicing, mother pondering, King arriving!! Two thousand years later, it is my prayer that we still know the importance of Christmas.

My blogs will be hit and miss (mostly miss) over the next few days as we go through the holidays. My family (Lisa, Morgan, Harrison, Abigail and Landon) wish all of you who read the Merriest of Christmases. May the Child of Bethlehem find a place in your heart as Lord this Christmas. We love you!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

This you call tolerance?

This, you call tolerance? I'm sure you've heard it by now. The national organizations supporting gays, lesbians, transvestites, bisexuals and other disenfranchised people with something to complain about are raising you-know-what because Obama had the audacity to ask one of America's most dynamic pastors to pray for his inaugural (maybe you would have preferred Wanda Sykes to do it?) What in the world was he thinking? The articles and reports that I have seen to this point are models of the double standard in tolerance. Because Rick Warren is courageous enough to take a stand for righteousness, these people have deemed him unworthy to participate in the President-elect's celebration. Even one "pastor", the head of the NAACP for the San Francisco area, said he was appalled at the decision by Obama. "What happened to Obama's cries for unity?" is the question that has been asked repeatedly.

Okay, unity? This is not how you go about it. Rick Warren has every right (and responsibility, I might add) to make a stand for what he believes to be righteous living. This does not disqualify him from being a part of the national discussion in Washington, D.C. any more than the screaming of a (very vocal) minority of people in our country who choose to support an alternative lifestyle (this is the their description of it).

Let me straighten something out here. Grace was never meant to promote compromise. Grace, as it was demonstrated by Christ, means I will love you as you are but will not leave you in a life that contradicts God's plan for you. Whether that be lying, cheating, stealing or otherwise--someone who bears the characteristics of grace is compelled to seek change, not excuse sin. Jesus NEVER tolerated sin!! Ever!!

Kudos for Rick Warren for standing his ground. May his prayers be heard clearly in the heavens as he lifts our nation up before God.

ON A LIGHTER NOTE: my shopping is done for 2008. Presents are wrapped and placed neatly under the tree. Arrival times for family members have been "booked" into my calendar. And the menus for Christmas morning and the day after are being finalized. Now, it's time to sit back, enjoy the true meaning of this season, and laugh at all you poor suckers who still have to visit the mall. HA!!

AND DON'T FORGET...Franklin's Night Before Christmas coming up on Christmas eve. For those of you in Franklin who would love to join us, it's a free event from 5:30 to 7:30 in Building 8 at the Factory. There will be free dinner, some carols and then the premiere of Ridgeview's newest movie. We will be done by 7:30 so you can get home in time to enjoy the family traditions that you celebrate each year. Feel free to join us.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Questions.

Questions. They fill our lives. Great and small they challenge who we are and what we stand for. For some, they spur us on to greater things by causing us to examine ourselves. For others, the byproduct of questions is growing fear in our heart. Am I good enough? Is God big enough? Can I ever do enough? Who can I trust?

That first Christmas night was so special because our Answer had come. The One in whom all truth was found. He was the answer for our struggles, for our doubt for our chaos. Think how much power is found in these words to the old Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem:

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's funny the things that can jog your memory.

It's funny the things that can jog your memory. This morning, I woke up around 4:45 (yes, that's a.m.). It was probably the anticipation of the impending phone call from the school board saying that school would be delayed because of the ice. Laying there in the darkness, my mind was taken back almost 35 years to my childhood. I'm not sure what triggered it but I was lying there thinking of my December mornings.

It was pretty much a daily ritual that year. I was eight years old. I would wake up early in the morning (I've always been a morning person and an early riser) and make my way to my mom and dad's room. Working my way through the pre-dawn blackness, I would move around to my dad's side of the bed and crawl in underneath the covers. I'd slide as close to him as I could and rest my head on his massive arm. There, he and I would listen to "Cousin Al", a local radio DJ. Al would share his homespun tales, talk about his "RC Cola and moon pie," and play the classic country hits. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

During December, Al would pull out the traditional Christmas classics sung by people like George Jones, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and others. I would lay there in the bed dreaming about Christmas day--unwrapping presents, eating my mom's sausage balls (still, to this day, the very best made) and heading down the road to Granny's for more fun with cousins.

I want that for my kids. I want them to think of those incredible moments when the world seems okay, when dreams really do come true and when Santa (real or not) seems as close as the big man lying next to you in the bed. This morning, I swear I could smell his aftershave and hear the thump of his heart in his chest. I miss my dad and those early school mornings. I miss hearing him sing songs all over the house (most of the time he got all the words right).

My prayer is that this Christmas season (every Christmas season) my family can create those kinds of memories and that I can be everything to my kids that my dad was to me...and so much more.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The shoe throwing incident of 2008

The shoe throwing incident of 2008. I'm sure most of you have seen or heard about it by now. Some Arabic reporter in Baghdad decided to take a shot (actually two) at the President with his size tens while in a press conference yesterday. If you've seen the video, it's pretty comical. Bush looks like he is reverting back to his playground days playing a little dodgeball (pretty agile for an older guy). He seems to have a little smirk on his face as if to say, "Is that the best you got?" Of course, the guy was apprehended though, might I add, not very quickly. Where was security on this thing? This guy gets off two loafers before they ever get to him. Heaven forbid that he would have had a knife or an automatic weapon.

Anyway, here's where the strangest part of the story is to me. I hope this doesn't offend anyone who doesn't need to be offended. The news out of Iraq this morning is that thousands of people are in the streets of Baghdad marching for this guy's release. They are screaming, chanting and burning stuff so that he will be released. Listen, I don't know about your philosophies or your religious leanings, but I don't think it's ever right to throw shoes at a man.

Do I dare ask what's going on in the Muslim world when thousands of people can walk out of their shops, homes, schools and workplaces to protest on behalf of a shoe thrower? Can Iraq's economy handle this kind of work slow down? Of course, if they are somehow related to American industry, they don't have much to worry about. They could always fall back on a government bailout. Talk about something to throw your shoe at...where's my extra tennis shoes? I've got something I want to protest.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

You know, some folks just don't get it.

You know, some folks just don't get it. Christmas, I mean.

Last week, my executive pastor, Eddie, shared what he heard on a local radio show. The hosts of the morning show were talking about songs commonly played at Christmas that really didn't have anything to do with Christmas. An example they used was "Frosty, the Snowman"--a great seasonal song but it really has nothing to do with the event we celebrate. They invited listeners to call in and share their own song titles. One lady called in and, with all seriousness, listed the song "Mary, Did You Know?" The announcer laughed a little to himself (probably waiting for a punch line or "just kidding"). After a pause, he asked, "Ma'am, you do know that Mary was the mother of Jesus?" Her reply? "What's that got to do with the Christmas season" (reminds me of the old country song with Jeff Foxworthy "Here's Your Sign")

Then, the next day, the Atlanta paper was ranking the worst Christmas albums and songs of the season. Now, you and I both know there are some really bad songs and bad remakes of good songs (e.g. Madonna's remake of "Santa Baby"). It's not like they didn't have plenty to choose from. Their number 10 choice was a song by Shane and Shane--contemporary worship writers who have done some really good stuff. The song chosen was "Born to Die"--a song that talks about the obvious (at least I used to think it was) reason for the birth of Christ in the first place. The reason it was chosen as one of the worst?? It puts a damper on your Christmas spirit by talking about Jesus' death.

Hello? Sorry to rain on your parade people but you can't have Christmas without Jesus and you can't speak of Jesus (his name literally means Savior) without understanding that his birth occurs under the shadow of his impending death--the most significant reason for his presence.

Maybe our friends and naysayers need to be reminded of the final verses of the classic Christian carol, "Good Christian Men, Rejoice":

Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice!
Now ye hear of endless bliss: Jesus Christ was born for this.
He has opened heaven's door, and man is blest forevermore.
Christ was born for this, Christ was born for this.

Good Christian men, rejoice with heart and soul and voice!
Now ye need not fear the grave: Jesus Christ was born to save;
Calls you one and calls you all, To gain His everlasting hall.
Christ was born to save, Christ was born to save.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Just when you thought it couldn't get more ridiculous

Just when you thought it couldn't get more ridiculous, the world decides to "up the ante" a little bit. Newsweek magazine, the bastion of unbiased news and information (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek), has done just this with its latest issue.

Newsweek decided to come out for same-sex marriage in a big way, and to do so by means of a biblical and theological argument. In its cover story, "The Religious Case for Gay Marriage," Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller offers a revisionist argument for the acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Aside from the very subjective writing in which Miller offers only professional opinions that support her journalism, the magazine fired a parting shot at all those who profess to believe the Bible. Newsweek editor Jon Meacham offered his editorial piece that reveals even more of the magazine's agenda for this article: "No matter what one thinks about gay rights — for, against or somewhere in between — this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism....Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt — it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition."

Okay, okay. Enough writing already guys. You've already proven that you don't have a clue what faith in God and the Bible is all about. In case you missed it, the editor of Newsweek magazine just called every Bible-believing Christian (and, for good measure, every Torah believing Jew) a complete idiot--something just two IQ points below a slug. (He said it. Not me. "Intellectually bankrupt").

Well, here's my thought. Since I am intellectually bankrupt, I don't have the mental capabilities to read, especially a magazine of such high caliber. Neither do millions of others out there who believe as I do. Maybe we'll just stoop to some other journalistic pieces who understand how to express differing views without resorting to name-calling and hateful generalizations.

By the way, how far do you think either of these two would have gotten out the door of their offices if they had called Muslims complete idiots for their beliefs or resorted to the same kind of name-calling in reference to supporters of homosexuality? You better believe the ACLU (the biggest civil rights joke since...well, since I don't know when) would have met them before the door had shut completely.

Don't be suprised Christ followers. This is exactly what Christ predicted when He said others would hate us because of Him and would persecute us. And Jesus teaches that this is just the beginning. Who knows where it will lead...especially if you and I choose to remain silent and act like the brainless wimps Meacham accuses us of being.

Monday, December 08, 2008

There are only two ways to live your life according to Albert Einstein.

There are only two ways to live your life according to Albert Einstein. You can live as if there are no such thing as miracles. Or you can live as if everything in life was a miracle. While I'm not sure that I entirely agree with the statement, it does speak to one very important truth about every single one of us in our lives.

We choose.

That's it. We choose. We choose how we live our lives, what perspective we begin each day with. In every decision we face and ever life crisis that comes, there is an opportunity to choose. And the choice we make is often determined by Who we know.

So...you choose how you live today. Miracle or no miracle, God wants to be a part of what it is you face.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Balance.

Balance. We all strive for it in some manner or another. I've heard ladies talking who marvel at one particular mother who is able to "balance" all that she has going on. Leaders are encouraged to maintain "balance." Men talk about having to keep their work demands in check to maintain "balance." It is the Holy Grail of life management, it would seem.

I got a fresh perspective on this subject this morning as I shared a quiet time with Lisa. Imagine life as a bike ride. We talk about how balance is important to riding a bike. Think about this...the only time a bike is ever really balanced is when it is sitting still with both of your feet on the ground. The rest of the time, a bike ride is a constant challenge. It is a hundred different muscles working together to counteract the wobble, to avoid the pothole in the road and to slow down when a car approaches. Throughout that whole "experience," the bike is never completely balanced. But when the ride is over, you measure your balance, not by the individual moments along the way, but by judging the whole ride.

Many times, in our striving for balance, we can focus too much on one aspect of our life and fail to see how well we are maintaining balance. Here's a good example...Lisa. She loves a clean house. We both do. But sometimes we have needs that pop up--a kid who has a project or a game, a friend who needs someone to talk to over lunch, a ministry opportunity for the church--that can interfere with time set aside to clean the house. Now, if we focus too much on the dirty sink at home, we might think that our lives are out of balance. However, when we do that, we fail to see the child who is secure in knowing her parents love her, the friend who is at peace because we took the time to pray or the family that was touched by the generosity of our church.

Balance isn't found in maintaining a rigid schedule that never gets interrupted or off kilter. Rather, it is found by surveying your whole life and knowing that your heart, mind, body and soul are maintained in step with God's will for you. Potholes will come and dirty sinks will happen. Maintain peace in your life by keeping your eyes on the big picture God has for you. In the end, you will find balance.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A leap of faith

A leap of faith. That's what they call it when we place our trust in something without having the evidence needed for certainty. The phrase has found all kinds of uses from supporting a favorite underdog to putting your money into long shot investments. Typically, it's a more negative term used by someone who can't believe that you would choose the path you've chosen without first knowing more. In the following verse, though, we find Jesus using it in a much more positive way.

34Jesus said to her, "Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague." Mark 5:34 MSG

The daughter refered to here is a woman who had been plagued by a medical issue for decades. Because of her condition she had been barred from normal life and the simple privileges allowed to most women of her day. With those kinds of odds, faith was all she had left. Anything to remove the plague.

Jesus rewarded her with healing. More than that, he made her the poster child for what it takes to get freedom...a risk (a leap) of faith. Therein lies the root of our bondage. The cause does not lie at the feet of a Savior who is unworthy or a God who is impotent. Rather, it lies in the heart of a people who have become too averse to leaping. Funny how Satan can convince us to reject the very path that leads to our healing.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Communicating with someone in these modern times is really no problem.

Communicating with someone in these modern times is really no problem. We've got phones and faxes and e-mail and Facebook. There is virtual "this" and virtual "that"--all meant to keep us in "personal" contact with someone. You and I know that you just can't beat the real thing. There's no way that technology can keep up with being in the presence of someone you really want to hear from. That's why this verse is so powerful:

"In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV

That's what Christmas was about. To that point in human history, God had spoken to His people through prophets, signs and wonders. But it wasn't good enough for a God who desires that we really know him. So, he put down all the other forms of communication and showed up Himself--stepping right into the middle of human history. His presence, His appearing, reveals the depth of love that God shows for us. He cared enough to send His very best--Jesus, God made flesh and dwelling among us.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The flip is switched

The flip is switched. We have seamlessly shifted from Thanksgiving to the Christmas season. I have to be honest. Lisa and I started listening to Christmas CDs about two weeks ago, though. I love the songs and the feeling they bring so I can't really keep them to just one month a year.

I'm looking forward to lots of things this Christmas season. There are, of course, the parties and the goodies, the songs and the annual Christmas parade. More than anything, I love hanging out with the family. I'm praying for a little simplicity this season, a less hectic pace. I'm wishing for love in my family, peace in my heart and snow on the ground (wouldn't hurt to have it just once, now, would it?) More than anything I guess I'm casting a vision for myself as I launch out into Christmas '08. I want to know the Baby of Bethlehem better than ever before. I want to come to that day just as those shepherds did that first Christmas morning--innocent, pure, completely open, and worshipping with all their hearts.

If I can get there, I won't need much more. I've got all the gifts I need. But the older I get, the more I realize that all I really need(ed) was born there that day. If only I can embrace Him...