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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's almost here

At the risk of sounding like a Christmas song, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. The message of Christmas day is that God became one of us. Why? So no one could ever question again, "God, do you understand what I'm going through? Do you see and hear what your people are going through?"

His resounding answer, for all of eternity, "YES! I know your hurt and I feel your pain. I have live it. I have walked it. I have felt it."

This Christmas, the Barron family would like to wish all of you the very best and brightest Christmas ever. Rest in peace knowing that God Himself has come to save you and bring you eternal hope. God bless you as 2009 rolls into 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Christmas

It happened again this morning as I was having breakfast with a friend at a local restaurant. I took the opportunity to ask a couple of the waitresses how their Christmas plans were coming and if they were ready for the big day. They recounted stories of stress, anxiety, hurry and worry. I sighed as I thought to myself, we're missing it again. Two thousand years after the first Noel (that's French for Christmas. Now aren't you impressed?) we still can't comprehend that this was a simple event for a reason. God wanted us to receive it for what it was.

Since breakfast, I've been sitting in my office thinking about my afternoon yesterday. Two of my kids helped me as we walked through one of the more poverty-stricken areas in Franklin. We were inviting people to our Christmas eve event at the school where our church meets (5:30 on Christmas eve. If you are in town, make plans to come and bring your family).

I though about the images of the day. Standing on porches that sagged under our weight. Hearing the sounds of children crying behind the tightly shut doors. Feeling the heat escaping through broken windows that desperately needed repair. Watching the smiles on the faces of people when they were assured there were no strings attached to our "gift" from the church.

God really does love the whole world. I hope we grasp that. It's more than just a children's song or a nice thought. When the angels came to proclaim peace on earth, it was for the overworked waitress and the under-worked single mom. It was for stressed-out executives and lonely fathers separated from their families this Christmas. But every single year, we trade this message of love and hope for temporary gifts, for boxes and bows, for shopping sprees and decorations...for things.

I pray this year that more than one family comes to find that He, Jesus, truly does bring meaning to our lives. And that meaning can be lost in an instant if we choose to embrace Christmas in any way other than what the shepherds and Magi did...with complete awe and worship of this new born child.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What's in a name?

Most of you know that Biblical names, particularly in the Old Testament, carried tremendous meaning. They were often indicators of personality, descriptors of the times or predictors of future events. For example, Isaac, was born to Abraham, the father of Israel, at an old age. Abraham means "father of nations." After God promised to give Abraham a son very late in life, he and his wife laughed at the thought. Isaac was subsequently given his name which means "laughter."

Isaiah the prophet carried a name that literally meant "Yahweh is our salvation." Isaiah's prophecies to the King of Judah were about this very thing...that God alone could save the nation from its enemies. His prophecies also bore witness to another significant name...Immanuel.

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NIV

This name, more than any other in history, carries significant weight for all humanity. Immanuel literally means "God with us." More than just a great idea, it was the announcement of the most significant event in history. It was told to the people of Judah around 730 b.c. It was announced to shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night. It has been proclaimed for more than 2000 years since that day. It is the very reason for all the excitement and all the joy that permeates our homes this time of year (whether we choose to acknowledge it or not). It is this amazing reality...God is here!! Not distant, not removed, not out on the edge of the universe. And not dead or impersonal as in other religions. Our God is real and has chosen to make Himself known through His son Jesus. It is indeed, good tidings of great joy to ALL people. Immanuel!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Josiah and the coming revival

Lisa and I pray together every morning before we start our day. There are prayers for our kids--their safety, their growth, their relationships, their future. We pray for other family and friends who have current needs. We pray for each other and for our church. Lately, one of the consistent prayers we have uttered for ourselves and the church (both Ridgeview and the universal church) is that God would send revival. Not a meeting, a transformation.

Throughout history, God has sent times of revival but ONLY when God's people were willing to do their part. I found myself in 2 Kings this morning, re-reading the story of King Josiah. He became king at age 8 and ruled from Jerusalem for 31 years. The cool part of his story is the revival he ushered in for Judah at age 26. One day, he sent his secretary on an errand to the temple. There, the high priest informed the secretary that he had found this cool book in the temple that he thought the king might be interested in. The secretary read it for the king. The king was moved to tears and repentance. (that book? The Torah, or law, which was the "bible" for those in Judah in that day).

Josiah's response was what I think God seeks from His people before revival comes. Josiah left nothing to chance. He purified the temple. He tore down every false idol in Judah. Every...single...one. He sought the idols out himself and made sure there were no more poles, no more holy places. He even had the false priests, who had misled the people, put to death. He got rid of the mediums and fortune tellers as well. He did not leave anything to chance. He radically removed any pretense of sin from his nation and Judah was blessed. Revival came.

The final summation of Josiah's life and reign was this:
Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did--with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses. 2 Kings 23: 25 NIV

Think about that statement--"neither before or after." That's some serious company that Josiah has been placed in--David, Samuel, Hezekiah--all good kings in their own right. But Josiah did what we need to do. He uncovered the truths of God's Word found in the Scriptures, he repented and prayed for God's direction, and he removed every temptation, every sin, and every lingering obstacle to his obedience.

The revival we seek will never come until we get serious about the sin that we harbor in our lives. We must not allow sin to co-exist with Christ in our homes because it only leaves room for failure. God seeks those who will respond with the fervor of Josiah. Then, revival will come and we, and our families, will be blown away by how truly good our God is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I just wanted some stamps.

The Christmas craziness has been in full effect around Franklin since Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) but it officially ratcheted up a notch at our local post office this week. I dropped by there on the way to work this morning to pick up some Christmas stamps. I just needed a few to make sure our Christmas cards got out on time. The line was out the door. There was one poor fellow shipping what looked like his entire Christmas list. Final total for shipping...almost $500.

Another lady, who spoke poor English, was trying to find out why the stamps she stuck on her three post cards wasn't enough. It was kind of comical watching as she, with her broken English, communicated with the very Southern gentleman behind the counter about why she needed ten cents more. Talk about worlds colliding.

There were bags and bows and boxes everywhere as people wrapped up there last minute details for getting their items shipped. Thirty minutes later, I had my "Mother and Child" Christmas stamps and was on my way to work.

So, my blog today is a public service reminder. There's probably much left to be done before December 25th (if you are like most of us). There are cards to mail, items to ship and probably a few left to buy for. You have just nine more days to get it all done. But, whether you are ready or not, Christmas will come. It always does. It did 2000 years ago and, believe it or not, most of them weren't ready then either.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Believe you can.

One of my favorite things to do as a pastor is to read the emails and notes and to hear the stories of victory that come. Believe me, there are far more than most of you realize (confidentiality keeps us from sharing some of the really good ones). I love when people have stories about how their families have been changed or relationships have been mended. They are the indication of a very powerful God that we serve. They encourage others and help us to know that others can have that same kind of victory and overcoming in their life if they will just trust God.

Therein lies the stumbling block...that whole trusting God thing. It's one thing to say it or to sing it on Sunday morning but something entirely different when the stuff of life hits us on Monday morning. But believing God can do what He has promised is the difference between a life that comes unglued and life held together. Make no mistake, we will all face those difficult days. The outcome is less about what the circumstances are and more about what we do with those circumstances. Here's a really cool verse of promise I shared with Lisa this morning. I hope it encourages you as you face the Deceiver today:

May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Psalm 119:41-42 NIV

The lies of the enemy are strong but God's word is stronger still. Trust that He can and will deliver no mater what the enemy says.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A pet peeve

I've got this pet peeve. It's about truth in advertising. It really irritates me when you see one of these ads come out where they say, "New and improved" when just last month they were saying they got your teeth "as white as possible". Does that mean what was once considered impossible is now possible?

Then there are the truck ads: "America's number one selling truck." How can they all be the best selling truck? Of course, some of them add in the phrase "...in its class" as if that's supposed all make sense for us.

Here's another one: "No cash up front" but in the small print you read "this doesn't include all necessary fees, taxes, title charges, etc."

There is even a radio station now advertising this in our area: "Nashville's official Christmas station." Really? Because I don't think the Mayor's office really recognized one station as THE official station for Nashville this time of year? And, even if I missed that memo, I bet it wasn't really your station that was named, especially since the next station down the dial is proclaiming the same thing.

My problem is this (I know, you're thinking "don't you have anything else to worry about right now?")...we have a serious void of truth in our culture. No one knows how to tell it any more. Presidents lie. Role models lie to their fans. Dads lie to their children. Students lie to their teachers. And it's because we have created a culture where truth is heralded as a worthy virtue but no one is willing to go first. We accept lies from our elected officials. We allow companies like the one's above to fudge on their advertising. We don't expect our kids to always be honest. And then everyone acts surprised when we discover our kids have been caught in another lie. They are just acting out what they have seen since the day they were born. We expect people to be truthful with us but don't demand the same from our own hearts. Before we can expect the world to live in truth, we've got to be living lives of integrity in our words and our actions. Truth matters people. Just ask God what He thinks...

The Lord detests lying lips but he delights in men who are truthful. Proverbs 12:22 NIV

Therefore each one of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor... Ephesians 4:25 NIV

Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of it Creator. Colossians 3:9-1o NIV

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our purpose

Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5

A few years back, I was standing in the line at Lowe's looking for something else to buy (hey, I'm a man. I can't help it). I had picked up the stuff I really needed but, because I love Lowe's and I love gadgets, I'm always checking to make sure there isn't something else I need. A cup full of flat pencils caught my eye. You probably have seen them and maybe knew long before I did what they were. They are called carpenter's pencils. One day, some really creative guy got tired of his pencil rolling off of his work area. So, he took his hammer and slammed the pencil to flatten it out and keep it in place. A new device was born (disclaimer: I don't know that this is how it happened but it seemed good when I wrote it so work with me), a device with a unique purpose.

Birds were meant to fly. So were planes. Cars were not...but they were meant to drive. And you and I were meant to love the Lord. That's it. Every moment of every day in every circumstance, we were created to have a relationship with God. The great tragedy of life is when we take life's benefits, its "side dishes" if you will, and try to make them the main course. You were not created to get married, have a career or have children. Those are life's benefits. When you and I get our focus off of loving God and onto the benefits, we get our priorities whacked out and our lives become...chaotic.

It takes real passion to live like God wants us to. And ALL of that passion must be focused on the main thing. If you are going to seek after God and love Him, go all out. Nothing else counts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mondays and rainy days.

Leadership is difficult...especially on rainy days. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE Corporation, once said, "A leader's job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be." For me, that challenging task becomes more difficult when I'm laying in bed on a rainy day with a head cold. I can't see past the end of the bed, much less past tomorrow. I'd rather pull the covers closer and enjoy the warmth. (I have a very nice bed and its twice as comfortable on days like today.)

But isn't that why every organization needs leaders? Think about that. When times are cloudy and the future doesn't look very clear, the tendency of everyone is to stay where its warm and dry, to stick with what is comfortable. Its much easier than the alternative...launching out into the unknown and trying the unproven. But that's what has to happen if the church is to stay relevant and dynamic. Yes, it's easier said than done. As I said a few weeks back, "Everybody loves change...you go first." But it's change that positions us where we need to be and prepares us for the "what's next" in God's agenda.

As we try to focus more on people and less on programs in our church, we will face change--a change in perspective, a change in procedure, a change in thinking and a change in the way we measure success. It is change that is long overdue and absolutely essential. But it's a journey we will share together as we do whatever we can--short of sin--to reach those far from Christ.

"To reach people that no one else is reaching we must be willing to try things that no one else is trying."

Monday, December 07, 2009

The SEC Championship game was a shocker to me.

The SEC Championship game on Saturday afternoon was a shocker to me. While I suspected that Alabama might have a chance to beat Florida, I never guessed they would have throttled Tim Tebow and the Gators the way that they did. It was literally the first time in his career that I ever saw Tebow on TV looking confused. Somewhere about the middle of the third quarter, he looked to the sideline and had this really confused look on his face--like he didn't know what would work offensively for the Gators.

Thankfully, he's gotten the other answers right. The really important ones. While I am no means a Florida fan (far from it), I have secretly watched and cheered for Tim Tebow these last four years because he was such a bold and outspoken witness for Christ. My prayer? That he would live the faith he proclaimed to have without faltering along the way. In victory and defeat, Tim held his integrity in tact and lived his faith without apology (one estimate this morning said that over 8 million people googled John 16:33 after Tim wore it on his eyeblack Saturday).

From a tried and true Dawg fan, Tim, it's a pleasure to say "well done" for the way you lived your life these last four years in the public's eye (with the exception of one Saturday each of the last four years in October). May God bless you in whatever is next and increase your influence.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Like many of you, I've watched with interest...

Like many of you, I've watched with interest the unfolding saga from this past weekend related to Tiger Woods. I believe the whole thing has been grossly overplayed by the media and the events of the weekend are very unfortunate for Tiger and his family.

Yesterday, I was sitting in a restaurant when the news broke of Tiger's apology regarding charges of infidelity. The one statement that caught my attention from his release more than any other was this: "I don't believe that personal sins should require public press conferences..." (not the exact words, I'm sure).

True, Mr. Woods. Very true.

When any man or woman makes a mistake on the level of what he has done, forgiveness and healing become imperative. But, at the same time, I think Tiger is learning a very hard lesson--one that Charles Barkley once resisted and Steve McNair unfortunately never grasped. When one chooses to live their life in front of the lights and cameras, every small detail of who you are comes under close examination--from what you wear to what you eat, from what you watch to who you watch it with. It's an unfortunate fact in our star-crazed culture. And no one is exempt, regardless of how much they may plead for privacy for their families.

Mr. Woods transgressions are awful. Infidelity for anyone is a tragic choice that hurts everyone touched by the poor choices. But I couldn't help but catch myself praying for Tiger yesterday as I began my lunch. Praying that he would, indeed, get the space he and his family need for their healing. I also prayed that he might come to understand the significance of that word--sin--and perhaps come to know the forgiveness and grace of Jesus. Here's to your healing, Tiger Woods...emotional and spiritual.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Does God really care?

Does God really care? It's a question that has been asked for ages. It's also one dealt with head on by the Scriptures. From the psalmists who questioned God's presence to Job who doubted God's concern to the prophets who questioned God's tenderness for His people, the question of God's compassion for His creation has always been around. The answer to that question is best answered, not with words, but with the arrival of Jesus.

I remember a valuable lesson I learned many years ago, while I was serving as a summer missionary in California. One lady who was leading us told me, if you want to show a kid you care, get down in the dirt with him when he cries. (not the exact words but the essence of the lesson she was teaching). Isn't that exactly what God did with the arrival of Jesus? For thousands of years He had watched tenderly and listened to the cries of creation--sometimes even choosing to intercede with miracles. He understood the depths of their pain and, beyond the expectations of everyone, God "sat down in the dirt" with us so that He could feel what we felt. But He took that one step further. He showed us how to live life in this world as we anticipate the Rescue that will come.

If you don't believe that God cares, you don't understand what the arrival, the Emmanuel, is for mankind. If you doubt the depths of God's love, you haven't noticed the tears that frequently filled Jesus' eyes while He was here.

Here is something really cool that Philip Yancey (amazing author) points out in one of his latest books. When you read straight through the Bible, you notice an important difference between the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament gives record of many expressions of doubt, anguish and fear. But there is little indication of this in the NT. Things hadn't changed. There were still troubles, pain, fear and persecution. The difference? The witnesses of the NT had seen the purest expression of love possible. While they write of troubles that existed and those still to come, their understanding was tempered because they had been with Jesus. And Jesus proves, once and for all, that God loves you and me deeply. Yes, He absolutely cares. Don't let this season pass without understanding the full impact of the statement made by those angels: "Christ is born! God is here!"

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's good to be home.

It's good to be home. You'll be glad to know that the Enchanted Kingdom of Mickey Mouse is alive and well. In fact, you'd never know there was a recession going on by looking at the thousands of people pouring in and out of central Florida. They were gobbling up $8 hot dogs and $4 drinks by the handful. And, of course, it was all a ton of fun with my family. I think I discovered this year that the fantasy and imagination behind all of Disney is more appreciated the older you get. I caught myself thinking several times, "Is there any way that Walt Disney could have imagined all of this when he first flew over that marshy area of Florida 30 plus years ago?" That was usually right after my thought of "who in the heck has to change all of these stinking light bulbs?" Nevertheless, the dream has evolved and it has become so much more than just a theme park.

I was floored at the people from Germany, Russia, China, places in Africa and, of course, all over North America who had made the sacrifices necessary to make their way to Orlando. The park was loaded with people from all races, all backgrounds. They were so many different shapes and sizes and languages. It truly is a Magic Kingdom.

I, of course, couldn't help but wonder about another Kingdom...one far more worthy of sacrifice...one that truly will become the ultimate destination...one that far exceeds any dream or fantasy you or I could have. Some day...

Monday, November 23, 2009

We will begin our Thanksgiving travels in less than 24 hours.

We will begin our Thanksgiving travels in less than 24 hours. That means several things. First, it's time for me to start packing. I've waited just long enough for Lisa to start worrying that I won't get it done. Seriously, how long does it take to pack underwear and socks? Second, there probably won't be any new posts for the next week. Sorry, I know how much you look forward to the words of wit and wisdom that spill from this page. Thirdly, there are just a few, very short hours to lose more weight so I can eat more turkey--a feat I am sure will not be accomplished. But neither will it keep me from eating the "sacred bird." So, in honor of the last blog before the holiday, I thought I'd share a few random thoughts that have very little meaning but might make you smile really big before you face ALL of the family later this week:
  • According to a recent study, five out of four people have trouble with fractions.
  • If practice makes perfect and nobody is perfect, then why practice?
  • If it's true that we are put here to help others, then what are all the others here for?
  • How come no one ever says "it's only a game" when there team is winning?
  • If ladies can have PMS then why can't men have ESPN?
  • When blondes have more fun...do they know it?
  • What happens if you get scared half to death twice?
  • Why is it called a soap opera when nobody on the show sings?
  • Does a lightning rod on top of a church show a lack of faith or a sign of how bad things are on the inside?
  • How can a coffin have a lifetime guarantee? Isn't the "lifetime"already over?
  • Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these little dangly things at the bottom and drink what comes out?"
  • Isn't it true that the word "politics" comes from the Latin word "poli" which means "many" and "tics" which means "blood-sucking pests?"
  • Isn't Disney World just a people trap that's been set by a giant mouse? (that one is for my kids as we head to Disney later this week).

On a more serious note and in keeping with our upcoming holiday, here's a great thought for the day we set aside to "give thanks."

Thanksgiving Day comes by statute, once a year but to the honest man it comes as frequently as the heart of gratitude will allow. Edward Sanford Martin

I pray that you and your family enjoy your time of Thanksgiving together. I also pray that we develop hearts of gratitude that allow us to live lives of thanks in every day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Just got done with one of my regular monthly meetings.

I just got done with one of my regular monthly meetings. It's one of the ones I enjoy the most. It's with a group of pastors here in the county where we live. I love sharing and laughing with these guys. I'm reminded what it means to serve for God's glory and not our own. I get to see a glimpse of their hearts and understand better what drives them. In those moments, I am very thankful for each one of them and for the passion with which they lead their churches. It's not easy being called to do what we do.

That got me thinking about this thought. After spending a couple of hours together sharing and encouraging one another, I asked myself, "I wonder what their people are doing to encourage each of them? Do they even understand the pressure under which their pastors operate?"

So, here's my thought for you today. If you are a church attender, here's a list of ways you can encourage your pastor wherever you are (hopefully some of you go to their church):
  • Ask. Rather than assuming you know what he needs, ask him. Then, be prepared to listen.
  • Come to church regularly. You see, a pastor is called to serve because God sees a man who will care for his people. We do care. Regardless of what you may think. And when you aren't there, it's like a part of our family is missing. Be there, in your place, on a regular basis.
  • Treat him normal. Don't place unreal expectations on him or his family. He's called to be your pastor, not Superman. Joke with him, laugh with him and give him a break if he isn't constantly in the best of moods. He is a human being.
  • Respect him. This is biblical. Your pastor deserves an extra measure of respect because he will some day have to answer to God for how he lead God's church. But you will some day have to answer to God for how difficult you made that job for him. (Ouch!)
  • Love him. Faults and all. And, yes, he does have plenty of faults. So does his family.
  • Balance. If you are going to feel free to criticize him (you know you do it every Sunday after church on the way to the restaurant) then feel equally free to encourage and compliment him. In fact, it takes one hundred positive comments to outweigh one negative one. You better get busy. Why don't you start right now? NO... seriously, right now.
  • Know that you don't know everything. You don't know every issue he is handling right now. You don't know the secrets he has been told that he is carrying around. You don't know what the phone call was about at midnight last night. And you have to remember, he deals with this on top of his own family's concerns.
  • Help in the little ways. How about buying his family lunch one Sunday or offering to cut his grass one week? How about taking his kids so he can have a date night with his wife? Wash his car one Saturday without him knowing or buy his family tickets to some cool event that you know they would enjoy. Just the little things help remove a ton of weight. Looking at the faces of my some of my brothers today, they could use it.
  • Above all else and in addition to everything I've mentioned, never fail to pray for him. I guarantee he will love you for that.

Before I end, I've got to say thank you to my Ridgeview family. I came into the office after the meeting and told Pastor Eddie, "I love my church. I am so thankful God has me with these people." You love your pastors well...but you can always do a little better GRIN

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The first time I heard of Hernando Cortes was in 7th grade.

The first time I heard of Hernando Cortes was in seventh grade. My Social Studies teacher told a fascinating story of this Spanish explorer. In 1519, anxious to uncover the treasures of the Mexican mainland, Cortes formed a small force of 600 men to land on the Yucatan peninsula. His goal was to capture the treasures that had been in the hands of the Aztecs for more than 500 years. Maybe you've heard bits and pieces of this story...

Cortes was successful in conquering the Aztecs and doing what no other army had ever been able to do, capture the treasures of Mexico. While I don't approve of Cortes' motives, I think there is much to learn about goals from what Cortes did.

First, he devoted his life to this singular mission and did not allow himself to become distracted. Despite the protest of many who did not want him to proceed or the presence of obvious difficulties if he did, Cortes confidently moved forward with his plan. He made it his life's mission.

Secondly, he surrounded himself with others who had a similar goal. Six hundred men joined him on this expedition. It is said that he hand selected and "interviewed" each of the men who were chosen for this journey. He didn't want the people surrounding him to keep him from the goal.

Finally, he was wholehearted in his commitment to this journey. Cortes sold his houses and wealth. He paid for the ships and the men with his own money. He revoked previous titles he held in Cuba. And, just to prove his point, he went the extra mile to show his devotion to the mission. When Cortes' men landed on the Yucatan peninsula, a few of them had started to grumble. They were less than satisfied with the quest to that point. Some who months earlier had said that they believed God wanted them on this journey, were now saying God had told them to turn back (sounds like a lot of church attenders I know--be careful what you blame on God). So, to make sure he had their attention and devotion at the level it needed to be, Cortes gave a simple, three-word command: "Burn the ships!"

Cortes turned things up a notch for he and his men that day. Perhaps that is why they became unstoppable and accomplished what no other army had done in 500 years. Perhaps that's what we need in our churches today--a whole-hearted devotion and a singleness of purpose that says, "Burn the ships. This our mission. This is our destination. We will not turn back."

Many of us still have ships floating in the harbor--excuses, justifications, failures and fears that keep our focus off of God's glory and on ourselves. We aren't singular in our focus. We believe that we can be the best at everything and obtain all we want. It's a human impossibility. But most important, those ships are escapes. They represent a willingness to turn back from the mission that God has given you. It's become to easy to walk out on your marriage, to quit your job, to turn your back on your friends and family. Burn the bridges. Don't leave a door through which Satan can come in. Set your eyes on the prize and always move forward...there is a treasure that awaits you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My mom used to have an old book called "The Torch is Passed."

My mom used to have an old book called "The Torch is Passed." It was a look--through words and pictures--into the brief days in office of President John Kennedy. Being a history lover, there were many days I would simply plop down on the couch in our living room and flip through the book. It told the story of Kennedy's rise to the Presidency as well as the tragic accounts of his assassination. As a boy, I was fascinated. There were cool stories and pictures that captured my imagination. But, there was one photo in particular that stuck in my mind. (Honestly, I recall that it was from this book but it's been many years since I picked it up off of her coffee table.)

It was a picture of President Kennedy, in the Oval Office, surrounded by members of his administration. There were suits and ties and uniforms. It was evident that they were in the midst of serious discussions. In the foreground, sat John-John, Kennedy's toddler son, an obvious contrast to the dignified scene behind him. He was sitting on his dad's desk, oblivious to the breach of protocol he had created. And no one seemed to care...

I thought about that this morning. Funny how certain words or songs bring images to your mind. It was Romans 8 where Paul says that we have been given the right to call God "Abba, Father." The term is one that signifies deep intimacy and familiarity. This suggestion was a complete breach of protocol for a people who feared to even write the name of God. But what it said to all those who read Paul's words was this...you have been invited to draw near to God. He desires closeness with you. Think about it. John-John never hesitated a moment when he swung open the doors to the Oval Office. There was no fear or shame because he knew the man on the other side of the door had given him an open invitation to come. He was, after all, his daddy.

That invitation is there for each of us. God, our Daddy, invites us into this fantastic relationship where we have full access to Him--any time, any place, without fear. We have been moved from servant to son, from distant follower to walking closely with our God. I hope you are taking the opportunity to enjoy full access to the Creator today.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Good leaders can be hard to find.

Good leaders can be hard to find. So, when you come across them, you better be ready to show proper appreciation and respect for who they are and what they bring to the table. I know a good thing when I see it. I am very blessed to be surrounded with some incredible leaders in our fellowship at Ridgeview. There are men and women from a range of backgrounds who truly have a heart for God and want to see Ridgeview become all that God has destined it to be. They are one very LARGE reason why Ridgeview is what she is today...and what she will be tomorrow.

Yesterday I read this great quote:
You cannot discover new oceans unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.

Being part of a church plant is not easy. In fact, many have fallen away from the vision as this church has continued to move forward. Their reasons have varied: too much accountability (that's an interesting one--deserves a blog all to itself), not growing fast enough, growing too fast, no children's choirs, no _________ (fill in the blank).

Now, take the courage required to move "away from the shore" and multiply it times five when you choose to lead in that setting. You take on the vision and future of a group of people and say, "Hey, follow me. I don't know what waits along this journey but I can promise you that the end destination will be well worth the trip."

So "thank you" to all the leaders at Ridgeview--staff, leadership team, and servant leaders. Thank you for having the vision and courage to discover new oceans. The journey may get rough sometimes but no one who has ever waded in new waters ever regretted the journey. I love you and am thankful to be serving alongside of each of you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Tom Brokaw called them "The greatest generation."

Tom Brokaw called them "the greatest generation." It was a reference to the men and women who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in the largest conflict planet Earth has seen to this point. They were men and women just like you and me who understood the value of freedom and that those freedoms should not just be guaranteed for Americans, but for all who were under the tyranny of Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini. So, they left the farms, the factories and their families to take on the threats that faced the world. They were selfless, ambitious, young and a little bit crazy. But they loved America and were willing to do anything to insure that her light continued to shine brightly for the generations that followed.

Flash forward 60 plus years. It's a completely different culture we live in. One that quite literally confuses the minds of those from that great generation who are still living. It's a world where we scream about rights but refuse to acknowledge that those rights do not come without sacrifice. They do not come without a willingness to take responsibility. We are raising generation after generation of people who just don't know what liberty means...or at what cost it comes.

We have young adults who will herald a Hollywood "star" because they speak up about some issue. These same young adults refuse to support the troops who live and die so that star can speak without fear. Our kids believe that this world revolves around them and their comforts. They confuse wants with needs and rights with privileges. They don't understand the value of a life lived well--one that chooses to live for others rather than for themselves.

No one knows what the future of this nation really holds. I can tell you this. The longer we live believing that we deserve everything without it costing us anything, the more dangerous our culture becomes. The more we believe that it is the responsibility of a government to do what only individuals should do for themselves, the greater the likelihood that we will find ourselves slipping into the apathetic morass that was Nazi Germany. I believe our fathers and grandfathers deserve more. They were the ones who stormed the shores at Normandy. They flew the B-52s that silenced the guns of the Empire of Japan. They bled on the shores of Sicily, Dunkirk, and Iwo Jima. They led the offensive at Tet, stood in the face of communism and are guarding the barren sands of Afghanistan and Iraq. This Veteran's Day, their blood cries out, "Will you remember the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, Vietnam and the Twin Towers?"

May we never forget that freedom comes with a price and that price is too high to sacrifice our liberties for comfort, for convenience or because we no longer care enough to carry the banner.

On this Veteran's Day, I want to say "thank you" to every young man and woman who has ever proudly worn the uniform of the United States of America. Whether it was peace time or war, your sacrifices are what has made us great. May we always remember the cost of freedom...

Monday, November 09, 2009

My wife, Lisa, has lots of little quotes and phrases she likes to use.

My wife, Lisa, has lots of little quotes and phrases she likes to use. I think I've written on this blog before about her reference to the Devil as "hairy butt Satan." That's one of my personal favorites. This morning, I found myself reading a passage of Scripture that serves as the origin of one of her others. Here it is:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor....to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1,3 NIV

Lisa likes to use that phrase...a lot. "Beauty from ashes," she will say as she works to encourage a friend or a woman who is going through a difficult time. Of course, what she is referring to is the Lord's ability--not to mention His willingness--to take what appears to be a lost cause and make it worthwhile. God loves to show His favor by taking the wrong and correcting it and by taking our sadness and filling us with joy.

As I was reflecting on that passage this morning, I wondered aloud to myself, "Who wouldn't want that?" Seriously, think about that. Why would anyone not desire beauty over ashes, gladness over mourning and praise over despair? I think the answer is obvious. But many days, we choose the opposite. We choose to listen to an enemy--er, hairy butt Satan--as he whispers words of defeat and despair in our ears. And, if he does it to those of us who are Christ followers, how much more must he do it to those who do not know God? Satan uses accusations and his venomous lies to keep us down and defeated.

Lift up your eyes, the Scriptures tell us. He has turned our mourning into dancing. Now, we have the incredible privilege of sharing this message of hope with those whose lives are filled with nothing but ashes. Our God is a God of joy. Don't let them live one more day without knowing it:

Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land and everlasting joy will be theirs. Isaiah 6:7 NIV

Thursday, November 05, 2009

What might have been?

What might have been? Those are some of the most haunting thoughts that an individual can have. What might have been if only this had not happened? What might have been if I had chosen more wisely? What might have been if I had not listened to them? You know the feeling--it's a sinking one. We use that 20/20 hindsight to discover that the path we chose was neither wise nor profitable. God was not honored and now we are left with the pieces of...well, you know. You've been there. Maybe you're still there.

It happened to many of the well known heroes of Scripture. I'm thinking specifically of Samson today. Samson was destined for greatness from birth. He would deliver the Israelites from their long time nemesis--the Philistines. He would be God's man for this period in Israelite history. Oh, what might have been.

Then you get to five of the most disappointing words in Scripture at the end of Judges 16:19: ...And his strength left him.

All the promises and blessings are gone because Samson chose to listen to Delilah rather than to God. Every dream he had, every vision he longed to fulfill, was ripped away in the moment that he chose wrongly. But just as it is with all of us who have fallen, Samson is reminded of the grace of God. He's in prison at the hands of his captors. Eyes are gouged out and he's put to work grinding in a prison. It's there that we see the evidence of a God who restores (even those who have fallen so far). Verse 22 of that same chapter says, "But the hair on his head began to grow again..."

Isn't that cool? God's disappointment doesn't last forever. Yes, Samson had failed. He had chosen wrongly. So there had to be consequences. God had to teach his child that such mistakes wouldn't work. But God initiated grace...he caused Samson's hair (the sign of God's presence in his life NOT the source of his strength. God was the source) to grow. It was the original hair club for men. Only this one wasn't to attract ladies or make Samson feel better about himself. It was a sign that God would not forget Samson. He would restore him and allow him to finish his assignment. It was a reminder that you can never fall so far that God cannot find you.

Sounds good, huh? The promises of God restored to those of us who fail. The promise that he will never leave us where we are. He loves us too much. Choose rightly. Choose grace...then watch as the power is restored to your life. The hair will begin to grow again...and you will know God's presence again.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

This is good stuff. I wish I had written it.

This is good stuff. I wish I had written it. But it comes from a friend of mine.

"Did you know that Jesus was invited to parties? Jesus influenced the lives of other by 'doing life' with people. As part of our training, we are being challenged to develop our ministry strategy. We are learning to go where people are and share Christ's love with them within their own groups. We are praying that small Bible study groups/churches will emerge from these groups. God is transforming our traditional thoughts on church and ministry."

Here's the interesting thing. If you've been at Ridgeview or around me for any length of time, you've heard us talk about these very same things. Doing life together. Re-thinking our strategies for sharing Jesus with the lost. Transforming our thoughts. But, get this. This isn't a friend in Nashville or at a large church in a metro area. These are friends of mine who are missionaries in Poland.

The reason this is so interesting to me is that the "strategy" is a timeless one and breaks across all borders and barriers. It's the way that Jesus shared His love with others and the way that we should be doing the same. We do this by learning to love people where they are. We accomplish it by getting away from this idea that we are coming to rescue those in need when, in reality, we are just hungry people showing others where to find the bread. We are NOT the rescuers. We are the rescued who are pointing the way. It's not about who is right or wrong, who is left or right-wing, or who is Democrat or Republican. In our "rightness" we can be so wrong that the love of Christ is never conveyed to the ones who do not know Him.

Here's my challenge to you, Christ follower. Are you really ready to be like Christ? Do you really desire to see others transformed and rescued? Change your mentality from "us" v. "them" to all of "us" needing "Him" and see how that perspective enables you to carry out the Great Commission.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Forget the levels of hell taught by some religions or the mythological labyrinth of Greek origins.

Forget the levels of hell taught by some religions or the mythological labyrinth of Greek origins. The Ridgeview staff has just survived the Customer Service line at Sam's Wholesale. Oh my word!

The idea was that I would drop two of our guys off to renew our membership after lunch. A simple procedure, I thought. The form was already completed. The check was made out for the correct amount. So the two of them slipped inside while our media guy and I sat in the truck and talked. After several minutes, I get a phone call. It's Eddie. They need me inside because they can't make changes without the primary account holder. (How I got that honor, I'm not quite sure.)

Upon arriving at the desk, I am informed by representative that Eddie is listed as my spouse. Okay, this is ridiculous. I mean, I like the guy and everything, but we ain't sharing the same refrigerator if you know what I mean. After making that quick correction, I am informed that our account has been set up illegally. Apparently this is a great offense on par with climbing the perimeter fence at the White House. The only way we can set it up is to add more free cards and rearrange the way the primaries and secondaries are set up. Keep in mind, the account has been set up this way for almost five years now. This isn't a new account. It's been in their computer this way almost as long as I have been standing in their customer service line.

I'll shorten the story for you.

Before it's all over with, I am told the only way to set up the account is for Pam (Eddie's wife) to be living with me. I politely inform my new friend (I figure after 30 minutes with her that we could at least say we are friends. I feel like we go way back) that I already have a wife and four kids, I don't need another person living in my house. She didn't like my humor.

There it is. That's my afternoon at Sam's. Nothing particularly spiritual aside from the great amounts of patience I developed inside the "warehouse." But while I was at Sam's, it turned Fall, my kids promoted a grade in school and my wife and I celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. But seriously, we will get our wholesale prices doggone it.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Maybe you've heard the popular definition of insanity.

Maybe you've heard the popular definition of insanity--to do the same thing the same way and expect different results. By this definition, I'd say many of us border on insanity in the spiritual part of our lives. We run through our lives at breakneck speed. We focus on our wants and our needs. We complain when things don't go exactly the way we think they should. And, tomorrow, we will get up and do it all over again. Most of us would admit that we lack the peace that Scripture talks about. There is an unsettled presence in our spirit that tells us that there should be more to life than living at this pace.

Years ago, a very dear friend of mine challenged me to memorize this verse:
You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You. Isaiah 26:3 NLT

There is a simple remedy to the madness. It starts by focusing your life around Jesus. That's not an easy task in a world that has become focused on distracting us from this very thing. Don't get down when you find that you are focusing on the wrong thing. Use this as a place to get back on track and turn your focus on Him.

Next, learn to accept everything that comes into your life. It doesn't mean that it has to stay that way. Just understand the truth of Romans 11:36 that says all things come through Him. Then trust Him to give you the grace, peace, patience and strength to handle ALL things.

Finally, leave tomorrow in the hands of God. He has already seen what is to come. He has promised to go before you. You and I must trust that He will never allow tomorrow to be more than we can handle. Stay steadfast and know that He is God.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

God has ways of getting our attention.

God has ways of getting our attention, even people like me who can be easily distracted. So, after hearing and reading for the last three days about leadership and listening, God's got me...well, listening. He's reminding me how important listening is for me and the people I love. Whether it's my wife, my kids, the leaders at my church or some stranger who is speaking to me, everyone deserves to be heard.

I'm the leader of my church. That doesn't mean that I'm the smartest (keep your comments to yourself regarding this). It just means that I was the one who God chose to take the reigns of this organization. Since I realize that I'm not the smartest, I've got to be willing to listen and learn from those who are wiser than me. God puts these kinds of people in our lives to lead us, encourage us, challenge us and refine us. I've thought about things I have learned from Godly men who God has blessed me to know. But I've also been challenged by teenagers I've worked with, by my own kids, even by people who have no faith in God.

The Bible tells a story where God opened the mouth of a donkey to correct his owner (Numbers 22-24). That ought to tell you something about listening to...er, donkeys (you were thinking the other word, weren't you?) Listening has become a lost art in our culture. We are far too ready to speak, to state our case, to defend our ground. But, if the smartest man in the world (Solomon) was also the one in the Bible who wrote the most about listening to others (especially in Proverbs) maybe there is much we can gain from closing our mouths, opening our ears and truly hearing what others have to say. You may find you'll learn a lot more and become a little wiser in the process.

"Listening is wanting to hear." --Jim Cathcart

Monday, October 26, 2009

Belief v. reliance

Belief v. reliance. Lisa and I have had an ongoing conversation the last couple of days regarding this topic. Lisa had an interesting thought. You see, she and I have been praying continually and consistently for revival in the Church (that's big Church, universally not just Ridgeview). It's easy to get frustrated with the news you watch and the things you read in the paper. It's even more frustrating to watch the response (or lack of response) by those who call themselves believers. Here's Lisa's thought (hope I get this right Lisa)...

...maybe the problems and weaknesses we are experiencing in the church today are because we have too many believers and not enough people with total reliance on God. Modern surveys say that at least 80% of Americans believe in God. Obviously that belief hasn't translated into a fresh morality in our culture our a strengthening of our churches. The Bible says that even the demons believe in God. But belief doesn't change us (or them), reliance does.

I believe reliance is the major difference between a church that is going through the motions and one that is making a noticeable impact on their culture. It's what enables them to take what they hear on Sunday morning and turn it into lifestyle change the other six days of the week.

I believe reliance is what changed those first disciples from a common bunch of rabble to a world-changing, community-reaching, salvation-preaching band of brothers. Everybody in Jerusalem believed in Jesus (they had all seen Him) and many believed He was the Son of God. But only a few had turned their lives completely over to Him, trusting and relying on Him for their very existence.

And I believe reliance is the only thing that can save us. A believer is one who cuts Jesus out of their finances when things get tough or allows their "calendar" to keep them from worship and fellowship on a weekly basis. They are the ones who complain when the church doesn't do things the way they like or go to church week-after-week without ever finding a place to serve in the body. Someone who is relying on God understands that God is the First and Last part of all we are. He is our financial supply. He is the One around which our world, much less our schedule, is built. He is the Source of our comfort, the Provider of our talents, the Measure of our existence and the Foundation on which our only hope exists.

You can believe in God and never change who you are. You can believe in God and never make an impact on anyone that God puts in your life. You can believe in God and still live life by chance, never knowing the purpose He has for you.

OR, you can rely on Him. There's a world of difference.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I kind of feel like Moses sometimes.

I kind of feel like Moses sometimes. Not the strong, confident leader Moses. More like the one in Exodus 3 who questioned God's call. "Are You sure it's me You called Lord? Am I really the one You want at this burning bush? Isn't there someone else that could do this better, faster, cleaner than I can? Wouldn't you be better off if I was back teaching school and coaching while someone else ran this ship?"

It's times like those (maybe you have them too) when we must fix our gaze steadfastly on God. I'll never be good enough for this "call" God has placed on me. Neither will you. That's why a gaze that is fixed steadfastly on Him is our only hope. It's the Cross forgiving you and me, giving us what we need to get back on our feet time-after-time and live this life righteously.

We read this in Proverbs 24:16:
For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.

How did the righteous man respond? He got up. He bounced back. He didn't wallow in his mistake and question his identity or his call. He took his failure to His father and came back each time to reclaim what he had lost. Moses did the same thing. Killed an Egyptian and got back up. Doubted God but got back up. Struck a rock when God commanded differently. But he got back up. That's only possible when the righteous are living a life that gazes intently on God.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Like most kids my age, I loved superheros growing up.

Like most kids my age, I loved superheros growing up. I was a dedicated follower of Batman and Superman every day after school and only missed the Superfriends and the Hall of Justice when I had ballgames on Saturday morning. And, like most of you, I spent many days thinking about what it would be to be that kind of person--amazing powers, tremendous courage, always winning out in the end. Who wouldn't want to know that kind of lifestyle?

The funny thing is, we do. At least, we do if we stick close to God. He said so in His Word:
7 Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. 8 The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deuteronomy 31:7-8 NIV

The Hebrew people faced an awesome task. As their leader, Joshua was about to fill some really big shoes in taking Moses' place. God's promises to Joshua through Moses was this..."you're going to become a superhero." No fear, no failure, no discouragement.

You and I can lay claim to the same promises that God gave to Moses, Joshua and many others. If we are careful to remember God, obey His commands, stay focused on His call and reflect His character, we will find that His promise is the same. We become "superheroes." No cape or mask required.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School"

"You Can't Send a Duck to Eagle School" It's true. While I was in Seattle last week, someone handed me a copy of this book on basic leadership principles. It's written by a guy named Mac Anderson. It's a handy little book that got me asking the question, "What the heck does the title mean?"

Here's the answer in the author's words:
"You can't teach someone to smile, you can't teach someone to want to serve, you can't teach personality. What we can do...is hire people who have those qualities and we can then teach them about our products and teach them our culture."

I got to thinking about how that applies to my role as the shepherd of Ridgeview. Now, I don't have to "hire" the people who come into the doors of our fellowship. But I do have the challenge of helping them find their sweet spot and to gain a passion for serving the body. So one of the important questions I must ask myself frequently is, "What are the gifts of this person? Am I asking a duck to be an eagle?"

You see both are very beautiful animals. Each is unique. Each gifted by God to have special "talents" and characteristics. Try as I might, I can't make a duck be an eagle. Nor should I want to try. I desire to help you find your place to express who you are to the fullest extent. But the desire to serve is something that comes from you, not from me. I pray that you and I understand who are, what we are gifted to do and that we pursue that with all of our hearts as we serve Christ and His bride.

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's good to be home for a while.

It's good to be home for a little while. The first half of this month has been very busy with trips to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington. I just want to say how thankful I am that God continues to use our family to speak truth and bring peace to families that have been through personal tragedy. But it's not always those who have been through a personal trial. Just last week, while Lisa and I were in Seattle, I talked with a man after I finished speaking. He shared about his family and his two kids. With tears in his eyes he said, "I've never had to go through what you and your family did. I just wanted to say what you shared this afternoon has challenged me to be a better father and husband. I want to go home and love on them a little bit better than I did before." Amen, brother. Amen.

Seattle was gorgeous. It was my first time in the western part of Washington. For my part, it was a great reminder of what an amazing God we have. The gorgeous evergreens mixed with the kaleidoscope of changing autumn colors. The huge waterfall just outside our room at the Salish Lodge there in Snoqualmie was breathtaking. But more than that, the myriad of beautiful people that God puts in our path as we walk through this life. Lisa and I made tons of new friends in Albermarle earlier this month. I had a great visit with the people of Uniontown (my visit was too brief with them but I sure enjoyed the limited time we had). Then, again, this past weekend, sharing time and worship (yes, worship) with the people of Adventist Health Systems. I love the life God has given me--every trip, every relationship, every joy and every challenge.

I'm looking forward to some "home time" with Lisa and the kids as we race rapidly towards the holidays. Can you believe it's the end of October already? By the way, thanks for the wonderful response from those of you who have read my sister's book Dancing Through Grief. I'm excited to see how God is going to use the book as part of our ministry to families who are dealing with personal tragedy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Most of us have spent time with a toddler or two in our life time.

Most of us have spent time with a toddler or two in our life time. If you have, you've seen that human nature that wants to do everything on our own. It pops up early in life. I remember all three of my kids, when they were young, trying to tell daddy, "I can do it myself."

Part of the maturation of a human is to understand, no, you really can't do it all by yourself. Life is full of opportunities for us to rely on others and have confidence in someone's ability to stand with us.

If you are a leader, this is a valuable lesson. Although my human nature can rear its head sometime and cause me to want to do it all by myself, I will more frequently remember the valuable benefits of delegation. That's one of the reasons I love my staff so dearly. I know that I can count on them to carry their weight, to do their part and to do that to the best of their ability. Our leadership team is made up of brilliant people who are entrepreneurs, business owners, consultants and experts in their fields. God has surrounded me with some amazing men and women who "hold up my arms" and help guide this church. I am very thankful for each of them.

What about you? Who are the special people that God has put in your life to help you carry the weight of your day? Are their friends, family members, co-workers, a spouse or some other significant individual who you could trust and rely on to make that burden easier? God never expected us to do life alone. Delegation and shared burdens are two ways that life is made easier through the provision of God.

At that time I said to you,"You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone....Choose some wise, understanding and respected men from each of your tribes, and I will set them over you. Deuteronomy 1:9, 13 NIV

Saturday, October 10, 2009

I don't usually take the time to respond to comments.

I don't usually take the time to respond to comments. I decided to make an exception for the comment that I posted to my blog from earlier this morning. I'm afraid that my new friend, Dave, and maybe some others may have gotten the wrong impression about some stuff I wrote this morning. I think Dave believes that my comments might have been critical or judgmental. Sorry that they came off that way. However, Dave and others, please re-read the blog entry carefully. I never said the man seated next to me was overweight (something Dave assumed). In fact, he was thinner than I was. He just wanted to lean over into my seat as he worked on his crossword puzzle. Not a big deal. It was just an observation.

The observations about the people at the bar were just that--observations. I even went so far as to say that I agreed with the one lady who was talking about healthcare. I did use the word "stupidest" to describe the antics of the three others I referred to but that's because it was a word that they used. They literally said, "What's the stupidest thing you've done while drunk?"

As far as praying for these people, Dave, I do. Whenever I fly, I try to remember to pray for them. That includes this President who I do not always agree with and who I believe was inappropriately awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (I'm not going to apologize for that opinion). So, I'm sorry that you misunderstood my heart when I wrote those things. I'm sorry that you took my critique of a luxury hotel in Buena Vista, Florida so personally. I didn't realize that it would offend anyone to talk about the noisy hotel I stayed in. Most of all, Dave, I'm sorry that you used a few blogs to determine my character without ever really getting to know me. This isn't about whether or not you ever ask me to speak (guess that went out the window early this morning). Rather, it's about living at peace with everyone as Scripture commands. Yes, Dave, I do know that all these people are God's children. Every single one of us are, Dave. That's why I couldn't go to sleep tonight without letting you know that I'm sorry that you misunderstood my thoughts this morning. And I'll say a prayer for you tonight as I go to bed back in Nashville. God bless you, Dave. Hope we meet some day on better terms.

I'm sitting in a nasty, smoky room in Western Pennsylvania.

I'm sitting in a nasty, smoky room in Western Pennsylvania. In two hours, I'll be doing a presentation for a group of doctors. Then I'm headed back to the family again. I missed them exceptionally on this trip for some reason. I've never appreciated them or my family at Ridgeview more than I do right now.

I had a couple of interesting things happen on the way up. It was crazy getting out of Nashville yesterday because the national Panera Bread Convention had just wrapped up. It was the first time I've ever been on a flight where literally EVERY single seat was sold and occupied. The guy to the right of me on my first flight was really nice. He was flying to Chicago for this weekend's marathon. That should have prepared me for what greeted me at Midway airport in Chicago. Forty thousand plus runners coming in yesterday and I think they all arrived within a two hour window at Midway.

From Chicago (where we were delayed by about 30 minutes for a plane malfunction) we skipped over to Pittsburgh. The man to my left was pretty quiet most of the trip until I finally got him to talk near the end. Some cool stories. Another Christ follower, I learned, who seemed to have a genuine interest in other people once you got him to open up. He even walked me through the airport to the car rental place to make sure I knew where I was going. The guy on my right should have been charged extra because he was trying to occupy his seat and half of mine. But we managed survive.

So, I get to this hotel that's supposed to be this really nice conference center. They place me in this room (after scaring me to death and telling me they had no record of a conference being held here this weekend). It's a smoking room. They had no non-smoking left. I called two other hotels in the area. All booked up. Something to do with several class reunions, weddings and a ton of construction workers working on road projects nearby. Anyway, because smoke messes my eyes and nose up something fierce, I spent an extra long time at Applebee's. Because I was alone, I sat at the bar and watched the playoffs. The bar, interestingly enough, was smoke-free (explain that to me). I got more than my fill of people-watching in (one of my favorite hobbies). I listened to them tell their stories and regale each other with their special talents (drunk people talk really loud--louder with each drink). The bartenders were obviously friends with some guy at the end and they were comparing notes on who was drunk when and who had done the stupidest thing (there's something to write home to mom about). Another older couple was obviously regulars. She whined and complained about health care most of the night. Said she couldn't understand how a President could win the Nobel Peace Prize after only eleven days in office (he was sworn in on January 20th and the deadline for nominations was on February 1st. Come on people. Tell me this thing wasn't rigged from the beginning. I even said "amen" out loud as I listened to her go on and on about how the Peace Prize would never be the same again).

Anyway, enough recalling. Just thought I'd share about my glamorous life on the road this weekend. Took a sleep aid so I could get through the night with the smoke. Went to bed at 10 and up by 6. Can't wait to be home with my family tonight. There's no place like it...

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Be careful what yardstick you use to measure success.

Be careful what yardstick you use to measure success. I've been thinking about that in recent days, especially after visiting with a fellow minister and dear friend of mine last week. He serves in an area where some of the ministers are very territorial in their approach to ministry. They measure their success based on largeness of ministry rather than the legitimacy of what they do. In fact, that's a dangerous wave that is sweeping through many areas of church life these days. If it's big and flashy and has large numbers to show, then it must be God. By the same token, if it's growing slowly or tucked away where no one sees, there must be something wrong.

But it's a trap that we can all fall into. We start to measure our successes and failures (along with those of others) by external values and features that may or may not be accurate in their judgment. You remember the story of Moses in Numbers 20 where the people are roaming through the desert and they are complaining (yet again) that they are thirsty? Moses is led by God to a rock in the desert where God says speak to the rock and you will get the water you need. Moses, taking matters into his own hands, strikes the rock. This is an act of disobedience that God would later punish him for by telling him he would never enter the Promised Land. Despite his poor choices, though, the miracle of fresh water still occurred and the people were blessed.

The lessons we learn? God sometimes moves in spite of us, not because of us and not every external sign proves that we have it right on the inside. Right now, I can think of dozens of friends and partners in ministry who serve faithfully in out of the way places and are not "rock stars" on the speaking tour--yet I would defy anyone to challenge the integrity and legitimacy of what they do. I know faithful dads and moms (some in our church) who have done everything they can to raise their kids well, yet they watch as their kids still make poor choices.

Maybe that's why God moved Paul to write in 2 Corinthians "judge no man according to the flesh." Only God knows our hearts and He alone can determine the faithfulness of what we do. So what's the answer? Where do we find our legitimacy? What better place to find it than the same place that the Son of God found it? He said, "My food is to do the will of my Father in Heaven." In other words, the legitimacy of my ministry and who I am is found in Him not the external measures of our culture.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The story at the end of Numbers 13 is one of my favorites.

The story at the end of Numbers 13 is one of my favorites. You may remember it. Moses has the people ready to take the promised land. He sends out 12 spies who check out this land across the Jordan River. When they return, ten of them give a very negative report. Every where they turn they are overwhelmed by the size of the people and the enormity of their cities. Yes, they saw great promise and abundance in the land but they don't see how in the world they can take it. But the other two spies gave a different report. The other two spies inspire me, especially Caleb.

Caleb stands in front of the Hebrew people and says, "We should go do what we came to do." He had seen the same things, set his eyes on the same giants, but his perspective was entirely different. Why? Because instead of powerful people, Caleb remembered a sea split in half by the power of His God. Instead of walled cities that would be obstacles, Caleb remembered how God's power had removed the biggest obstacle to their freedom--Pharaoh. He had seen manna fall from the sky, water come from a rock and fire lead them through the desert. Why in the world would he be afraid of a few pesky tribes of giants?

Our churches need some very bold, very courageous, very outspoken Calebs right now. Things look grim on the surface. A government that increasingly opposes Christianity. A culture that continues its slide into moral relativity. An economy whose weakness has struck at the heart of every one of our families.

What we need more than ever is bold women and men who have experienced the greatness of God first hand to become very vocal leaders in our churches. We need them to rise up in support of their pastors and quicken the hearts of the other believers. We need people who believe in the power of a God who is more than just capable--He is willing to pour out His power on us again. We just need a few good Calebs.

Monday, October 05, 2009

I guess you could say I was a little bit of a "nerd" in school.

I guess you could say I was a little bit of a "nerd" in school. (It's not true, I tell you, but you could say that if you want). I made straight "A's", mostly enjoyed school (except the getting up early part) and never really had to do much homework till I was in college. I even liked taking tests most of the time. That is, with the exception of one teacher I had in high school. He was a little "sly" with his testing. He always gave multiple choice tests which, on the surface, would seem pretty easy to take. Four answers. You've got a 25% chance of getting it right even if you didn't study. The problem was, his answers were never clear cut. There would be the traditional four choices but, on some occasions, there would be four, very good answers. The only thing separating them would be the spelling of a difficult scientific term or the number of days it would take for a scientific process to run its course. You really had to know your stuff when you took his test (guess that's why he made them that way, huh?)

I thought about him today as I was reading Deuteronomy 11:26. God says there, "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse..."

Can't get much easier than that, can you? Two, very clear options--a blessing and a curse. One choice to make, one fork in the road. We can either follow His plan and know the unmerited favor of a God who is outrageously benevolent or we can choose our way which leads to brokenness, frustration, discouragement, and death. Seems like such an easy test--a true no-brainer.

But most of us fail. Not just once or twice. We fail more often than not. God gives us clear cut direction from His word (His study guide, if you will) on how to take this test and "ace" it every time. We just can't seem to make the good choices. We want to make it more complex than it is.

Don't do it. Don't let culture or companions or confusion or chaos or selfishness (sorry, couldn't come up with another "c-word" there) keep you from seeing your way clearly. Take God's word at His word and use it to live life rightly. You'll come to know the unending, mind-boggling love of our God.

RIDGIES: please continue to pray for our staff retreat as it continues through Tuesday. I really value your prayers for the guys who lead RCC. And let me just say what an amazing group they are. I LOVE being at RCC and these guys are just one reason why.

Friday, October 02, 2009

What a great week it has been.

What a great week it has been. Lisa and I spent the first part of the week in Albemarle, NC with our new friends at Highlands Baptist Church. What a great place! We led a marriage retreat on Friday and Saturday and helped lead their revival meetings Sunday through Wednesday. It was such an incredible time worshipping and fellowshipping with these amazing people. By Monday, Lisa and I already felt like we were with family. If you are in that area of North Carolina as you read, there is a great church there in Albemarle that is worth the drive.

Paul, the pastor, has been a friend of mine for almost twenty years. What a blessing it is to be away from someone for such a long time (he led a marriage retreat for me back in 2002 or 2003) and still be able to pick up right where you left off. This was my first chance to meet his wife, Kristen, and there two kids. It was a wonderful time. To all my new friends at Highlands--we love you guys and will continue to pray for you as God brings you to our minds. If you are ever in Middle TN, we would love to have the chance to see you again.

I'm home...for a little while. Really missed being with my family at Ridgeview last Sunday but heard that Pastor Eddie did his usual great job stepping in in my absence. I'm back in the place God called me this Sunday as we continue "Discovering God's Will." Hope you have enjoyed this series and our times of worship. Then, next week, it's staff retreat and an appearance at a conference up in the Pittsburgh, PA area.

God is so good! He is richly blessing our times at RCC and these are some amazing days. I am truly blessed to be your pastor. Looking forward to an exciting announcement regarding our Next Generations Pastor in the next few weeks. Please continue to be in prayer. I'll see you Sunday.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I know. It's easier to just ignore them.

I know. It's easier to just ignore them. But Jesus didn't give us that option. And no matter how we try to justify it or excuse it or look over it, they are still there. They are in our mail, on our TV and pasted all over the edges of our web browser. I'm talking about the "ones" that most of us choose to ignore...the "ones" that Jesus cared the most about.

In our family quiet time last night, Lisa shared a blog with us written by a young lady who has given up all she knew in the comfort of middle Tennessee and has moved to Uganda to care for the "ones." This young lady lives in a land where these little "ones" go hungry yet the cost of a stamp could provide three meals. One family she writes about lives in a cardboard (that's right, like the boxes we throw away and recycle) home--more like a room. They have no bed, no chairs, no change of clothes. Lisa shared this just hours after talking with a young couple who is trying to decide between an apartment and a home BEFORE they even get married and talking with another guy who was showing me his brand new car.

Don't get me wrong. I don't fault any of them. I fault ALL of them...ALL of us. How can we choose to ignore the reality that we live in a land of waste and opulence while we literally have the potential to change lives. I'll let Katie's words tell you more (hope she doesn't mind):

I DO NOT BELIEVE that the God of the universe created too many children in His image and not enough love or food or care to go around. In fact I believe that He created the Body of Christ for just that, to help these little ones, the least of these. And I believe that except for a handful, the Body of Christ is failing. And its not just me who thinks this. When I'm angry, I like to research so that I can at least feel a bit justified in my rage ;) According to several different resources, there are an average of 147 million orphaned children in the world today (this statistic includes children who have lost only one parent as well), 11 million children starve to death each year or die from preventable, treatable illness. 8.5 million children work as child slaves, prostitutes, or in other horrific conditions (making things like that cute baby Gap dress Jane wore today...) 2.3 million children world wide are living with HIV.

That is 168.8 million needy children like Michael and Patricia. Seems like a big number, huh? It shouldn't, because there are 2.1 BILLION people on this earth who profess to be Christians. Jesus followers. Servants. Gospel livers. And if only 8 percent of those Christians would care for just ONE of these needy children, they would all be taken care of.

Are you listening yet? Are you understanding my pain? Are you feeling the frustration of Katie and thousands more like her who understand what the Kingdom of God is REALLY all about? More importantly, are you feeling the pain of Christ as He hurts for each of these?

My family has committed to making some changes. No, we will not get it right. There will be times when our selfish Western attitude will kick in and Jesus will lose. (You see, I'm finally beginning to understand that when I win, He loses but when He wins, I win big.) I pray that He keeps our failures to a minimum and that His grace covers us when we choose not to obey. I pray that Ermias and John (our two Compassion international kids) feel the love that God has for them through the things we provide. I pray that you and I--the Jesus followers--will understand the seriousness of God's Word when James writes:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world. James 1:27 NIV

Here's a link to Katie's blog if you are interested in reading more:
http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It was an "unusual" dentist's visit today.

It was an "unusual" dentist's visit today. I slid into my normal spot in the chair and was greeted by a new face, not the normal young lady who does my cleaning. Immediately, the lady noticed my black (and blue and yellow) eye from the fall last weekend. She chirped, "Said the wrong thing to your wife, huh?" I gave the obligatory chuckle although I was quick to assure her that it was a ladder that had done me in, not my wife.

Her next question was, "So what do you do?" I told her about pastoring, planting Ridgeview and what a cool church we had. She nodded her head and turned her attention back to my eye.

"You need to make up a good lie to cover this up. Maybe you could tell people you got into a bar fight." I wrinkled my nose and faced her as best I could. She was preparing different pieces of machinery for the semi-annual infliction of oral pain. Why in the world would a pastor lie and then tell his people he got into a bar fight?

It got better. "Or you could tell them your wife caught you with your girlfriend." I stopped her. "You did hear me say I am a pastor, right?" She ignored me.

So, the conversation turned to religion. "Did you go to seminary?" she asked. "Yes," I replied. "Sure did."

"I've got a question," she commented.

Uh-oh. Here we go.

"Do you guys study other religions to see how they are similar and different and what the good and bad parts are?"

I knew where this was headed so I moved in fairly quickly. "Yes. Yes, we do. We talk about other religions and some good things they teach. We talk about how every religion has a little bit of truth to it, just enough to reel people in and lead them away from real truth. You see," I continued, anticipating where this was going, "all religions aren't the same and they can't all be right. There is an absolute truth and only the ones who adhere to absolute truth can get it right. The others are just deceptions followed by well-intentioned people."

I was satisfied with my answer and my perception of where she was going with her line of questioning. She ignored me.

The next thing I know, she was talking about Madonna's religion, John Travolta's son, Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer and what a good man her dad was. In the end, I got my teeth cleaned and a new headache to go with the one I've had since Saturday. What she got from it, I may never know. But at least I had the chance to talk a little about faith with someone who is looking for some answers. I just pray she caught a little of what God was trying to teach her today.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I remember Evander.

I remember Evander...even though it's been 20 years. Yeah, I'm talking about Evander Holyfield. I was coaching football at the time. Our team had been invited to the state capitol in recognition of the state championship we had won that fall. On the way home, we stopped off at a mall just south of Atlanta to let the boys eat supper. I joined the other coaches in a cafeteria there for dinner. After paying and exiting the restaurant, I remembered I had left my cap on the table inside. So, I turned and rushed back towards our table. As I turned the corner, I ran into a wall. Only, it wasn't a wall, it was a large black man with huge arms and a rock solid chest. I issued my apologies, grabbed my hat off the table and rushed back out to the other coaches. They had huge grins on their faces and one of them asked me, "Do you realize who you just ran into in there?"

Looking back inside the restaurant, I had to tell the truth. "No. I don't. Who was it?"

"Evander Holyfield--the boxer, " came their reply.

By the time I realized who I had collided with, he was gone--he and his entire entourage of bodyguards and friends. I had missed my chance for an autograph but it gave me a cool story to tell. I went one round with Evander Holyfield and lived to tell about it.

We all have those same kinds of stories. Maybe we've heard others talk about when they met some celebrity or athlete. I've been at parties where people jockeyed for position to tell their "celebrity" story. It's kind of fun to hear and be a part of.

But don't we have more to look forward to? The Bible says you and I live daily in the presence of a Holy God. And not just a God who is way out there beyond our reach. He is a God who lives daily within us--if we choose to follow Him--in the person of the Holy Spirit. He has promised His presence would be with us through every situation, through every difficult moment. However, it's something we take for granted or we don't see its importance. We underestimate what an honor this truly is

Don't believe me? Next time you're sitting around with a bunch of people who are trading their "celebrity" meetings, share how you have a "star" that lives inside of you and see what response you get? Yet, not one of us could make it without Him. I pray that today you and I would grasp the signficance of this gift, a God who refuses to leave us and longs to be that close to us every single day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's true...pastors don't fly nor do they bounce very well.

It's true...pastors don't fly nor do they bounce very well. I can attest to both. After missing a step and taking a spill off of a ten foot ladder this weekend, there is no doubt in my mind that it's probably a good idea for me to stay as close to the ground as possible. I even had offers to be wrapped in bubble-wrap yesterday.

I really do appreciate all the prayers over the weekend. You're kind words of encouragement, the phone calls, texts and emails were all very welcome.

I am up and about today. Not quite as much pain and the swelling is going down in the eye. So, the rumors of my demise are grossly exaggerated :) GRIN

Busy week ahead for our Ridgeview family and the Barron family. I would ask for your prayers as we are narrowing down our choice to serve as our Next Generation Pastor here at Ridgeview. We hope to be wrapping up this search in the next few weeks. Pastor Eddie will be bringing message number two in our "Discovering God's Will" series. I am excited to hear the words that God has put on his heart for the weekend. I will have to do that via podcast as Lisa and I will be leaving Friday and gone for the weekend. She and I will be leading a marriage retreat for a friend over in North Carolina (just outside of Charlotte) and I will be staying to lead this church in a time of revival meetings through next Wednesday.

As always, we will miss being with our Ridgeview family. Lisa and I will, of course, be praying for each of you as you join together in worship. Thank you, again, for your prayers for my physical health as we prepare for the weekend and next week at Albermarle, NC. Love you guys.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Can I tell you one of my pet peeves?

Can I tell you one of my pet peeves? Since I didn't hear anyone say "no", I'll continue. I hate it when you're watching previews at the movie theater and they run a preview for what looks like a hilarious movie. For thirty to sixty seconds, the trailer itself has you rolling on the floor. Then, you fork out the money to see the movie months later and you discover that EVERY funny line in the movie was used in the trailer. In fact, you didn't have to watch the movie. The rest of the thing wasn't worth the film it was recorded on. (Do they still use any film since everything is digital these days?) I digress. It frustrates me to know that the best is over and done.

Not so with Christ. In fact, all the way through Scripture, we see the story of a God who keeps saying to us, "The best is yet to come. Just watch, just wait." I see that with Him. The deeper God is taking me in my personal relationship with Him, the more I realize that I haven't even come close to unraveling it all. There is more and more love, more and more grace, more and more power. The "trailer" is good, but the best is truly yet to come.

I feel that way with Ridgeview these days as well. We kind of coasted through the first weeks of summer with a few key events and great moments but the last several weeks have been amazing. And I see even greater weeks ahead. This new series on discovering God's will for your life coupled with our return back to our "home" school makes for a killer tandem. I'm expecting a packed house this week and, most important of all, I have great expectations for what God is going to do as we worship together.

I also have great expectations about my future with an amazing wife. Lisa's birthday is this weekend. I'm thankful for the special gift God gave me 2+ years ago. I'm thankful for the way God has redeemed the broken parts of both of our lives for His glory. I'm thankful that, in Christ Jesus, in every area of our lives, the best is yet to come.

Shouldn't we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life? If the old way, which brings condemnation, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new way, which makes us right with God! In fact, that first glory was not glorious at all compared with the overwhelming glory of the new way. So if the old way, which has been replaced, was glorious, how much more glorious is the new, which remains forever! 2 Corinthians 3:8-11 NLT

Monday, September 14, 2009

The future.

Yesterday, as part of our message on the Christian discipline of meditation, I asked our people to write down their top three worries and bring them forward as part of our response/offering time. I was trying to share that the only way we can really hear from God is if we empty our minds of the worries that consume us and really lean into Him.

I've looked through those pieces of paper this morning. Here is the interesting thing. They all deal with the future. Not one sheet turned was absent of some mention of the future. About 70% of them had financial concerns as their #1 problem. Others mentioned things such as future plans, finding a spouse, looking for a job or knowing what God's plan is for me. The concerns came from different perspectives and out of different backgrounds but they held that one thing in common--the future.

But the interesting thing about this is that God has always warned us NOT to be concerned about tomorrow. You may remember the story of the Israelites (Exodus 16) in the desert who were hungry and complaining about what they were going to eat (the future). God told Moses that He would provide for them and that very evening quail covered the campground. The next day, manna, the mysterious bread from heaven, covered the desert floor and fed God's people. But here was the catch to this mysterious provision from God...day after day He would provide them all they needed to eat, they just couldn't keep any for the next day (the exception was the Sabbath). In other words, God didn't want them worrying about tomorrow. He wanted them to count on him, minute-by-minute, day-by-day, God wanted His people to know exactly where there help came from. It was He who supplied their needs and He would do that as long as they trusted Him.

Jesus emphasized the same when he said in Matthew 6:25, 34:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing?...So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

You and I will never know what the future holds but we can rest in the assurance that God holds our future and He will not allow us to go without what we need when we trust in Him.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The laws of nature.

The laws of nature. Webster's Dictionary defines it this way: "A body of law or specific principle held to be derived from nature and binding upon human society in the absence of or in addition to positive law." You know what I'm talking about--basic principles that apply to mankind universally unless something else intervenes. For instance, gravity. As one song of the 70's put it, "What goes up has got to come down." Gravity works every where on this planet, regardless of where you go, unless something else acts to keep it from working (a rocket is fired or you fly in a plane).

Some other examples of natural law include the fact that light in a vacuum will always travel at 186,000 miles a second (just slightly faster than gossip in a Baptist church) or the law that says that every bird within five miles of your house will find your newly washed truck just shortly after completing a meal. (okay, maybe the last one doesn't count but it sure seems that way).

Here's another example: sin means death. That's right. It's straight from Scripture. Sin, no matter how big or how small, causes something to die. You lie to your parents, trust dies. You abuse your kids, a relationship dies. You cheat on your spouse, a marriage dies. You steal from work, your integrity dies. But the apostle Paul put it even more harshly.

Sin pays off with death...

But you remember what I said about laws above? They are true as long as there is no outside influence. Light travels fast in a vacuum but that speed can be affected by outside forces. Gravity works as long as nothing works to hold you up. There has to be something interposed.

In the case of sin, it was God. Or, more specifically, it was His son who intervened and lifted us from our desperate state of affairs. I'm so thankful that verse 23 does not end like I quoted it above. Check out the second part.

But God's gift is eternal life given by Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23 CEV

For many of us, this is old news. But it's grand news! Incredible news! The news that gives us ALL a second chance. Feel free to share it with someone today...it's worth talking about.