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Thursday, February 26, 2009

God has been there.

God has been there. He has. And I had a really strong impression that I needed to say that to someone reading the blog this morning. I was reminded of that important fact with a devotion I read this morning and a song I heard on the drive in. The Bible assures us of that fact--God has stood in our place through the presence of His Son, Jesus.

As Abraham raised the knife to offer his only son as a sacrifice, God felt his pain as He thought ahead to the day when His son would become our sacrifice. As David stood in the valley before Goliath and faced overwhelming odds to set the people of Israel free from this over-sized tyrant, God understood the fear of facing a foe of gigantic proportions. As Paul sat in prison for preaching a gospel message unwelcome by authorities, God felt the deep pains of his loneliness.

So, for the young couple who is facing the pain of losing a child today...God has been there. For the young adult facing the challenge of a career change in the middle of your life... God has been there. For the family facing a mountain of debt that seems insurmountable...God has been there. For the young person feeling the sting of loneliness because they have chosen to stand alone in the face of compromise...God has been there.

This means we have permission to pray to a God who has known our deepest pain, who has walked through our darkest moments, and has come through to show us how to withstand these desperate times.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:15-16 NLT

Take your needs to Him today and trust that He not only hears but that He cares very deeply you. After all, He's been there.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Bible says that a cheerful heart is good medicine.

The Bible says that a cheerful heart is good medicine. After last night's Presidential address, I feel like I need a good dose. All we have heard from this President--and the several who preceded him--was that there would be change and things would be different. How is robbing trillions of dollars from the following generations to pay for our bad behavior a change from anything? What is different about turning your head while new legislation is considered that contains 9000 (that's right, 9000) pet projects or "earmarks"? If you and I practiced the spending habits of our government, we would have been locked away years ago for failure to pay our bills and to lower our debt. Why do we sit silently by and watch this same junk go down in Washington, D. C. year after year? This isn't a Republican bashing a Democrat (I have learned that I am neither. Can't support people that I no longer believe in.) This is a concerned conservative saying we'd be better off with new leadership from top to bottom.

So, I needed a laugh. Something to give me a better start to my morning. I was greeted with this little tidbit of news...the latest sign that the apocalypse is fast approaching. In Vassalboro, Maine (which is about 10 miles from the end of the earth) this past Monday, a new topless coffee shop opened (and we are not talking about topless coffee pots). The waitresses and, yes, even the lone waiter serve their java sans a shirt of any kind. Several comments that come to mind after reading this:
1. Is there really a demand for such a thing? Out of the 3500 people who live in the whole state of Maine or there that many who jump out of bed and think "where's my nude waitress with my cup of joe?"
2. This is Maine. The average temperature there can't get too high. Can you imagine the money this guy's having to pay to heat his place so the workers aren't constantly battling pneumonia?
3. Where do they stick their name tags?
4. This adds a whole new meaning to "cup size?" I couldn't resist.

Keep your head up friends. The economy will do whatever the economy decides to do. And people will still pull stupid stunts to sell their coffee. But God's still who He has always been and who He will always be. That's better than any man-made bailout. Maybe that can be your stimulus this morning.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's Fat Tuesday.

It's Fat Tuesday--which has absolutely nothing to do with what I ate for lunch or what I want to write today. Just thought I'd note that for those of you who are keeping records. I honestly sat down to type without a clear direction about where I wanted to go. So, with times being what they are, I thought I'd give you this verse to take with you today:

Pile your troubles on God's shoulders—he'll carry your load, he'll help you out. He'll never let good people topple into ruin. Psalm 55:22 MSG

It makes me think Once a week, Lisa makes her necessary trip to the grocery store to buy groceries for our hungry crew. An hour or so later, she pulls into the garage and I will go out to help her. Being the somewhat stubborn person I am, I make it my aim to carry in an entire week's worth of groceries on one trip. I don't know why. It's not like I can't make another trip or that anything will go bad in the short time I'm delivering the others. I just want to grab as many as I can and get it over with. It can get quite comical and burdensome by the time you add all the bags and the several gallons of milk our family goes through each week. I basically look like a pack mule--hopefully smell a little better.

Don't laugh. Many of you have that same tendency. To put it in the words of some of my East Tennessee friends, we tend to want to "borrow trouble." We worry about things we cannot control. We carry burdens that we have supposedly given to God already. We fret over imaginary problems that never come to pass and then, as if it were not enough, we get on the phone with our gossipy friends to see if we can't find something else to add to our load. In reality, what God asks and expects from us is that we would share the load. Not just with Him, but with others who love us and care for us. It's part of the whole "doing life together" thing that we talk about. The Bible says, "Bear one another's burdens" and "Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." Between the two, you and I should never reach the point where we are toppling over the edge because we bear too much alone.

Monday, February 23, 2009

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus."

"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus." Philippians 2:5 NIV

I used to work with a coach who would encourage his boys frequently. He was great at bringing the best out in his little group. They weren't super talented but they accomplished a lot because of the way he lifted their spirits. During particularly tough times, he'd huddle them all together and say, "It's gut check time. This is where we really decide how bad you want it?"

Now, I don't know that this is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote these words but they had to mean something similar. You see, Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. In fact, the first chapter of this book has been spent talking with the people of Philippi about his imprisonment and how it is being used to give other Christ followers the courage to stand and speak boldly about Jesus. Now, in chapter two, Paul turns his attention to his readers. He says, "Gut check time, guys. How bad do you really want it? How bad do you really want to be like be humbled, to become a servant, to have your life measured out to be a sacrifice for others?"

This is no easy call this "Christ-following." But if you're going to do it, you better make sure you have the heart of the one you follow. What is your attitude when life stinks? When the doctor's report is bad? When your friends have shown their true colors? When your life is too busy, your world is too chaotic or your family is hurting? Do you truly have the mind of Christ? Or do you too easily slip back into the mentality of our culture to look out for number one?

That little team won way more games than they should have that year. They were gritty and tough. And when the season was over, they were able to look back at what they had accomplished and understand that attitude can make a world of difference when it comes how we "play the game"--whether the game is basketball or life.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

One of the cool things about the Israelite people...

One of the cool things about the Israelite people was their names for God. They saw Jehovah (their name for God) as something much bigger and more powerful than you and I do today. Their God could tackle any situation--handle any enemy--and come out on top (after all, their ancestors had seen Him do it first hand all the way through the Wilderness.) So, rather than just being Jehovah, they were more specific in their beliefs and their understanding of how God would take care of them. He was Jehovah-Jireh (the Lord will Provide), Jehovah-Nisi (the Lord is my banner), Jehovah-Mekaddesh (the Lord Sanctifies) and Jehovah-Shalom (the Lord is Peace) just to name a few. These names were a reflection of the new covenant between the people of Israel and God. It gave meaning to the new revelations of His character and His love for the people.

Flash forward thousands of years (if you are following along in your Bible you jump from the OT to Mark 8). Jesus is talking with His disciples as He walks along the road. The conversation turns to what the people are saying about Him. "Elijah." "John the Baptist." "One of the other prophets from our ancestry." One-by-one the answers are shared with Jesus. Then Jesus invites His disciples one step closer to Him with this question. "What about you? Who do you say that I am?"

Good question. Who do you believe Jesus to be...really? The Sunday School answer is always good but what does your life say about who Jesus really is? Is He your provider, your peace, your salvation? Or would you have to come up with another, less-flattering answer...Jehovah-safety net, Jehovah-genie in a lamp, or maybe Jehovah-last resort. You and I should examine ourselves carefully to see whether or not our actions match up with our professions about Christ. He knows your heart. But do you?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Change is a difficult thing.

Change is a difficult thing. But it's also necessary. In fact, if you aren't changing it's a good sign you are dead or well on your way to being there. Much of what we have talked about in our current series at Ridgeview involves change. Rearranging your life around your values. Making more productive use of your time. Eating better, exercising more. Making a budget and learning to live by it. Realigning your life around the principles that God has for you. All of these things require change. But change for the sake of change is no good. And temporary changes can be just as bad.

As you and I move through the steps of this journey, we are challenged to rearrange our lives around two significant facts...God is God and we are not and He, alone, knows what is best for our lives. As we are moving through these changes, we will find that it's not easy. Good things seldom are. But they are possible. It requires a simple modification in our understanding. You and I aren't making changes for God; we are making changes through God--through His power and His presence. When we rely too much on our own will and not enough on Him we relate very well to Paul's' words in Romans 7:22, 24: "For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body.... What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?"

We are moving forward as a family. God is bringing positive change that will make an eternal difference for our lives. But this change won't "stick" if we don't rest completely in God. It is a perfect mix of us joining God in the work that He has already begun. I love the words of Augustine, the early Christian saint:

"Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for his mercy has gone before us."

Monday, February 16, 2009

I'm feeling pretty good about now.

I'm feeling pretty good about now. I guess there are a lot of reasons I could feel that way. I'm a very blessed man. I have a beautiful Godly woman for a wife. I have four great children who test me from time-to-time but are wonderful additions to my life. I have a roof over my head, food to eat, great friends, good health and I work for some of the most wonderful people I know as the pastor of Ridgeview. Yeah, I've got a lot of reasons to thank God for what He's given to me.

The reason for my joy today? I remembered my geometry.

Here's how it happened. My kids are home from school today with it being President's Day. I'm home because I had several repair appointments scheduled. So, while I'm working, I've got Harrison catching up on some make up work from being sick last week and preparing for a test tomorrow. After hearing him sigh for about the twentieth time, I finally asked, "Can I help you do something?"

"No, dad, you can't. It's geometry. You can't help because you don't understand it." OOOHHH!

Don't ever tell Ridley he can't. I may not be able to but I'm at least going to give it a shot (unless it involves something like fire juggling or bungee jumping or some other insanely crazy stunt). The good news? I remembered...I remembered how to find the circumference of a circle, the area of a triangle and the theorem given to us by Pythagorus (though I'm not sure how you spell the guy's name).

Okay. Laugh at me if you want but, at my age, I have learned to appreciate even the smallest of victories. Today Geometry, tomorrow early American History. It's gonna be a good week.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

It's been a while since I mentioned it...

It's been a while since I mentioned it...but about a year ago, I talked about how I was going to re-read the Psalms. I wasn't going to commit to read one every day or one a day. I had simply been challenged to read them again and take time to listen. Well, today, I came to Psalm 50. I thought I'd share something with you.

In verses 1-4 of the Psalm, God is talking about judgment. On first reading, it would be easy to get excited and think, finally, God is about to take care of the evil in the world. But read the following verses that are found a little later in the Psalm.

"Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." Psalm 50:7-15 NIV

Did you catch where God begins His judgment? Not with the adulterer, the skeptics, or the ones who denied His existence. He's not starting with the dictator who has killed thousands or the pro-death people who have killed millions of babies. No, God reserves His initial indignation and me, the Christ followers. He's most upset by the hypocrisy of our religious acts--doing one thing before Him and something entirely different before men. I think His frustration is pointed most at one ironic part of our lives...we think God needs us. We've repainted the pictures of history to show a God who is weak and anemic against evil, poor in His benevolence and even poorer in His power.

Shame on us. Truly. To believe that what I am or what I have somehow makes God a better deity. Understand this, God's desire to have a relationship with us is not because He needs anything from us. Rather, it is because we so desperately need Him! And because He is a loving God, He extends Himself to us. Read that last verse again. What an amazing promise from a gracious God to a people who, frankly, do not deserve such mercy.

...fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." Psalm 50:15 NIV

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored."

"He who ignores discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored." Proverbs 13:18 NIV

Webster's Dictionary defines discipline this way:
training to act in accordance with rules; drill: military discipline.

What the above Scripture tells us is this critical cannot ignore what God's training has in store for your life. My nephew actually texted me this verse this morning. He's gotten in the habit of sharing a verse with me every so often. The timing of this one struck me--especially as it relates to many of my RCC family.

From what I hear, God is revealing a lot of things to us about ourselves through this current series. He is teaching (a.k.a. disciplining) us what His true purpose is for our lives. Whether its a change in direction, a change in diet, a change in budget or a change in career, when our Father speaks, we better listen with all that we have. We dare not fail to heed His correction.

About now, a few weeks into our "Resolved" series, several of us may be wavering or backing away from early commitments we made. DON'T YOU DO IT! God has put instruction in your path so that you can make some needed corrections and more perfectly line your life up with where He wants you. Humble yourself, discipline yourself and stick with the plan He has given you. It will be well worth the effort and you'll find yourself achieving His best rather than settling for something that's just "good."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"We are never more like Christ than in prayers of intercession."

"We are never more like Christ than in prayers of intercession." Austin Phelps

I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that most of us don't have a problem praying for ourselves. For some of us, it's second nature to talk with God regularly about our needs. For others, our prayers take on a "for emergency use only" mentality. But, when trouble arises, we don't have a problem knocking on the door of heaven and putting our name and our needs before God.

How about for others who are in need? The Bible records that Christ wept for those around Him, interceded on their behalf and implored His Father to forgive their shortcomings. He encouraged us to do the same.

In these days, our church family needs each other. On almost a daily basis, I am hearing of some person in our congregation who is making a change, setting a goal or turning over a new leaf. And almost like clockwork, "hairy butt Satan" is fast on the heels of their decision--throwing up every single roadblock he can to frustrate their progress.

We need each other. I'm inviting you to pray daily for one another (we should be doing this anyway). Pray for the changes that are happening. Pray for victories that are being won. Celebrate with me as single moms confess they are budgeting for the first time in their life to gain freedom from debt, as a family of four confesses they have changed their menu and begun exercising together because they realize their body is not their own and as several in our congregation have confessed a desire to rethink their future because God has shown them where their true passions lie. This is good stuff. Better than is God stuff!! But these people and many more need you standing in the gap as they begin the next leg of their journey. As a family, we must be there to encourage and affirm others who are discovering the freedom that is found in a vision-led life.

Monday, February 09, 2009

I didn't finish all I wanted to say yesterday.

I didn't finish all I wanted to say yesterday. I know that may shock some of you since we went a little longer than normal. I didn't get the chance to bring up my financial expert. I had planned on letting her finish my message on purposeful finances by laying out her simple plan for financial security. So...I thought I'd take a second to give you her plan here. She's given me permission. Ready? Take notes now. I don't want you to miss any of the details.

The first 10% goes to God. No matter how big or how small you think it is, he gets the first part (Malachi 3:10). NO questions asked. Simplest way to do this is to take your paycheck, multiply that amount by .10, write the check and give with joy. If you don't give then you can't be like Christ. He was a giver from the very beginning and He's still giving today.

Second, before you try to do anything else, take the next 20% (multiply your check amount by .2) and put it into your savings. You need 3 to 6 months of your paycheck put away for emergencies. Once you have reached that amount, find a safe and secure place to store the rest away (mutual funds, retirement, college funds, money markets, etc.)

Third (are you ready for this?) learn to live off of the other 70%. If you can't make ends meet, quit saying you don't make enough and start asking how can I learn to live without some of the luxuries. Newer cars, bigger homes, nicer clothes, eating out all the time are all fine if you can afford them. If you can't, the other stuff works just as well. Buy used cars, downsize your home, cut your utilities, pack your lunch and find the way to Goodwill.

Last year in America, we saved a whopping -2.2% (that's right, that's a negative in front of that number). We are setting ourselves up for disaster. Anyone who knows basic math can tell you how to balance your budget (don't ask Congress for help on this one, but that's another story altogether). You don't spend what you don't have. And this is a truth that my financial expert hammers on hard.

By the way, this "expert" is my daughter, Abigail. Abby is 10 years old. For 10 years, Abby and Harrison (for 14) have been taught these Biblical principles about how to manage their money. They are simple enough for my young daughter to get but hard enough to live by that my son quite often struggles with this. But it's so important for you to get this. There is freedom when you and I learn that debt and uncontrollable spending mean bondage and fear. Neither is God's plan for your life.

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7 NIV

In fact, Proverbs 22 is some good reading related to life and finances. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

God made men and women different.

God made men and women different. (If you've been reading my blog for any length of time you know that I have a tendency to state the obvious...bear with me) That point was made clear to me with something funny I read this morning. The question was asked, "How do you romance a woman?" The answer: "You care for her, cuddle her, hold her hand, write her sweet notes, share sweet moments, date her regularly, caress her, tell her she's beautiful, compliment her frequently, surprise her, respect her, spend time with her and treat her like your queen."

"How do you romance a man?"
"Come naked, bring food."

Yes, men and women are different just like vinegar and oil. Their differences are quite obvious. Vinegar is thin; oil is thick. Vinegar is bitter; oil is sweeter. Left alone together in a bottle the two will exist at opposite ends of the container. But shaken together, the two become a wonderful taste that excites the taste buds and makes bland things taste better.

The same can be said of the sexes. Our differences can drive us to opposite ends of life--far, far from each other. That's the way Satan would love for us to spend our two completely different worlds. But God has something better in mind. He chooses that we spend our lives shaken together in this wonderful mix that spices up our lives and makes a dull existence much better.

In Genesis 2:24 we read: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh."

God never intended that we be similar. The modern movement to eliminate the differences between men and women is a tragedy and a travesty. It is to look at one of the greatest inventions of the Greatest Mind and say it is imperfect and should be changed. I submit that we are far better off to embrace our differences, relish the challenges and learn to "shake" our lives together.

With this in mind, I offer two suggestions to my brothers out there. One: date your wife regularly. Do all the things you used to do to win her heart. Don't panic. It doesn't have to be expensive. Rather than an investment of money, it should be an investment of time. Make some sandwiches and take a long drive. Send the kids to a friend's house, open some cans of soup and have a candlelight dinner with a rented movie. Just do something to let her know you care.

Two: take some time away from the "noise" of life. Lisa and I just did this. We made the commitment months ago, put it on our calendar and I have not regretted the commitment one bit. Once again, it doesn't have to be extravagant. Lisa and I found a cabin in a little Mennonite community about an a hour and a half from home--no phone, no TV, no Internet. We ate cereal, bologna sandwiches and frozen pizza (not the healthiest, I know, but that wasn't our focus). We watched the rain one day and walked in the snow the next. In between, we prayed, read, set goals for our marriage and family and asked God to shake us together. Believe me, it has been well worth the investment in making sure my best friend and I stay on the same page and do not allow Satan one inch of ground to come between us. I highly recommend you consider the same.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

First, an update.

First, an update. The latest from India and the "India7" (as Eddie has begun to refer to them). They all seem to be doing really well. Everyone is healthy and they have had some wonderful opportunities to meet with the few believers there in that part of the country as well as share Christ with many villagers. Please continue to pray for fertile soil for them as they finish out the balance of their trip. They'll be returning on Saturday.

I just wrapped up our staff development time that we have every Tuesday morning. I spent some time with them reviewing a pretty familiar story--the one about the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25 and following). I want to ask you the same question that I asked them (the answer is obvious for those who know the story). Which one of the people Jesus talked about in this parable was most relevant to the mission of Christ? Obviously, it was the Samaritan--the good neighbor who chose to cross the road. It wasn't the church people, the ones with all of the religious answers.

Here's where this story begins to have significant meeting for me and the people of Ridgeview. We began this church four years ago (can you believe it's been that long?) with the sole purpose of sharing Christ with unchurched people and being relevant. Did you hear that...relevant? Relevant followers of Christ aren't found in a building, wearing the right clothes, praying the "right" prayers or looking after each other. Relevant followers are in the ditch on the other side of the road where the world lies waiting for rescue...the place where Jesus is.

As we are looking at our personal vision these next three weeks (and the previous three) it is a great time to remember our corporate vision, to be in the streets where Jesus is bringing hope and healing to our world. It's time to get across the road and get our hands dirty serving this world. Someone's waiting for you!!

Monday, February 02, 2009

What did you have to eat today?

What did you have to eat today? I've already been greeted with that question several times today. I can't tell you how much it means to a pastor when his message has that kind of ripple effect. In case you missed it yesterday, we dealt with a really difficult subject--our bodies. Learning how to care for and feed our bodies is actually pretty easy. It's the follow through that's the hard part!!! So I'm thrilled to have so many of you thinking about what you are putting into your body and making plans for working your bodies throughout the week. Let's hold each other accountable for what we eat and how we care for ourselves. (Three-fourths of my LIFE group brought fruit or cheese to our Super Bowl party last night. How's that for following through?)

My question, though, goes a little bit deeper. Just as we should be concerned about the physical food we put into our bodies, we should be concerned about the spiritual food that we consume. Lord knows there are all kinds of "wisdom" out there for anyone who's willing to buy a book, listen to a CD or search the internet. I just Googled "Personal Bible Study" on the internet and got thousands of websites. The first four I visited were pretty scary. No telling what kind of teaching was coming out of those.

The best place to start? Just open up your Bible. Make sure you do it on a daily basis and you do it with a translation of Scripture that's easy to understand. King David, writing to God, said, "I've hidden your word in my heart so that I won't sin against You." Here is where real life change begins. So, be careful what you eat but, for heaven's sake, eat!!