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Thursday, April 30, 2009

They've taken sin out of the dictionary.

They've taken sin out of the dictionary. At least that's what they tell me. One particular source (Discipleship Journal's current issue) says that the new Oxford Junior Dictionary has taken the word out because--get this--there just isn't enough room for all words. In fact, they have taken out words like "chapel", "bishop", and "monarch" as well. Interesting choices. In their place, the Oxford Press has chosen words like "blog", "broadband", and "celebrity."

So this got me thinking, wouldn't it be great if we never had to use the word "sin" again because none of us had room for it (the action, not the word)? What if we chose to fill our hearts with so much good stuff--God stuff-- that sin became an obsolete thing? And shouldn't this be the desire of every true follower of Christ, to get to a point where our lives are so full of Him that they are so empty of sin?

Sadly, though, our lives more readily resemble the Dictionary than the disciples. We aren't removing sin from our culture. We're just replacing it with nicer words, words like "shortcomings", "inadequacies" or "misfortunes". These are words that make us feel better about ourselves but don't tell the truth about who we are. So, while all those words are true they just aren't complete. Today, we live in a culture that is more willing to embrace our celebrities and blog about our failures than we are willing to confront our sin. Till we learn to do this, we will continue to see the frustrating state of our condition before God as nothing more than an inconvenience to be overlooked rather than a reality to be faced. God help us if we forget that sin is our biggest problem...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

That sound you hear is me taking a deep breath.

That sound you hear is me taking a deep breath. I've caught myself doing that a lot lately as I try to "come up for air" amidst all the stuff going on in our lives. As much as you try to build margin in your life, you still have to come back to the intentional effort to "clean your plate" from time-to-time. That's where I have to trust God to give me His nudges about what is necessary and what is excess in my life.

My latest reminder came this morning in Zephaniah 3:17.
The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

Think about that. God's hand created millions of things. The sunset I saw last night...His. The creation that is literally springing to life all around me every day here in Middle TN...His. The rain that will soon be watering the grass outside my office...His. Even the mosquitoes that filled my truck after baseball practice last night...His. There is not one thing that doesn't belong to Him. So, get this. When the Creator of the Universe warms up His vocal chords to break into song, what does He have in mind? Or should I say who does He have in mind? Me...and you.

Of all the things He has to rejoice over, delight in and sing about, it is my frail being. Understand this. This is no chore for Him. It is no "labor of love." God sings because God chooses to. He loves me. And He wants me to do the same.

As I am making the turn in lap 236 of the day, making the home stretch from soccer practice to church, God wants me to know He loves me and honestly seeks the same from me. I don't have to prove I'm a good baseball coach or that I pay my bills on time or that I spent time with every friend who sought it of me. He simply wants to know--at the end of all my crazy days--have I grown in my love for Him and my knowledge of Him? That reminder helps to put all things in perspective. All things.

That sound you hear in the distance? It's Daddy getting ready to sing, to sing a song of delight over me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday...

Continuing my thoughts from yesterday...consider one amazing story about Jonathan (1 Samuel 14--look it up). Jonathan decides to do what most "sane" people would not by taking on the Philistine army with just his armor bearer. Meanwhile, his dad the king, is sitting under a pomegranate tree with 600 men (men that would have been very useful to Jonathan had he been thinking like most men). Let me briefly set the scene.

Jonathan walks into a pass in the cliffs. On both sides are the enemy (this was a disastrous military maneuver, giving his enemy the higher ground). Jonathan says to his armor bearer, "Let's give this a shot and see what happens." Probably not the most confidence-inspiring speech but effective nonetheless. Why? Because Jonathan trusted the situation to God and said, "Perhaps the Lord will act in our behalf. Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few." Jonathan dared to dream a plan so big that ONLY God could fulfill it. There was no way that Jonathan should have defeated these Philistines. Perhaps just as amazing is the reply of his sidekick: "Go ahead, I am with you heart and soul."

Wow! Can you imagine? Two guys against twenty or more. Saul would have been furious at Jonathan if he had peeled himself away from his pomegranates long enough to know what was going on. Jonathan puts his life in God's hands and says, "You've got this. I know you do. So do what it is that you do best." And I believe that Jonathan and his boy were in a safer place than Saul and his armies under the tree.

So, again I ask you (see yesterday), what is it that you are dreaming that places your life and your plans squarely in God's hands? I'm so ready to see more of the God-stuff, to see more and more of our people doing the unimaginable and the indescribable because they believe that "nothing can hinder the Lord." Dream big. Dream often. Let your heart be known to God. "Do all you that you have in mind" because I am with you--heart and soul.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Question of the day for my staff.

Question of the day for my staff. In staff meeting I asked my team, "What are you praying right now for your staff and your ministry? Now, how much of that depends on God?"

In other words, what about your life is so huge that only God's presence could guarantee it's success. I want to dig into this a little bit more this week but it's a thought that's worth pondering. Am I living too safely just trying to survive the time between birth and death? Is the goal of my life to arrive "safely" at my grave? Or am I truly surrendered to whatever and wherever God wants me to be?

Here's another way for you to ponder that question (we'll come back to it tomorrow). If God were removed from my work, family, ministry or life, would anything change? If not, it may be a sign that too much of your life depends on ...YOU!

Monday, April 20, 2009

What a powerful day yesterday!

What a powerful day yesterday! It was amazing. One person said to me yesterday, "I could just feel people being set free. This is why we love this church. People are encouraged to come as they are but they aren't allowed to stay that way." True words for sure.

God was really up to something in our church family as we began our latest series. For the many who responded at the invitation time and the others who followed up in our post-service counseling time, it was truly a defining moment. Seems like God has allowed us to experience many of those in recent weeks. You know what that means, right? The enemy is furious. You can bet your last nickel that he will do whatever he can to fight the forward momentum of any child of God. So, I'm asking you, my family and friends at RCC (and any others who read this blog and would like to join us), pray harder than you have ever prayed regarding God's Spirit and His freedom to move in our midst. With that in mind, I want to share some words with you from one of my dear friends and professors and Southwestern Seminary, Dr. Dan Crawford. This is good stuff:

A recent survey asked more than 800 pastors to name the critical ministries of their churches by listing the top five. Only five percent of participating pastors listed prayer/prayer ministry/prayer groups in the top five. Do they not know that exclusive of the Psalms, which is a prayer-book of its own, the Bible records 650 definite prayers, 450 of which have recorded answers? Do they not know that the most widely used verb in the ministry of Jesus was the verb “to pray?” Do they not know that almost every great spiritual leader in Christianity has listed prayer as utmost important in their life? Do they not know that the countries in the world where Christianity is growing fastest are countries where prayer is paramount in the churches? The answer is that they do not know. Or at least, if they know, they forgot when they took the survey. No wonder the majority of churches in America are either plateaued or dying. No wonder ministerial burn-out is at an all time high. No wonder theological schools are forced to teach conflict management courses while ignoring courses on prayer. Jesus said, “Therefore, pray . . .” (Matthew 9:38). God help us!

Well said, Dr. Crawford. And therein lies the reason why we must become more and more a people of prayer and a people of the Book. I invite you to pray like never before for what God wants from you. Our staff prays every Tuesday morning for our needs. Our LIFE groups are praying each week in their meetings. Our worship team prays every Tuesday at rehearsal and every Sunday at 9 a.m. Here's a good place to remind you about the men and women who pray every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. in our worship area for the services that are about to follow. This is for anyone who would like to join in. I don't care where you do it or who you are doing it with, just pray!!

Come with a sense of expectancy this Sunday and see what God has in store for us.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Short and sweet today

Short and sweet today. Headed out of town with my wife for another speaking engagement. Thursday and Friday we will be in Louisville at the University Hospital speaking. I would appreciate your prayers for Lisa and I as we go and especially for the four kids we leave behind.

One quick housekeeping note I wanted to share with our regular readers. I love your comments that you add on here. Whether it's a question or a challenge to something I've written, I want to hear from you. Keep in mind, however, when you comment, all I can do is post it or delete it. It does not give me an option to respond to you. If I know who you are and have an email address, I'll gladly get back to you. But many of you choose to post anonymously and, on those occasions, I can't do anything in response.

Here's a quick answer to a question posted recently. The question was, "When you call Peter the "Rock of the church" are you agreeing with the Catholic teaching that he was the first Pope?"

The answer. No, not at all. I am simply restating the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 16:18) that Peter would be the strong character around which the early church would get its start. I don't believe that there is any legitimacy to the statement that Peter was the first Pope or, honestly, that there are any directives for the establishment of a Pope found anywhere in the teachings of the Scripture.

Thanks for your questions and your prayers. Looking forward to spring like most of you. Hope to see you at Ridgeview on Sunday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

So they are having a tea party today.

So they are having a tea party today. Good for them. I hope it's as succesful as the last one we held here in America (@ 1773 in Boston Harbor). I won't personally be able to make our local party because I've got some kids to lead in worship and Bible study. But I completely support the message they are sending to our government.

It's not about not wanting to pay taxes at all. It's about the obvious state of things in Washington D.C. The early "tea partiers" dressed as Indians to send a message to England that they would no longer pay taxes to a parliament in which they had no representation. Today's version of the tea party is to send a message that, while we have representation, they just aren't listening. At some point, we've got to let these people know that we no longer want to pay for studies on how cow flatulation hurts the ozone (what are you going to do, ask them to stop?) or penguin exhibitss in Rhode Island or bridges to nowhere.

I, for one, believe that it's time that a microscope was put on these people who supposedly represent us. Why do they get paid far more than the average American when, in the beginning, our Congress was made of volunteers? Why do they get retirement without having to pay anything into the Social Security fund? Why are they exempt from discipline when they ignore the laws of our land by not paying their taxes, hiring illegal aliens, having illicit affairs with underaged kids, etc? Somewhere, these people have lost their minds (and their hearts to boot).

Now, here's where the burden falls back on us. Tea parties are one thing but you know as well as I that Congressmen only listen to two things: money and votes (unfortunately they are quite adept at using the former to get the latter). Let our protest resound in the way we vote and in the decisions we make about the people we choose. And while you are letting your feelings be known, never fail to pray for them. You and I have an obligation to put our votes AND our prayers where our mouths are. I believe God can bless America again...but only in response to the cries of His people. Have a happy TAX DAY!!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

After another amazing Easter Sunday...

After another amazing Easter Sunday, God had a thought rolling around in my head...one that we talked about a great deal this morning in our staff meeting. Why do we approach Easter with such enthusiasm and expectancy and allow every other Sunday to come and go without much thought? (this is a question for all of us, not just church staffs).

Aside from the obvious presence of CEOs (the Christmas and Easter Only crowd), there always seems to be this huge anticipation of what Easter Sunday will be like. But why don't we carry that same anticipation for God's presence all year long?

Expectancy...it's a word that I used a lot with my student ministries over the years. It's one that I am re-introducing to the students of our church right now. Maybe we all need to be reminded that God loves to exceed our expectations. He loves to love us in ways we can't imagine, that we don't expect and that don't "fit the plan." (see Ephesians 3:20-21 below)

Here's my question. Why don't we expect more from God on a weekly (dare I say, daily) basis? Why don't we believe that He will still heal the sick, fix the broken, loose the captive and recapture the souls of those who are lost? It's not because God is any different than He was in the "old days." God's still God and has every bit of the desire and power to change our lives. I think the answer is two-fold: 1) we don't care enough. Our focus is so self-centered that we care little about the hurting of others and only want to know that we are taken care of and that our comforts have been considered (don't believe me? Just ask a bunch of Baptists to trade their air-conditioned worship center for two weeks in India or a prison cell ministering to the incarcerated and see what kind of response you get.)

2) We don't believe He cares enough. We've allowed our culture to define away God, to place Him in a nice, neat box where He is only pulled out in times of national crisis (e.g. the 9/11 terror attacks). In the mean time, we are more inclined to hand our daily problems to a psychiatrist, a career change, a bottle or some self-help guru. We think that God couldn't possibly care for those little things.

Here's the good news. God does care...deeply. He wants to intercede on your behalf. He wants to meet with you EVERY day of the year and give you a life--not free of pain and trial--but one that enables you to survive and overcome the ones that do come into your life. One question still remains...what are you expecting? What do you believe God wants to do in you and through your circumstances this week?

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. Ephesians 3:20-21 MSG

Monday, April 13, 2009

What a great day we had yesterday at RCC!!!

What a great day we had yesterday at RCC!!! The cool thing is, as I was praying for our services this past week, I was praying (as were many of you) for churches all across America. I'm hearing wonderful reports from pastor friends all over the country who had amazing Easter times together. Praise God for that, for the second largest crowd in our brief history and for the five we baptized at Ridgeview yesterday. I was encouraged by some of you to recount my points from yesterday's message. Here they are. I hope they bring continued encouragement to you.

1. Realize it’s always easier to go back to what’s comfortable.
Believe me, you will be tempted to. And Satan will make it easier for you to. It’s more comfortable and much easier than dealing with change or trying to make the right choices. But going back requires no faith and it surely does not require a trust in God. Our God is a God of forward progression. Don't slide back to what is comfortable

2. Don’t let your failures keep you from seeing God.
Our next message series at Ridgeview will deal with this. You and I can get so caught up in what the past has done to us that we don’t see hope staring us right in the face. The Bible says God removes our sin as far as the east is from the west to remember it no more. So, why do we remember our sin when a holy God refuses to?

3. Know that faith in God won’t always make sense.
Lots of people refuse to believe the stories of Christmas, of Easter, of a Christ who came to live and die for us because it just does not make sense. Why would a perfect God love us that much? But I submit to you that it makes more sense to entrust your life into the hands of an awesome God than to believe that anything on this earth will secure your life for you.

4. Accept the restoration offered by Christ’s resurrection.
The empty tomb of Easter changed everything. Through the power displayed that first Easter, you and I can know peace and freedom from our shattered lives. Embrace the Cross and the empty tomb--not just on Easter--but every single day of your life.

Have a blessed week. Looking forward to the days ahead with my family at Ridgeview.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

It's been five years.

It's been five years. Hard to believe but it has. I've been sitting here looking at this computer screen for about ten minutes wondering how you encapsulate five years in a few paragraphs. It's impossible. I can't tell you every emotion I have felt much less the intensity with which I have felt them. I probably can't remember every question I've asked God. There is no way to count the tears that Harrison, Abigail and I have cried. I can't recall every conversation the three of us have had about that day. I can't explain why certain songs take me back to that day or the years leading up to it. I can't explain why certain memories are so etched in my brain that I feel like I am reliving them every day.

I can tell you this though. God is good. God is faithful. I have lived the last five years in a fashion I would not have scripted for myself. The hundreds of phone calls, e-mails and personal conversations with others who have gone through similar losses have both drained me and energized me. God was there through each one of them. The lonely nights before I met Lisa, I knew God would get me through. The twists and turns and surprises of those years have taken many of us by surprise. I only know that God was not one of the surprised ones. That's why, after all that has happened and continues to happen, I rest confidently in the arms of a God who knows...

Life stopped being easy the day I started preschool, I think. It's been filled with thousands of challenges. They have not disappeared; they have only changed their shape. For the rest of my life, I will think of that day. I will catch myself wishing she could be here when Harrison starts high school or Abigail goes on her first date. I will wonder what Josh might have become and what joy he would have brought to our lives.

But because of the great hope of Easter, we will live our lives through the windshield, not through the rear view mirror. There are still games to play, proms to be had, and colleges to choose.

God has blessed me much these last five years. I wait with eager anticipation to see what His plan is for the next five. In the mean time, this Easter, I celebrate a risen Savior with my family while Sarah and Josh sit in His very presence...a place I long to be.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

There is an old saying, "If it isn't broke...don't fix it."

There is an old saying, "If it isn't broke...don't fix it." A few months back, a friend of mine challenged that thought with a quote from Tom Peters book Thriving on Chaos. He argues, "If it isn't broke...you probably haven't looked hard enough."

As I was wading through some papers on my desk today, that quote caught my eye. I began to think about the spiritual implications of that sentence. If it isn't broke...have I really looked closely enough at my life? You see, it's not till we see our need that we can truly appreciate what Christ did for us that first Easter 2000+ years ago. Unfortunately, if we're not seeing all the ways that we are frail and broken, we can tend to build up a spiritual arrogance. This, in turn, leads to a judgmental heart towards others and an inability to receive all that God offers us. Why receive healing if we don't understand how we are injured? Why talk about His great love for us until we comprehend how unlovely we can really be?

As we approach Easter 2009, I invite you to take a second look at who you really are. Deep down inside, we all know that our brokenness is exactly what makes us so precious to God. For deep inside the Creator's heart is a desire to give us wholeness and restore us to holiness.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12: 9

Monday, April 06, 2009

Some people just don't get it.

Some people just don't get it. In fact, there's probably more than we care to realize. I mean, can you explain to me why we really have to have warning labels on irons that tell us not to iron the clothes while they are on our bodies? (Don't believe me, read the label for yourself). Was there really that many people who thought it would be a good idea to iron out the blouse while it was on their back?

Then I read stories like this one from last week that make me think, "Hm! Maybe those warning labels aren't so far-fetched."

Seems there is an Epsicopal priest up north who is about to be "defrocked." (Sounds like a painful procedure. Glad they don't do that in Baptist churches.) That's not an unusual story in a denomination that has been defined by turmoil recently. But get this....the reason for the defrocking is that the woman in question is a professed Muslim. She has committed herself to the teachings of Islam and is shocked and dismayed that her Episcopal friends won't let her remain a priest in the Episcopal church. After all, they had allowed a practicing homosexual to remain as a priest, why not a Muslim? She believes that she can be an adherent to both Christianity and Islam and that the two do not contradict each other.

This story has so many twists and turns that my head hurts from scratching it so hard. For starters, there are major theological contradictions between the two, not the least of which is the teaching by Jesus Himself that He was the only way to the Father (John 14:6). In case you are not up on your Islamic teaching, people who believe in Jesus as Son of God are called "infidels" in the Koran and are not worthy of life much less friendship. Furthermore, Islam does not recognize the Trinitarian nature of God, that Jesus is the Savior of the world or that heaven is a reality for only those who acknowledge Jesus as their Lord.

Conversely, Christianity doesn't acknowledge the teachings of Muhummad nor does it advocate the teachings of the Koran. So, how does this woman believe she can practice both?

Before we jump on her case, though, I believe she has a legitimate complaint. Why "punish" her for holding to teachings outside of the Bible if you are going to allow others within the church to practice similarly unBiblical lifestyles? Why remove her from the clergy if others who lead the church are teaching non-Biblical practices without censure from other Episcopal leaders?

Bottom line for me is this...this is what you reap when you continue to stray further and further from the teachings of Christ and the Word. You allow a little bit of compromise on the truth and, before you know it, there is more error than truth to what you teach. This poor woman (like many others) is very confused. You can't follow Christ while leaving the gate open for diametrically opposed teachings. To do so would only speed the descent of a denomination (dare we say a faith) that has lost site of what it means to be a "holy priesthood" before God.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Another thought about Peter

Another thought about Peter. Have you evere wondered why he and Judas ended their lives in two completely different ways? Both of them spent time with Jesus. Both of them saw the miracles, heard the teachings and felt the compassion that Christ showed the people of their day. Their personalities were similar in some ways: bold, aggressive, committed and hard-headed.

So, why does Peter's life end as the Rock of the church while Judas brings his own life to an end, failing to understand the role of Christ?

I heard a preacher one time make the argument that it was because Judas was the treasurer for the disciples. He believed that being in charge of the funds caused Judas to become a lover of money.

I don't think that's it. I think it goes deeper. I think the point of divergence for these two followers comes down to hunger and thirst. Jesus talked a lot about both. He said those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be blessed. Both of these guys hungered, no doubt. I believe they both hungered for more of Christ. Here's where the similarity ends. I believe Peter hungered for Jesus and wanted his life to bring honor to Him. Judas, on the other hand, hungered for Christ because he saw what Jesus could do for him and how He could bring Judas glory. In other words, for Judas, Jesus was a means to an end--his goals, his dreams, his glory. For Peter, Jesus was the end--the end of a search for meaning and purpose and direction.

Which one more closely describes you? Be honest. A whole lot rides on this. Have you found everything you ever desired in Christ? Or do you find yourself using Jesus as a vehicle to get your promotion, to bless your new job, to promote your new lifestyle? Here's a simple test. The way you worship. I see it week after week where people come into church and ask the questions that implicate any self-seeker: what's in this for me? How will I be blessed? Worship is, at its heart, about what we bring to God of ourselves and our dreams. Think about it. We all hunger and thirst for something. Will you be satisfied with anything but Jesus?

SPECIAL NOTE: Five years removed from the accident that killed Sarah and Josh, I have not forgotten how precious life is and how much we should value every day we are given with our loved ones. With that in mind (and because I don't blog on the weekends) I wanted to take this chance to love on my mom, Nadine. Saturday is her birthday and she will celebrate three quarters of a century of life (I didn't tell them your age mom). She is an amazing woman. Everything good and right about me came from her and my dad. Every thing bad about me you can blame on someone else. I am most thankful for the family that God has blessed me with throughout my life. I thank God for the precious mom that He gave me. She was tough enough to raise me and make it through a whole lot of difficult times and to stay with the man of her dreams, my dad, for his entire life. For all of those things, I am grateful. I love you, mom. Hope you have a happy birthday and, I promise, the family and I are coming to see you soon.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Satan hates you (part 2)

Satan hates you (part 2). So, Peter makes one of the most tragic errors of his life by denying Christ. Who knows what went through his head in those first minutes after the rooster crowed? Or in the first few days? But I'm almost sure of what went through Satan's head. He probably believed he had Peter exactly where he wanted him. Frustrated. Depressed. Discouraged. Maybe he even believed he could push Peter towards the same end that Judas would eventually meet--suicide. After all, how do you reject Jesus and live (happily) to tell about it?

That got me thinking about something else. Do you imagine Peter ever heard a rooster crow for the rest of his life without thinking back to that night? Don't you imagine there was a temptation there for Peter to replay the scene and relive the guilt every time his "alarm clock" went off?

There is a wonderful lesson here for all of us. Satan wants you to dwell in guilt while Christ wants to offer you freedom. And the choice is really ours. We can give in to the belief that we are never whole again once we fail. We can hear Christ say, "You are forgiven" and still fall back to a condemned life every time our roosters crow.

But Jesus offered Peter forgiveness and--here is the key part--Peter received it. He allowed the sacrifice of Jesus to pay His price. He didn't spend the rest of his life trying to make it up to God. Did Peter fail again? You bet. Was he still prone to listen to the old nature that pulled at him? Absolutely. But Peter's encounters with Jesus enabled him to understand something we often fail to remember...Jesus' forgiveness is complete.

We confess. We surrender. We repent...and our work is done. Jesus has accomplished the rest. We simply must live in the sweet acknowledgement that He is more than enough for all we have done.

Jesus restored Peter yet again in a beautiful story in the end of John. He asked Peter if he loved him three times...once for each denial that Peter had offered to Jesus. What a sweet picture of grace. No, I don't imagine Peter ever heard the rooster's crow without thinking back to that night. I don't imagine that Satan allowed him to without screaming loudly in his ear "You are a failure and a loser. How could God love you?" But I also imagine Peter never saw another cross, never walked by another tomb nor stood by a fishing boat near the sea without thinking about how Jesus had made his failures irrelevant. Peter understood--I pray you and I can as well. God's forgiveness is complete because of that first Easter Sunday and the empty tomb.