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Monday, August 31, 2009

It's really very simple.

It's really very simple. At least it should be. That's the thought that came to my mind over and over again as I took my walk this morning. I was listening to a podcast and it had stirred several thoughts by way of what the speaker was sharing. This was the primary one--our faith, real faith, the kind that Scripture that talks about over and over again, is really very simple. In fact, the more complex it becomes, the less it resembles faith and takes on all the traits of religion.

Now, you don't have to be a history major to understand the bad things that religion has done to mankind over the centuries. With its layers of rules and restrictions and rituals, it creates a complex system that is destined to make sure of one thing--its adherents are failures.

My grandmother was no failure. "Granny" to me, she was Miss Eva to the people of the town where she lived and died. And anyone who watched Miss Eva got to see an up close portrayal of what I'm talking about--simple faith. Stripped of all the complexities, it was a marvelous thing to observe. She loved her family, supported her husband (a farmer by weekday and an itinerant Baptist minister on the weekends), disciplined her children and prayed with great hope and trust for everyone she knew. Ask Granny about predestination, she would have probably given you a curious look. Talk to her about the Tribulation and she would have shared what she knew about the ones that were in her circles of influence. But ask her about Jesus, about love, about forgiveness or about the cross and Granny's eyes would have lit up. She knew what she knew and that was enough. Leave the complex questions to others who had time for that. Granny had children to raise, friends to love and a simple life to live. It was a life full of really simple trust in a God she knew very personally.

As I finished my walk this morning, I thought to myself how sweet her memories were. And I prayed that God would teach me to keep it simple so that I would never lose sight of the things that really matter most.

Everything you were taught can be put into a few words: Respect and obey God! This is what life is all about. Ecclesiastes 12: 13 CEV

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It's about the journey.

It's about the journey.

I am going to be honest with you up front and let you know that I have been in meetings since 9:30 this morning. My brain is more than just a little numb. So, as this phrase is rolling around in my head, I can't recall where it was that I heard it. I just know...it's right. Actually, the whole statement goes like this.

It's not about the destination; it's about the journey.

Here's why I like it so much. I believe that so many followers of Christ get caught up in our eternal destination that we forget that God did not ultimately create us for heaven. He created us for relationship. He created us to be like Him. He created us for...the journey.

Rather than looking so far ahead that we forget why we are still here, I believe that God is working in us and on us daily. This journey--with all its moments, its events, its experiences--is about shaping us for that relationship. As Rick Warren puts it, "God's not interested in our comfort; He is interested in our character."

I don't believe that God acts like some Divine flight attendant..."Thank you for traveling with us. We hope you have enjoyed your flight. We will be offering a complete beverage service for your comfort."

Rather, I think God says, "This journey will be tough. You may not like every step of the trip. You may hate some moments. You will fight. You will struggle. But most of all, with my help, you will survive. And I guarantee you will like what you see when the journey is done as long as you stick with Me."

Enjoy your journey...whatever this leg of the trip may hold.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Needing a lift?

Needing a lift? I was recently. It had been a long day and, if memory serves me correctly, it was only 9 a.m. So God led my devotional reading to a passage in 1 Corinthians 15. Today, I came back to that passage--re-thinking some of the implications of what it said. Here are the verses that caught my attention:

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:25-26 NIV

Now, those of us who believe the story of Jesus to be real, believe that Jesus did that very thing 2,000 years ago--He defeated death by His resurrection. The significance of this passage in light of that truth is two-fold:

1. Every enemy that puts itself up against Jesus has been defeated. Those victories will be brought to their final conclusion at His return but these enemies have already been put "under His feet." There is nothing grim or dark or evil or discouraging that you may face that God has not given Jesus authority over.

2. If there is something in your life that is challenging you, it's because God knew you could handle it (with His help). Why? Because everything is in submission to Him. If He didn't believe you could handle it or He didn't want you to face it...you wouldn't.

How cool is that?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Did God really say...

"Did God really say..."

Interesting question, even if it did come right from the serpent's mouth (Genesis 3:1) It's the first account of Satan pulling out one of his oldest tactics...using doubt against us. He used doubt to trap Adam and Eve in that first sin and he has been doing it ever since.

Here's the interesting thing. I believe that doubt, like so many other things in this life, is fairly neutral. It's what we do with it that matters. Adam and Eve both allowed doubt to come. Imagine how different things would have turned out had they waited just a little while for God to show up. If they had gone straight to the Source of all wisdom and said, "God, did you really say...?"

Instead, we catch the two of them going to the serpent to find their answers. Sounds strangely familiar to many of us.

You see, all of us, no matter how deep our faith roots run, have doubt at some point. Even some of the strongest tenets of our faith can come under the attack of Satan (e.g. the ELCA and its recent change in stance on gay clergy). How we handle that doubt makes all the difference in the world and, depending on the subject, may make all the difference in someone's eternity.

Rather than consulting the wisdom of this world, why not go back to the Source? Two reasons...we are impatient and lazy. Long gone are the days where saints prayed for hours, refusing to budge until God had given a clear direction. We want an easy solution on our time frame. Such attitudes are what led to the first downfall of man. Don't let it lead to your downfall as a modern day Christ follower. I pray that when the questions of "did God really say" arise in our life, we are found in the Word or on our knees asking the Creator Himself rather than allowing our culture gone wild to tell us what He really meant.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I remember Jerry.

I remember Jerry. Jerry was a friend of mine that was in elementary school for several years. I say "friend" but he was more of an acquaintance. Let me tell you why. Jerry had some physical and mental handicaps. Because of this Jerry was...let's see, the appropriate way to put it would be athletically challenged. To put it simple, Jerry couldn't play a lick of anything much. And that's critical when you are trying to become the king of the playground kickball pool.

So, it was a daily ritual in my younger years for two guys to be picked as captains. Everyone would then line up for the selection of teams. Big, tall, fast, slow...and Jerry.

Now, there are some things that can be counted on in life. The sun will come up in the morning. Rain will always fall down. Congress will blow all your money (another subject for another day). And, you could always count on Jerry being picked last. He knew it. We all knew it. It was just expected.

Then came the week my parents challenged me about my approach to Jerry. I don't remember what brought the conversation up, I just remember those final words from my dad. "Next time you're the captain, why don't you pick Jerry first?"

I prayed real hard that next day. Not for the lost or the poor or the sick...I prayed I wouldn't be the captain. I knew what I had to do but I didn't want to do it. Guess who was the first captain picked?

I mumbled. I delayed. I kicked the dirt and even made a couple of funny noises. Then, I chose...Mark. Mark was my best friend. A good athlete. A great guy. Who wouldn't pick Mark? Then pick number two came. You can imagine the silence as Jerry's name came from my lips. I even wondered where it had come from...almost wanted to take it back. But there was no denying the look on Jerry's face at that moment. His smile shone like the sun. Jerry, despite everything else, was smart enough to know that he didn't deserve to be number two. But, today, for one brief moment on the playground at J. R. Allen Elementary common sense had been suspended.

Sound familiar? Maybe not. Maybe you don't know why I told you this sweet story from long ago. It's not because I'm trying to clear my conscious or make up for past wrongs. Here's the reason in a nutshell:
"(Jesus speaking) You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you..." John 15:16 NIV

Process that for a minute...He (God) chose me and you. Not because we could play a lick nor because He needed us. He did it out of love--amazing, pure, unadulterated love.

I wish I could say I chose Jerry every day that year. No. The next day I wasn't even a captain. Nor the rest of that week. And when my time came again numerous times that year, Jerry dropped to the tail end of the line. But Jerry...and you and I can rest in the knowledge that He chose us--chooses us--every single day.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Got a lot on my mind this Monday morning!

Got a lot on my mind this Monday morning! So I thought I'd spill a little of it here on this page for you to see. My heart is still filled with joy and amazement from yesterday's worship. What an incredible time we've been having has a church family! I've had some great follow up calls, notes and emails as our people are responding to God's voice over this past series. I love what God is showing us and teaching us. It's going to be a really incredible Fall here at Ridgeview. I want to stay humble before God and very near to Him so that I can know what His plan holds for us. Will you pray that for me as your pastor and shepherd?

Speaking of prayer, my heart has been heavy for the Berger family out at Grace Chapel this weekend. Pastor Steve is the lead pastor at this amazing church in Leiper's Fork (just outside Nashville). On Friday, the Berger's lost their 19 year old son to a tragic car accident. Let me tell you, till you have lived through that gut-wrenching experience of burying a child, you cannot comprehend the depth and breadth of pain it causes. I am thankful for the strong faith that the Bergers have displayed through this whole thing and for the faith family that surrounds this pastor. Will you please pray for the Bergers in the days and weeks ahead?

Finally, Lisa and I have been praying really hard for ourselves and our church as we launch our new series this Sunday. It's a three week focus on Marriage that's been on the books for months. Why so much prayer and planning? Because Satan's desire is to destroy our families. And every time we turn our attention to trying to heal and strengthen our marriages, he turns up his warfare. So, let's start today (if you haven't already) to pray for our families--all families, regardless of what they look like or how big or small they may be. Believe me, they matter dearly to God.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I'm issuing a call for prayer.

I'm issuing a call for prayer among our Ridgeview family. Here's why. We have just one week left in our currents series, "Roots." It's been a great time together examining some of the key things that happened with that early church. I've enjoyed going back to Acts (always do) and reading their fascinating stories. But what I'm asking the prayers for is what's next.

"One + One = One" No it's not a poor attempt at math nor is it a typo. It's a formulaic expression of a spiritual reality. It's what happens when two believers join together for the act of marriage. We're going to be dealing with three real hot button issues in the area of our marriages: conflict, finances, and sex. These three together make up the core reasons why many marriages are in turmoil and so many more come to an end.

That's why we need prayer. Already--I mean, literally, right now--Satan is attacking families and going after their peace. He knows that by getting you distracted or conflicted right now, he's got a real chance of keeping you away from church those three Sundays.

So, we need prayer...every marriage in our church. Right now. Satan will go after myself and Pastor Eddie as we prepare to do this series. He'll go after your marriage, your friends marriage. He will do whatever he can to prevent God's truth for our marriages from reaching it's desired targets. Will you join me over the next month in lifting up every marriage at Ridgeview Church?

NOTE: these are good truths for all of us, not just the married ones. Don't turn a deaf ear to the truth of God's Word. ALL of God's Word is useful for teaching, instruction and correction. Make plans to be there and be a part of this three week series.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It's summer camp time.

It's summer camp time. Not the kind with canoes, crafts and team competitions. I'm not referring to the church camps that have packed away there t-shirts and banners for another year. I'm talking about football camp. The 95 degree August temps can only mean one thing...football camp has started.

I drove by a field this week and caught sight of about 100 young guys busting their tails to get ready for the season. I remember those days very fondly although I would have never predicted it back then. Early practices in the morning. Weightlifting, watching game film and team meetings in the afternoon. Long, early evening practices. It's an annual ritual that is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Here's the interesting thing. Though most people never experience "camp" or the practices that lead up to another season of games, any coach worth his salt will tell you that this is where the games of fall are won and lost. It is here where the basics are hammered out. It's here where the real gut checks are taken and the conditioning is completed. The games are simply a measurement of all that has led to that point.

Kind of like worship. (I'm serious). You can measure the maturity of a people by their worship. Worship gatherings on Sunday are not what we live for, they are simply measures of all we have lived through in the weeks before. Our personal growth. Our quiet times. Our times of refining. Our lives of worship. These are where the spiritual battles are won on a weekly basis--not in an hour on Sunday morning.

The problem is that many Christ followers simply believe they can show up for the game without "doing the time" in preparation. Who you worship on Sunday morning is the person you have lived for Monday through Saturday. That's why so many church attenders are, in reality, worshipping themselves on Sunday morning. We arrive with our checklists of needs. Good sermon? Check. Good music? Check. Comfortable seating, warm welcome from the pastor, no inconveniences? Check, check, check. My worship of me is complete.

Can you imagine the coach's reaction if his star player called on Monday to say he missed the game because he was too tired, the coach down the street had a better game plan or the other team's band was just a little better? You and I are called face-to-face with the living God on a daily basis. It is preparation for a battle that calls us to daily set our agendas aside and give our ALL for Him. Then, when Sunday rolls around, we show up, game face on, ready to worship a God who has walked hand-in-hand with us through every second of our week.

The game is on. I hope when Sunday rolls around, you'll be in your place, ready to bring praise from a week of worship, service, love and surrender before God. Get off the bench TODAY and get into the game.

Monday, August 10, 2009

What are you waiting for?

What are you waiting for? We've all asked this question of someone at some point. But I wonder how many times God has asked that question of me. I'd probably be afraid to admit how often. I've got a strong feeling that He has probably done the same of you. I thought about this during a conversation I had on a flight with a young lady recently.

She and I had talked briefly about where we were headed and how long our trips would be. Then she asked me what I did for a living. (I always love when people ask that question. It opens up a world of conversations regarding faith and where they are in their personal walk with Christ.)

So...I told her. I told her about planting and pastoring churches. I told her why I was at the conference. I told her about what had happened with my family (the death of my wife and son) and why I believed with all my heart that God was capable of using even the worst situations for good (the young college guy sitting next to her had tuned in by this point). She listened, tears in her eyes, as I shared how God had walked through these events with the kids and me. Then, after a brief pause, she said, "You know, I've been in church all my life. Lately I've felt like God has become really distant. I've been praying that God would show Himself to me and that He would let me know He's real. It's been a frustrating few years."

(This is the part where God asks me, "Well, what are you waiting for?" The door was open so I walked in). I explained to her how I believe that God never walks away, we do. I told her that God wants (desires) this really cool relationship with us...this adventurous life. But many of us choose to settle for something far less--a good job, a good family, a good reputation. I asked her what God had just asked me...what are you waiting for? I hope that God used that conversation to bring an end to her waiting. I pray that He will do the same for you. If you're waiting on God, you're falling behind. He has given His all to have this relationship with you. What is in the way of you having everything He has promised?

NOTE: Thanks for your prayers last week as I was in Buena Vista, FL. I had a great time with the people there. I'm looking forward to being in Macon, GA this week. I'll be sharing with a Healthcare Group down there and running back to Franklin. I'd appreciate your prayers again as I head out on the road.

I'll see you Sunday as we wrap up our current series, "Roots."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

I'm watching the sun come up on the Magic Kingdom.

I'm watching the sun come up on the Magic Kingdom. It's early here in Orlando. I'll be speaking at a meeting of Florida Risk Management Professionals in a few hours. I've just spent one of the worst nights in a luxury hotel ever. I don't know why they gave me this room. Maybe I looked like a sucker. Between the lobby downstairs that has an open bar and the constant flow of traffic off the elevators at ALL HOURS OF THE NIGHT, I could have had a quieter night if they had set my bed out by Buena Vista Avenue.

I'd appreciate your prayers as I kick off a busy Fall of speaking. I go from Florida to Georgia to Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Washington and back to Florida. Good frequent flyer miles but hard on the body. Seriously, I'm excited that God continues to give me these chances to share Josh's story. So I'm asking that you pray for my safety. Pray for my family as I complete these travels. But pray that God continues to provide a way to share Josh's story, to challenge our health care industry and to bring a message of grace and forgiveness to those I have the opportunity to share with. Wherever I go and whatever I do, I want people to hear His story coming out.

Monday, August 03, 2009

It's the most dangerous question you can ask.

It's the most dangerous question you can ask. The only thing more dangerous is to ignore the need to ask the question in the first place. What question is that?

"God, what do you want to do with my life?"

Here is why the question must be asked. God sized dreams and Holy Spirit inspirations are missed when we choose to live life by our standards. It takes courage to slow your pace down long enough to ask (with a heart that really is wanting to listen) "God, what do you want me to do?" But it is such courageous acts that can take our lives from ordinary to extraordinary. It's the difference between a spiritual kids' meal and a faith of super-size proportions (minus the extra fat grams).

It was such courage that enabled Noah to be flood proof and enabled Moses to trade his shepherd's cloak for walking shoes to lead the Exodus. It prompted Esther to be a queen, Gideon to send home over half of his army and David to face his personal giant. It is the difference between a good life and a great life.

Did you hear that? The difference between good and great. You see, for most Christ followers, the former becomes the enemy of the latter. We become very content with the good (a good home, a good job, a good family, a good church, a good reputation) to the point that we miss out on the great, the grand and the glorious--all for His fame.

Are you ready to ask the question? Really ready? Are you ready to take on the grandest adventure your life could offer? The only thing more dangerous is to pretend that God doesn't have something more for you...and to miss it entirely.