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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:

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 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's worth talking about.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Your favorite things.

Your favorite things. Quick...what comes to your mind? Don't think about it. What are the first visions that pop into your head when you read that phrase. Is it people, hobbies, a favorite vacation spot or a particularly delightful food you enjoy? If you're like most people, it's a myriad of things that fill that spot in our heart. You probably flipped through those thoughts like a Rolodex (I just dated myself. My kids have no idea what a Rolodex is any more)

The Bible says that we can get sidetracked by many things, thoughts about the temporal surroundings of this place. Look at the way the Message translates Colossians 3:1-2:

So if you're serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that's where the action is. See things from his perspective.

See things from His perspective. An interesting thought. Now, don't misunderstand what's being said here. Jesus was human as well as God. I believe Jesus had a favorite fish, a favorite place to get away and even enjoyed the company of three disciples more than the others.

But to "see things from God's perspective" (what Jesus did and what we should strive to do) means the worries diminish and stress melts. It means we see this world for what it is. Instead of constantly making deposits in our accounts here, we are looking for eternal investments where things really matter. It's having a Jesus filter.

So, while we still have to earn a paycheck and feed our bodies, we can't get caught up in building wealth here or fighting a pointless battle to keep our bodies from aging (man, how I see that all around us where we live). We understand that, at best, our lives are given no more than an average of 75 years or so in preparation for the real life, the one that is yet to come.

Look up! Be alert and watch what Christ is up to. That's where the real action is...and the best investment of every thought we have.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Here's your worthless information of the day.

Here's your worthless information of the day.

It seems as though this family has become extremely adept at spitting...crickets. That's right? Crickets. Now, I have to be honest with you. My first thought upon reading this article was not, "I wonder how far they spit it?" Nor was it, "I wonder if I could top their records?" No. Here's where my thoughts settled. Who in the world was so bored that they decided to freeze crickets (hope they remembered which frozen package was which in the freezer), pull them out hours later and see who could spit them the furthest? Better yet, who decided that it was such a popular thing that it needed to be a state fair event with age groupings and everything (yes, there was a category for 5 to 8 year olds)?

Funny how we can get caught up in some trivial things. Honestly, I think it's kind of cool (gross as it may be) for father and son to enjoy a common hobby. I'm not quite sure what happened to putting the cricket on a pole and trying to entice fish with it. But, hey, who am I to question?

It made me think about all the trivial things we can get caught up in when it comes to our faith. Think about. There is this giant state fair going on--rides, entertainment, food, games (I can hear the sound of money being sucked from people's pockets as we think about it). But over in a remote part of the fairgrounds, there's a small group of "cricket spitters." There is even a strategy to the whole thing. And these people are missing the real reason for coming.

We can do the same thing with our faith some times. We can miss the whole point of what God is seeking for us because we get focused on the little things. The end result? its worst. Religion focused on ritual, performance...trivia. And what you have left? Cricket spitters.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

I've been a parent now for 14 years (and then some)

I've been a parent now for 14 years (and then some). With every year that passes, every new event that I move through with my kids, I am learning more and more about God and how much He loves me (and, yes, puts up with me). I don't think it's a mistake that one of God's favorite references to us is as His children. He knew what we would be like when He created us.

I think about that every time I catch myself saying to one of my kids, "You just need to listen to what your mom and I are telling you. It may not make sense but we know what is best for you. Until you've been through some things, you'll never understand why it is better this way." I just have to smile. I know God is thinking the same about me. I know He gets frustrated having to explain Himself or having to watch my disobedience. I also know that, like any good parent, He hurts and cries when I don't get it right or I am forced to go through something that is painful.

I remind myself that, as much as I love my kids, God loves me that much more and far deeper. And, just as I do with my four, I am reminded by Him that the safest place to be when I have failed is close to Him. It's there that I will be lovingly corrected, forgiven and restored. It's there that the guilt will be removed. It's there that I will find the direction to live this life with more purpose and less chaos. It's there that I belong.

This is what the Lord says--your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go." Isaiah 48:17 NIV

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

My mom always told me to be careful what I say.

My mom always told me to be careful what I say. You never know who may be listening or what they may be hearing. And (mom and the Bible agree on this) the tongue has the ability to kill. With our tongues we can nag, demoralize, tear apart, tear down, cause conflict, spread rumors, split families, split churches, cause wars and create chaos. It's such an incredible weapon.

But such as incredible is our inability to listen or to hear what others are saying. You see, what we hear can often be skewed by our own experiences or by what we expect others to say. Literally, our upbringing can act as a filter on the things we hear. And, in some cases, what we are expecting someone to say can keep us from hearing what is actually said.

That happened near the end of World War II and cost more than 100,000 people their lives. By the end of 1945, the Japanese were weary from fighting and prepared to accept the generous terms of surrender that were offered by the United States. In fact, they were thrilled that the U. S. was offering such a lenient end to the hostilities. The Japanese cabinet was waiting for official word from the U. S. that these would, indeed, be the terms when the Japanese emperor called a press conference and the Japanese press made a fatal error. Emperor Suzuki used a Japanese word--"mokusatsu"--which had two meanings. One definition is to "hold off comment to a later point." The other, the one that the press service expected from their leaders and that they chose to use, was "ignore." Rather than the Allied leaders hearing that Japan was waiting to comment, they heard a Japanese government who was refusing to listen to their generous offers. President Truman had no other option but to allow the use of both atomic bombs to bring an end to the madness. The cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed--in part because an Emperor did not choose his words carefully and a reporter allowed his expectations to temper what he heard.

Be careful with your words--and your ears--today. Either could lead to broken relationships or someone's self-esteem being crushed. Let your words be encouraging and affirming for all who hear you today.