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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

God has ways of getting our attention.

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 26, 2009

Belief v. reliance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I kind of feel like Moses sometimes.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 19, 2009

It's good to be home for a while.

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Be careful what yardstick you use to measure success.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 05, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 02, 2009

What a great week it has been.

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

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

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

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