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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Refelctions on Memorial Day weekend

Absolutely amazing! Those are the best words I can find to describe Sundays like this past one. Worship was off the chart. We had new faces, new families and some new members. We celebrated the event of baptism as four people gave testimony to the power of what God is doing in their lives. I can't help but get fired up with anticipation as we watch God moving within our church family.

On another note... a very important one. I hope this weekend as you are firing up the grill and enjoying the final days of May that you will stop and give thanks for all of those who have given of their lives for this great nation. You may not like every thing that is happening in our country. I don't. You may not agree with all that comes out of Washington. Few do. But the fact that you and I have the right to disagree without endangering our lives is owed directly to the sacrifice of thousands upon thousands of men and women. Right now, as you read this, millions like them are guarding the front lines thousands of miles from the comfort of home and their families. Thank God for each of them. We pray for your safety and your protection.

Finally, just wanted you to look forward with anticipation to the weeks ahead at RCC. Next week, we are revisiting another of Jesus' great teachings in the parables. Then, it's a three week series on spiritual warfare entitled "Angels and Demons." Invite a friend to be a part of these next great weeks at Ridgeview.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Selling out

Warning. I'm a little fired up and irate as I write this. I'll try to be cautious with my words while still speaking my heart. Let me tell you the source of my frustration. Pastors/speakers/musicians (and others) profiting off of Jesus. Now, I know the Bible is clear that the "workman is worthy of his hire." I am a firm believer in the idea that every man should be paid according to his work and that professional ministers do not take a vow of poverty when they enter ministry. I'm not talking about churches paying their professional pastors an acceptable salary for doing the work they were called to do.

Here's an example of what I am talking about--a pastor in a large metro area up north. Most lay people wouldn't even recognize his name if I called it but, for his sake, I'll keep it a secret. This pastor had a really good blog entry back a couple of months ago on leadership. I read it, reflected on it, even acted on some of the suggestions that he made. It was really good stuff. Because I liked what I read and had read a portion of one of his books, I signed up to get some more information and some of his future writing.

The flood gate opened. Literally, since that first week, I have received dozens of emails a week (sometimes 2 or 3 a day) promoting his "material." None of it free...nor economically priced. He shares about how he has a heart to bless other pastors and churches, then offers a coaching session every month for several hundred dollars. With it...a guarantee that your church will grow by 30%.

Are you kidding me? This guy has met with tremendous success where he is. He is obviously a gifted leader. But did it ever occur to him that the church he shepherds is growing because of what God is doing? Am I really to believe that God gave him this gift to lead and this talent to teach so that he could sell overpriced manuals and handbooks on everything from how to raise your offerings to how to greet guests, from how to preach a sermon to how to train new leaders?

This is a growing concern for me in our churches. Remember, I'm not talking about a pastor writing a good inspirational book and getting paid for it. I'm not talking about cutting the salaries of gifted leaders who come alongside other pastors and walk this journey with them. I am talking about the growing trend to put the word "Consultant" by your name, charge an outrageous fee and call it good "all in the name of the Kingdom." In my mind, it's a prostitution of the Kingdom all in the name of riches.

If the Kingdom of God is really what we are concerned about, then why not follow the lead of the pastors who are helping out others just because it's the right thing to do? Instead of writing another manual or offering another seminar, how about encouraging leaders to dive back into the Word of God together and find out His leadership principles for the church? In the Bible is everything we need to do everything He has asked us to do. The writings and teachings of capable leaders are a nice addition to help us understand what God is saying but, stripping everything else away, the Word will stand on its own.

When it comes to churches, Christ followers and the future of God's kingdom, I can't guarantee you that anything I say will increase your attendance, your knowledge or your offerings. Thankfully, though, God can.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Living without the fine print

I got a couple of those offers in the mail this week that drive me crazy. "Free offer." "No money necessary." "$0 Down and No Interest." The kind that drive me absolutely crazy because when you flip the piece of paper over, there is a solid sheet of fine print explaining why the big, bold letters on the front aren't even remotely true.

The phone offers make me equally crazy. I remember one, back in the days before caller ID helped weed them out. This young lady called the house to offer me a free water softener and a vacation. She called in the middle of a "parenting moment" so she had no idea what she was interrupting. The conversation went something like this:

Rid: "So you're offering me a free water softener and a free 3-day vacation? Is that right?"
Caller: "Yes, sir. It's absolutely free." (Be careful how you use that word absolutely with me.)
Rid: "Great. Let me give you my address so you can send me the softener and the voucher for my vacation."
Caller: (After a long pause). "I'm sorry sir. I'll have to give you a little bit of information about the services we provide and we'll get one of our agents to come to your house and test your water."
Rid: "Then it's not free. You see, you're taking up my time and my time is very valuable to me, especially when I have a child who is waiting to talk to me. And...another thing. If you're agent comes to my house, he's going to sit in my den, use more of my time, run gallons of my water to do his test and even soak up some of my air conditioning. You're costing me a whole lot of money here." There was a long silence. "Now, do you want my address to send me my FREE stuff or are we done here?"

It's the first and only time that I've had a sales rep hang up on me. I felt sweet victory. The fine print had been exposed. And we all have to deal with it. That's why I'm a little understanding of the fact that many of us approach our relationship with Christ as if we are waiting for the fine print.

In Isaiah 55:7 it says: "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."

God's offer of grace and mercy is clearly free. It says this all the way through Scripture. Yet, we will read this and then spend the rest of our lives futilely trying to earn what He wants to give us...forgiveness. We'll struggle. We'll strain. We'll spend countless hours trying to earn our way into His plan...which goes completely against His plan. His way has always been that Jesus would pay the price (one we couldn't pay) and that we must receive that gift in faith. It doesn't make sense to us. I know that. Especially living in a culture filled with fine print and hidden clauses. But God knew that too. That's why he inspired the prophet Isaiah to write the next verse as well.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways..." Relax. God's got it. You and I simply have to receive it in in faith...and then live it with gratitude.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reflections on Sunday

Communion is always such a sweet time at RCC. Yesterday was no exception as I watched families, friends and individuals gather at the table for the time of remembrance. It is truly an incredible thought to contemplate Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf. Thanks for worshipping through this event every time it comes around. Here are a few other thoughts:
  • We wrap up our family series this weekend. Every time we do a series on the family it is filled with poignant reminders of who I am as a dad and as a husband. I pray that you have found some great "takeaways" for you in your roles as part of your families.
  • In just a few weeks, we'll be starting our next series (June 13) on spiritual warfare. You better believe that talking about the "enemy" gets Satan really fired up. So, I'd appreciate your prayers for our staff and especially our families as we move towards that first Sunday.
  • I hear a lot of talk from people about "good worship" or "bad worship." My fear is that many time the measure of worship "quality" is based on number of hands raised or "amens" uttered or tears cried. More activity does not equate to greater spirituality. Too many Christians equate activity with intimacy. As one of my peers just wrote to his people, just because your hands are raised does not mean your heart is surrendered.
  • Baptism is one of the sweetest pictures of what is going on in the Christ followers life. We saw it again yesterday with the baptism of Sully Barret. We've got four more baptisms coming this week! If that doesn't get you excited about what God is doing at RCC, you're missing the point of our mission!
  • If you've got questions or are thinking about being baptized, contact one of our staff and talk with them about what this act is all about. We'd love to have the honor of talking with you and walking through this process with you.
We'll see you Sunday as we wrap up the family series. It's gonna be great!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Because of me?

I had the privilege of hanging out with a new friend of mine yesterday. We did a little lunch then I twisted his arm so he would help me with a little hard labor for the church. He labored, I watched. (Hey. I've read that good leadership means empowering your people so he should feel fully empowered about now).

Anyway, I was reflecting this morning on one of our topics at lunch. We were discussing the importance of accountability for men. My mind was steered back that direction after reading this passage this morning:
May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me....; may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me.... Psalm 69:6 NIV

I have a tendency to get real fired up about Christians who just don't act the part. It angers me to hear about Christ followers who disgrace the name of Jesus because they don't live morally, act ethically or conduct their lives with compassion. (I'm not saying I don't have grace for the mistakes we all make. I'm talking about the ones who profess one thing and blatantly life on their own standards). So...I'm a firm believer in accountability. Every man (and woman for that matter) needs someone who has permission to look deep into their heart and speak truthfully to them about what they see from the outside looking in.

But look at that verse again. It says may those who hope in you not be disgraced because of me. The psalmist wasn't pointing the finger at anyone else. He was saying "God, guard my thoughts and my actions. Keep my heart from sin so that I don't bring shame on the rest of those who are seeking you."

My heart was challenged again about how much I need friends in my life. You do too. Not superficial friends. We all have dozens of Facebook connections and hit-and-run acquaintances. But God's encouragement for us is that we need the iron that sharpens iron. I need guys who will stand by me. I need men who aren't afraid to get in my face and share my burdens. When my sin glares me in the eyes, I need to be able to share these temptations with other guys who feel the same pain and hurt. You need this same accountability in your life. It's the only way that we can run this journey and have success. With them, you may stumble but you will have the strength to get up and begin again; without them, you will stumble and you will not make it. The choice is obvious. I don't ever want the name of Jesus to be shamed because I was afraid to open my life to others.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I love when people get it.

I have been a "teacher", in some form, for most of my life. I tutored younger students in high school and college. I taught world history and coached sports at a high school after graduation. And, of course, I've been teaching in my role as a minister for over 20 years now. It is always a source of great satisfaction to watch the light bulb go on for someone. Whether it's a principle they've learned or a new technique they are trying, it just feels really good to see their face when they see the results of their new found "knowledge." It's especially cool when the principles are Biblical ones. So, I'll let my friend at Ridgeview tell his story in his own words:

Pastor Ridley,

I sat and pondered all the changes that the Lord has made in our lives. We, as a husband and wife, went from almost splitting up to worshiping the Lord. I guess it was when I finally realized that I will make mistakes that I stop getting angry at myself and taking it out on my family. I truly thought that there was something wrong with me. My question was, "Lord, why can I not stay faithful to you and stop messing up?" And then the flood literally came. As I was rushing to get home from work, I was following a co-worker. Every where I turned was blocked. I finally told him to go on and I would find my way home. As I found a road that lead home, I realized right then that I have been following other peoples choices and decisions and worst of all my own. Every where blocked. (blessing one) Later that night me and my wife had realized how lucky we where that the flood did not take our home. But, with that realization and our conversation, we both decided to give the Lord his Tithes. He would take care of us. What's so amazing about all of this is not the fact that he has blessed us in our giving but that it took a flood for me and my wife to stop fighting over tithing and just start giving....I did go to work and tell my friends what the Lord did. And to my surprise, they were amazed at how His blessings are. So, I guess what I am saying is blessings and heartache will come…But the only one that succeeded in perfection is Christ….and he had to die for me to go to heaven. Perfection is something to always strive for but realize it will never be achieved. That is what I have realized.

It just doesn't get any better than that. These are the victories that make pastoring worthwhile. I love when God's love just "floods" someone, when they take that first scary step in trusting Him and find....He is absolutely capable of carrying out His promises...always. Thank you, friend, for sharing your story. I'm thankful that God's mercy got your attention that day. I pray that you and I will get the joy of seeing many others like you come to find that God is always reliable!!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sunday reflections

I never get tired of watching God do His thing at RCC. Yesterday was no exception. For those of you who missed it, you missed a great day. It started when Satan started his junk. I mean from the moment we walked in the door, he was throwing up obstacles left and right. That's when you know it's going to be good.

We had a great time of worship capped off by two baptisms (their video testimonies were incredible. If you haven't seen them, check them out on our website: www.rccfranklin.com. They will be posted later this week. ) I can't ever get enough of watching God change people's lives...young and old(er). Then, as we were wrapping up our time together, God proved he wasn't finished yet. I had the privilege of leading one of our elementary age kids to Christ right there in the hallway of the school with his mom and dad. What an incredible privilege that is to watch a young man trust Christ with his life! He'll be added to the baptisms coming up (three more in the next two weeks). Please continue to pray and invite others as God is moving in our congregation and in our community.

A special thanks to all of those who showed up and gave their time Saturday to help out with flood relief in Franklin. We'll keep you posted on more opportunities as they arrive. I love being your pastor at Ridgeview. Thanks for making Sundays awesome!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Quick note for RCC family

We've got an opportunity to serve our community through Flood Relief again on Saturday, May 15th. We are meeting in the Ewingville neighborhood (across from Pinkerton Park in Franklin) at 142. There are opportunities for demolition and general cleaning. So make an effort to be there.

Or, if working in a sheltered setting is more your thing, Graceworks in Franklin is still looking for volunteers to help with sorting of donated items. Contact them at volunteers@graceworksministries.com.net

This week we are in part two of our Family series. Hope you'll join us at 10:30 a.m. at Freedom Intermediate. Our next series begins June 13th with Angels and Demons....a look at spiritual warfare.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Worship

We are commanded to worship. Our lives were meant to bring worship to God. But it's such an uncomfortable thing for some of us that we just don't know how to go about doing it. I've seen some of you at church on Sunday morning...your hands jammed in your pockets, your mouths shut, nervously scanning the room to see who is watching you. Relax! This isn't what I'm talking about. I'm not talking about singing or praying or acting a certain way in a gathering time on Sunday morning. I'm talking about lifestyle. Carol Cymbala says this in her book He's Been Faithful:

We know, too, that the deepest worship happens not when we raise our hands and shout "Alleluia" or sing a hand-clapping chorus. That's easy. The deepest worship happens as we surrender ourselves over and over to God. Jesus, while on earth, was the perfect example of this kind of worship.

After reading that quote, this thought struck my mind. We know Jesus worshipped His Father. We know that He was the model for our lives. But never once do we read any specifics about Jesus' worship "practices" while at the synagogue. Why? Because they didn't matter! They still don't. Regardless of what some might lead you to believe, worship begins with your decision every single day to live a surrendered life before God. It means choosing--in what you eat (yes, what you eat), what you say, what you do, how you spend your time--to submit your plan to His direction. God desires this far more than any particular action on Sunday morning. He is looking for you and I to worship Him hard...with everything we do. May that thought change how you and I approach this day...and every day that follows.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Questions

I believe that questions are as much a part of faith as are prayers and doctrinal statements. Consider this. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1: Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see. NLT

The writer is talking about confidence and assurance in the unknowns. One of the things I have learned in my faith journey--particularly in those darkest days after my wife and son died--is that God is not afraid of my questions. He can handle them.

The difference between the questioning believer and the cynic who refuses to believe is where you place your focus. I can choose to focus on questions that seemingly have no answers. Many of those are simply questions that will not be answered this side of heaven. Others are answered only by the supreme wisdom of God. But such a focus only leads to cynicism that destroys.

On the other hand, I can focus on what I know to be real: that the evidence is overwhelming that the Bible is real (from archaeology and historical documents), that a resurrected Jesus appeared to over 500 witnesses, that science continues to prove the necessity of an Intelligent Designer for creation. The questions are not what keeps me from believing in God. On the contrary, they are the things that remind me that He is God...I am not.

Don't be afraid to ask your questions. And, don't be afraid when all the answers are not readily available. "Seeing is believing" may be good for some things but, when it comes to faith, Hebrews reminds us that the unseen things are constant reminders of a God who is bigger than all of life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am blessed.

I have the great fortune of working with an amazing and talented group of people. I hope the Ridgeview family recognizes that as well. We just spent the day together praying through and working on the sermon series for the rest of this year.

MAN! It's gonna be good! God is positioning RCC for some really good stuff. We've got another 90 day reading plan coming up soon (don't panic, it's not the whole Bible this time around). We're also going to take a look at a wide range of topics and the Bible's perspective on each...from families to spiritual warfare, from the book of Philippians to what it means to be a real church. I'm inviting you to pray with us each week. I don't want one single word to be spoken or sung that doesn't honor God.

God is up to some really good stuff. I can't wait to share this journey with you.

Monday, May 10, 2010

I thought I'd share a funny story with you.

A couple of weeks ago, Lisa and I were out running errands. It was Friday afternoon, a beautiful spring day. We were coming out of the Academy Sports place where we had just bought a couple of things. I placed the items in the back seat of my truck, shut Lisa's door and started to walk around to my side.

On the other side of my truck was a white van, the kind that many of the service companies use for their employees. Standing between it and my door was a guy, probably in his mid 50s with salt and pepper hair. He had a big grin on his face and appeared to be very friendly. I expected him to greet me with a comment about the great weather or the new cooler I just bought.

His grin got even wider as he started to speak in his best Southern English:
"I got a good bird dawg I'll trade ya fer that purty lady in the truck there," he said, motioning towards Lisa.

I must admit. I was stunned. I didn't know how to react. I didn't know whether to laugh or get mad or to punch him or just to get in and lock the door. So, I said the only thing that came to mind, "No thanks. She's trained too well."

The look on my face told Lisa something was wrong. She immediately asked. I told her, "I can't decide if it's me or you or both of us but one of us has been violated."

Just goes to show there are fewer and fewer limits on what people will say in this world these days. I'm still not sure how I should have responded. But if any of you are looking for a good bird dog, I know just how you can get one...

Friday, May 07, 2010

This may not be a popular thought...

...but it's been expressed to me more than a dozen times this past week by senior adults, former politicians, a couple of friends and at least two strangers who were helping with clean up. I've thought it myself this week as I listened to the rising chorus of voices who were upset that the national media had basically ignored Nashville in the midst of it's worst disaster since the Civil War.

Here it goes. We don't need a federal government to bail us out, we just need each other. Now, before anyone screams, the money from FEMA will be a welcome assistance to families who experienced severe damage and loss. There is no doubt about it. But I will tell you (and I don't mind saying it) that, though my family has given financially and physically to help with clean up, the assistance we offered would have been exponentially more had I not had to pay taxes for a big government that doesn't know how to use the money I give them. (Feel free to ask me for examples of waste, I could spend several blogs talking about such things beginning with Health Care Reform...or Deform...I forget)

All we really need, as has been exhibited in Nashville this week, is each other. Before FEMA could start its paperwork or CNN could show up three days late or politicians could begin their posturing before the cameras, Nashville was rebuilding. Note that please...we weren't whining, weren't complaining, weren't looting or murdering or blaming others for what had happened. We were rebuilding. We were cleaning. We were serving each other. The bottom line, we were proving how strong the human spirit really is when it is exercised in loving others. Not standing in a line waiting for someone else to do what I am fully capable of doing myself.

I know. It's a controversial thought. I'll probably get railed on by many "anonymous commenters" telling me that I'm wrong or crazy. But I don't have to say much more as proof...I simply offer story after story of friends loving friends, strangers helping strangers and hours of video evidence that Nashville will still be Nashville when this is all done. She will only be stronger because of the hearts of its very fine people. Please continue to pray for the people of Nashville. And enjoy just one example of what we have experienced this week....

Thursday, May 06, 2010

So many images

I'm sitting in my office this morning (Thursday) before we head out again to support the relief efforts in Franklin. I am reflecting on the images I have seen this week. Many will be impossible to forget. There were the homes in Hard Bargain--an area of Franklin filled with families that struggle to get the basics for life--flooded with muddy water...and families helping each other clean out their messes.

There was the image of mud and filthy water spilling from insulation in the home of a single mom who lived "far away" from the flooding because she wasn't "near a river." Her damage came from a storm drain that couldn't handle the rain and put 5 feet of water in her backyard.

There was the image of a dear friend of mine, a young woman, who broke down in tears as she was forced to throw away some of the last physical memories of her dad she loved dearly. More than just pictures, it's clothes, greeting cards and notes that can never be written in or worn again.

It's the image of people helping people. Complete strangers stopping to check on each other. It's the image of the Church being the church in a world that needs us.

But one image that will never leave my mind came yesterday. We were helping a lady whose home was a complete loss. When we arrived yesterday, there were young men standing in the yard that I assumed were local college students. I would soon find out that these were young soldiers from Fort Campbell, KY who had volunteered their time to come and assist. Here's the thing...they leave next week for Afghanistan. It would be easy for them to check off "serving" on their card. They are doing their part. But they wanted to do more. So they gave of their last week in the U.S. to give back even more. As they were preparing to leave, the lady began to say her good-byes and hug their necks. She said, "Would you guys do me one last favor? Would you lock arms with me and allow me the privilege of praying for you as you prepare to leave?"

I'm not gonna lie. I teared up. I watched as a dozen young men from varied backgrounds locked arms with a lady they had not known 8 hours before and respectfully bowed their heads to listen as she prayed blessings over them. It was a powerful image...one that won't get air time on the news or even make the local paper. It's one that I will carry with me for a long time as one of the most powerful of the Flood of 2010.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

What a day

Wow! I don't know who originated the phrase but it's absolutely true: there is nothing quite like the Church when it is being the Church. It's been a thing of beauty to watch over the last few days as Middle Tennessee has waded out from under the worst flooding in over 100 years. I am one very proud pastor...and an even more proud follower of Christ! The Ridgeview family has been right in the middle of it, getting their hands dirty. The needs have been as varied as the people who are meeting them, but that's what makes the body of Christ so beautiful. Here are just a few of the ways our Ridgeview family has been involved since Monday:
  • housing displaced families
  • providing transportation for individuals who lost their cars
  • buying and delivering cases of water to relief workers
  • kenneling the animals of flooded families
  • comforting a man who lost not only his home but his business in the flood
  • volunteering with the Red Cross, Graceworks, United Way and other relief organizations
  • moving furniture out of homes...moving furniture back into homes
  • taking clothes donations to shelters
  • providing meals to families and relief workers
  • ripping out drywall in the homes of single moms
  • making cash donations to organizations that are providing relief
  • and on and on and on
Thank you so much, Ridgeview family. I am very blessed to serve as your pastor. But now is not the time to let up. As we prayed this morning in our staff time, I asked them to focus specifically on praying for the long term recovery. It's so easy to jump in and offer assistance in those first days after disaster. Let's remember that the recovery (emotional, financial, physical, mental, spiritual) will go on for weeks and months. Let us not forget to be Jesus in every corner of our community. We cannot fail to pray, to go, to serve and to love in the days after the world has forgotten this flood.

For my friends outside Middle Tennessee who are asking how you can help, here is your answer. Don't ever underestimate the power of your prayers for the people involved...both the ones touched by the disaster and the ones who are helping to stabilize the victims. Your prayers are the energy source for the Church as she demonstrates Christ to this community. Also, if you feel led, donations to the area are welcomed. You may donate to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army (Nashville's branch was hit hard by the flood) or to our assistance fund here at Ridgeview. I am so proud of our churches...every church in this area that proclaims the name of Christ...for the way they continue to respond. If you follow Christ, you should be as well.

Monday, May 03, 2010

And the rains ceased...

...finally. I don't think I've ever lived through a rainier 48 hours in my life. Based on what I've heard, this area of Thompson's Station (where we live) got over 13" of rain during that period. The funny thing is this, I've never seen a brighter, sunnier day than I have today.

Those dark days enable you to appreciate the sun and warmth so much better. I'm not talking about storms or flooding any more. I'm talking about life. I'm talking about having everything put into perspective. I'm talking about the realities we all face and how we can blow them out of proportion. Everyone has a story to tell (believe me, standing in the Chic-fil-a an hour ago I was laughing at the SUV mom's telling their "stories" from the weekend.). Everyone has dark days and storms. We begin to realize that a few inches of rain (or five leaks in your roof) are nothing compared to homes destroyed or, greater still, the loss of a loved one. Darkness, you see, can be relative. We simply hang on knowing that the sun will come and, when it does, we'll be much more thankful for its presence.

Thanks for all the prayers for Middle TN as we recover from the rains. Clean up has begun and will hit full force tomorrow and the days after as the rains subside and we are able to move in and assess the damages. To my fellow Ridgies, thank you for having a heart to serve and to love this community. Please continue to call the office if you are available to serve. We will do our best to keep you abreast of the needs as they are made known to us.

Put your arks away for another day. The sun is back...and, oh, how sweet it is to see it.