Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Farewell My Friend

While many men collect many different things. Jim had a different passion.

Some men collect golf trophies, hunting trophies and tennis trophies. Some even collect trophy wives. But Jim collected trophies of grace. He loved the Lord and thrilled to see people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Then he loved to see them grow up in faith. He loved to tell people that my wife was one of those trophies of grace.

Here is one story that could be repeated over and over by people all over the country. My wife Anita was new to Brentwood as a high schooler.  Jim was the minister of youth at Brentwood Baptist. Jim visited Anita's house and personally invited Anita and her brother to church and youth activities. At the same time Jim was discipling Allyson, who would soon disciple Anita and several others in Christ.  Allyson ended up at Seminary and is now serving the New England Baptist Convention as a Student Ministry specialist. She has now discipled many generations of students. Anita ended up at seminary with yours truly and she has discipled scores of people too. Jim loved Jesus Christ and the fruit of his ministry is being passed down from generation to generation.

I remember the first time I met Jim, it was before I went to seminary and Anita and I drove from Knoxville to Chattanooga. He had brought his youth group from L.A., i.e. Lower Alabama, to Covenant College to student camp. He was so encouraging to me and told me to definitely move forward to seminary.

The second time I met Jim was when Anita and I had gone to Southwestern Seminary, he happened to be in Fort Worth on business and took us to dinner at Joe T. Garcia’s. He loved his Mexican food. We had enjoyed the meal and he was about to pick up the check and I jokingly told him that God had told me to buy his lunch and I pulled out a credit card. He laughed and called me a liar and said God knows everything and knows that Joe T. Garcia’s doesn’t take credit cards.

I loved how Jim didn’t pull any punches, he always told it like it was. Even when it got him into trouble he was going to tell the truth about a situation. You always knew where you stood with Jim. He would call out your sin and laugh, but you also knew he loved you no matter what.

When he moved back to Nashville. He was looking for another ministry opportunity. I had just taken a senior pastor position and knew that I would love to have him help with the students even if we could only afford part time, while he continued his job search.The church voted on him and we got to watch as he loved those kids just like he had all the others before.

Jim  mentored me well for almost 30 years. Jim has spiritual children and grandchildren around the world who are pastors, denominational leaders, teachers, deacons, and strong Jesus followers in the secular world. 

Jim was not perfect,  he never claimed to be but he always pointed to the grace of Jesus. Jim's road was not easy, yet he always persevered. Cancer took him too soon, but we have to trust that God’s timing is always right. 

Jim loved students and loved to see them grow toward Christ. He especially liked the hard cases... those who were too cool, too shy, too messed up or too angry. Which is probably why he agreed to mentor me! He never gave up on anyone. He always had hope and gave that hope to those around him. He loved his Mexican food, his ministry and his Jesus. 

Jim,  We will miss you, but we are confident that the One who saved you has saved us too and we will spend all eternity with Him. Farewell my friend!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Parenting Safari

As our family grew I lost any of the coolness that I ever thought I had.  As more bundles of joy began blessing our home, the first thing to go was the sporty SUV.  We needed something much more practical, a Minivan.  We started with two old Chrysler Town and Countrys with wood panel decals, then finally a GMC Safari. That van had three rows of “don’t make me come back there” seating. It was “so not cool”, but we discovered that the minivan was a great place to disciple our kids. They were captive in car seats, they had no control over the audio, and it was the first place Mom could help them process what happened at school, sports practice, or a friend’s house.

With four kids, we were always going somewhere… school, soccer, dance, swim, church and long trips to see the relatives. The minivan became a little chapel on wheels for our kids and their friends. We began with an opening prayer for a “hedge of protection” around our vehicle. As you can imagine, these preacher’s kids also had to listen to Bible Songs, Kids’ Praise music, and every episode of Veggietales. (And if you turned it up loud enough it would drown out even the most obnoxious whining.) When it was a bad day, conversations were steered toward God’s amazing love and forgiveness. When there were challenges to be faced the next day with a tough assignment or a difficult classmate, the discussion turned toward a Biblical life lesson. And when an ambulance came by we prayed for anyone who was hurt. The kids soon learned scripture and godly values as they rode around.

We also learned to share cheetos in that van and learned to respect each other and wait our turn to talk. We had a lot of joy in that van too... Singing together (we are definitely not the Von Trapp family) and we often got to hear the latest joke or funny incident at school.

Perhaps some of the most important discipling came during middle school carpools. My wife would sit, listen and gently steer the conversation back to something more healthy when the language took a turn for the worse.Once, my wife had a daily 45 minute commute each way to the gym with 7 middle school cheerleaders. She was not sure what kind of impact her driver’s seat discipling had made on these girls from various family backgrounds. But when one of them broke her elbow trying to do a handspring, they all ran straight to my wife asking for prayer and looking to her for support.  

Maybe that rolling Bible-to-life-lesson classroom in the uncool van did make a difference… our adult children still want to follow Jesus...

Deuteronomy 6:5-7 (NIV) Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you go along the road... 

This article appeared in GoodNews Christian Magazine March 2018, Page 22.

Sometimes God Has To Write It In The Sky

Our first (and only) time to go to Disney as a family, we had talked to all of our friends who were Disney fanatics. They told us how to make reservations to the resort and to the best dinner places around the parks, about the Disney dining plan, about how to ride all the best rides, how to make your dollar go further, what days to do the park hopper, where to see the fireworks and parades, transportation to the park, how to stay late, how to see the characters. These people knew everything. So, with much fear and trepidation I said, “okay Anita make the reservation.”

My wife did all her homework and made reservations for us. Of course, for the McGinnis clan we have to have enough room to sleep 6. So, Anita gets a really great Disney representative on the phone who set us up with adjoining rooms, a reasonable meal plan and park passes for 4 days for a reasonable price.

We always try to stay positive for our kids. When they are anxious we try to remind them of Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV), which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” However, God usually has to remind me too.

 On the long drive to Orlando, I start getting anxious. I’m thinking, “We are going to get there and the plans are going to fall apart.” I was thinking “Wow, I am so Disney ignorant. What happens if we have a terrible time? I will have wasted all this money and all this time and we didn’t get any closer as a family.”

 We get to “the happiest place on earth” the night before our first park day. I get a few hours of restless sleep at the All-star Value Resort and the next morning I get up and go poolside to do my regular quiet time. So, in my journal I talk to God about my worries and anxieties about us going to the Disney parks for 4 days with 4 kids. Finally, in desperation I write, “Okay God, if this is all going to work out, You are just going to have to write it in the sky.”

 So, we get in the Safari van and head to the park. As we are driving into the parking lot, the kids say, “Hey dad, that airplane is writing letters in the sky.” It says, T.R.U.S.T and under it is says, J.E.S.U.S.” So, the rest of the week, I did. I had that peace that guards your hearts and minds. I didn’t need secret insider knowledge of Disney. All I needed was Jesus. Now, whenever I get anxious about anything, my wife and kids say, “hey dad, that airplane is writing words in the sky.”

This article appeared on page 24 of the GoodNews Chattanooga Magazine in May 2018, click here to see it.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Neck Stretching, Leaning Forward, Tippy-Toed Christmas Anticipation

Christmas mornings as kids, my sister and I woke up really early. Many times we were sent back to bed for another hour or two.  Trying to stay in the bed when my heart was racing in anticipation of what could be under the Christmas tree was often a task too great for this youngster.  

Sometimes I would sneak back into the living room with the lights out hoping to see the outline of any of the gifts that were left unwrapped.  In the low light I could see faint outlines of what I thought was the gift I had “always wanted.”  Then my heart would race even faster as I imagined myself riding the new Big Wheel, pogo stick, moon shoes (now those were an accident waiting to happen!) or shooting a Red Ryder BB gun (“you’ll shoot your eye out kid”).

But the year I thought I would get that Spyder bike with the cool “monkey hanger” handle bars with black simulated leather tassels and the “banana seat,” the picture in my mind was too much. I was so absorbed in my imagination,  I even caught myself making “udn, udn” noises as if the bike was motorized, and then I had to look around in embarrassment to make sure no one had heard me.  The anticipation had me standing on my toes peeking in, leaning forward, straining my eyes in the dark to see if I really saw that bike.

The Bible  says that creation is doing the same thing, standing on its tippy toes straining to see something. However, creation does this longing to see which of us are true believers in Jesus. Romans 8:19 says,“For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.” Apparently, in the Greek this verse paints a picture of someone literally watching with outstretched head, standing on tiptoes and eyes looking ahead, totally absorbed with intent expectancy.
Mary and Joseph awaited the Messiah whom God told them she would bear that first Christmas. Every birth pang brought a little more anticipation of the Advent of Christ. There are birth pangs and anticipation again, from all creation this time for Christ’s Second Advent. Romans 8:22 says, For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
Jesus is coming again and true believers are living life leaning forward in anticipation. They are telling their friends and family about this great gift of salvation from God. Like kids eagerly anticipating Christmas morning, creation is eagerly waiting for God to reveal Himself and His true children.  Jesus is coming back to save those who are leaning forward with tiptoed eagerness.  Hebrews 9:28 says,  “so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

This article appeared in GoodNews Chattanooga Magazine in December 2017, Page 36

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Decline of Gross National Happiness!

Happiness seems to be at an all time lull. The 80’s, 90’s, 2000's were times of such growth for square footage of homes, the increase of the stock portfolio, the luxury of the car, the number of adventures we could boast and yet that all hit a limit and we weren’t all that much happier. When the internet exploded we had access to anything and everything we had never seen before. It seems nothing is new under the Sun. If you think you have done something, just wait, you will soon discover someone else beat you to it. If you have created something novel, chances are someone has invented it before. Creativity seems to have peaked and now we are Zombie eyed wanters, staring at screens for hours on end, ever seeking, but we "still haven’t found what (we’re) looking for."  We seem to be addicted to the chemicals that wash through our brains when we discover something new on the "interwebs."  We seem addicted to the browsing behavior, but the very things that grab our attention are gone from the screen as we seek the next big wave to surf.  The horizons seem boundless, yet we are trapped in the vastness of the cyber universe.  At the same time the commonalities that serve to attract us to connect with each other, seem to be less and less exciting. The elicited slope to boredom seems to take us so low compared to the super highs of the funny, striking, or appalling pages. We are in sort of a cyber Babylon, each pursuing our own little universe, but not really connecting with anyone else. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Trust Your Training

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)

I have a friend who is a bicycle training coach with Echelon Cycling. His teams always do well in the competitions they enter. His training is intense and disciplined. Just before each race he tells each team member, “Trust Your Training.”  He knows that at points in the race, there are factors that trigger adrenaline and competitive fervor and cause you to take off like a rabbit. But that doesn’t leave energy for the rest of the race… and as we know from the childhood classic The Tortoise and The Hare, the race doesn’t always go to the fastest. (With the possible exception of Usain Bolt).

There are times in parenting when we can lose sight of how to raise our kids to follow Christ and we are just trying to hang on to the end of the race. There were lots of times in our home with four children that the chaos was pretty extreme.  I remember when an unsuspecting neighbor, who was an only child, came to our house for the first time after school.  All he could do was stand frozen at the door with his eyes and mouth wide open as pandemonium ensued… it was loud... backpacks and shoes had been dropped like landmines from the door to the pantry, in spite of their mother’s instruction to put everything in their “cubbies.”  The tyranny of the urgent need to get a snack had reduced them to hypoglycemic little gremlins racing for the snack box.  Eventually some semblance of  order returned after they had been revived by fruit rollups ( at the time it was a “healthy snack choice” now, we are not sure).

As parents, my wife and I heard different messages about how best to parent our children according to the latest trend. There was always a plethora of material out there, some of it was good, but some of it was modified puppy training. If we expect Pavlovian responses in our kids when they are small we can’t be surprised if they dog us when they are teens. Parenting is about healthy relationships, not just behavior modification. Though our little angels definitely needed behavior modification, we hoped do it in the context of a loving relationship with Jesus.

When my son was in college, we were a little worried if we had done our job with this human being God had placed in our lives.  His mother asked him if he was behaving.  He said, “Mom, trust your parenting!” We took a little guarded optimism about not ruining them completely. By God’s grace they are all still “in the faith.”

Parenting can be treacherous and confusing. But in the end when you pray a lot, stay in His Word and love them well, you will train up your children in the way they should go and they will not depart from it.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

Falling In Love at UT.

In February 2013, The Torchbearer Magazine ran a story about Falling in Love at UT.  I submitted this article. You can see all the articles here.

Living only five minutes from UT, I was raised a Vol….When my college years came around, I went to another university for undergrad but later enrolled in UT seeking a master’s degree in communications. My faculty advisor required leveling classes in communications before I could begin the master’s program. I ended up in class with a great group of undergraduate communications students in the Alpha Epsilon Rho communications honors program. We had classes together, spent time writing stories and working “on the air” at WUTK. We traveled together to New York, Cincinnati, and other places to experience great broadcast entertainment and news outlets.
In one of those early classes, a beautiful blonde with big ’80s hair turned my head. After a couple of weeks in the program, I noticed Anita Grossmann and her friend Amy McLemore sitting on my row in a broadcast news class. This was my chance; I was going to talk to Anita. As class dismissed, I put my plan into motion. As the two girls walked past my desk, I stepped out between them. Anita didn’t notice that I was now walking right behind her. She asked Amy, without looking back, “When are we going to see that movie?” Without missing a beat, I replied, “I thought you’d never ask.” She turned around, startled to hear a male voice, and said something like, “I wasn’t talking to you.” But in spite of my awkward start, our conversation continued for the next several weeks.
Eventually, both of us were sent to cover the same news story for the class and it involved traveling across town. I eagerly volunteered to drive us. Our assignment was to cover an event called “Great Communication in Marriage.” Afterwards I took her to what used to be Grady’s Restaurant for dinner, and the rest, as we say, was history. I was in love. We went through some bumps and rattles those dating years—even survived a broken engagement—but we have been married for twenty-two wonderful years, and have four children, ages twelve to eighteen.
I am currently a pastor in Chattanooga, and Anita is a Christian communicator and full-time mom. We still make it back to Rocky Top, and the memories of friends, hanging out on Circle Park Drive, deejaying for WUTK, and yelling for our Vols flood our minds. Our kids, though they act bored with our stories, actually enjoy hearing of those great days “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” We both have unforgettable memories of our time at UT; it was great to be young and in love at UT!