Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wide Eyed Anticipation

Christmas mornings as a kid, I woke up very early, which thrilled my parents. Many times I got up so early that I was sent back to bed for another hour so that my parents could get a little sleep. Just trying to stay in the bed when your heart was racing in anticipation of what could be under the Christmas tree was a task too great for this youngster. Several times I would sneak into the living room with the lights off just to see if I could make out any of the gifts Santa had left unwrapped (like he sometimes did at my house). 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 pictured myself riding the new Big Wheel, pogo stick, moon shoes or shooting my bow and arrow straight into the enemy target.

But the year I thought it could be that bike with the cool “monkey hanger” handle bars and real simulated black leather tassels, a “chopper” like front fork, and a “banana seat,” I almost couldn’t restrain myself. I even caught myself making “udn, udn” noises out loud as if the bike was motorized, but then I looked around in embarrassment to make sure I hadn’t woken anyone else up. The anticipation had me standing on my toes peeking over the couch, straining my eyes to see if it really was that bike.

The Apostle Paul says that all creation is doing that very same thing; straining to see which of us earth dwelling humans are really God’s children. The dim shadows of what I thought were the handle bars of my dream bike could have actually been just Christmas tree branches. In the world before Jesus returns, creation also can’t distinguish between real believers and those who just say they are believers in Jesus. When the “Light of the world”(Jn. 8:12) comes on to Earth again, everyone will be revealed for who they are and creation will celebrate the revelation of God’s children.

Romans 8:19 (HCSB) For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.

John MacArthur’s commentary says, the Greek word for “anticipation” means anxious longing and “is an especially vivid word that literally refers to watching with outstretched head, and suggests standing on tiptoes with the eyes looking ahead with intent expectancy. The…idea (suggests) fixed absorption and concentration on that which is anticipated. The creation is standing on tiptoes, as it were, as it waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.”

This Christmas I want to encourage you to watch and listen with intent expectancy for ways God asks you to reveal His only begotten Son to someone; so that they can be revealed as children of God when Light comes on the scene again.

The year I got that bike, I celebrated. I rode that bike all the time. Cold weather, warm weather, across the driveway, down the street, by myself, with my friends, with no hands, with no feet, on one wheel, on no wheels (jumping on a homemade ramp)…I enjoyed that bike for many years. When Jesus returns, we have an eternity of celebrating to do. Make sure you and your friends are ready.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Day Was Anything But UGA-ly.




What a great Saturday! My 15 year old son has wanted to go to a UGA game for as long as I can remember. So my wife said, "Let’s drive down and see if we can get tickets." We left Chattanooga a little after 8 a.m. We arrived on campus just before kickoff, so the Blonde Bombshell (with Bible Power) jumped out secured a couple of tickets as I maneuvered through the traffic. Then she jumped in the driver’s side and found a parking place, while the young man and I made our way to Sanford Stadium and up to where the air is clear (and hot). We both stood at the rail with chill bumps as the “Ahhhhhh crescendoed into, “Gooo Dawgs, Sick’em, Woof, Woof, Woof” when Blair Walsh kicked off.

It was a great day of SEC football… for my son. I, on the other hand, was kinda quiet as my grad school alma mater was being embarrassed. It was like a Georgia highlight reel the whole game and a blooper reel for Tennessee. UGA thoroughly thumped UT, 41-14. As one UT fan near us said, “Tennessee was playing ‘flag football’”, riddled with penalties, miscues and mistakes. I wasn't too upset by the loss. These teams have played each other for over 100 years. There is always next year for the rivalry, but having a teen son to enjoy the game with has a shorter shelf life.

I wouldn’t have traded this day for anything – I will never forget the excitement on my son’s face and the chill bumps we had as we watched the teams rush onto the field with the bands playing in loud competition. There was the sea of red shirts and pom-poms with a few orange sections. There where Georgia flags, cheerleaders, and mascots (both real and costumed). This was a memory I hope he remembers fondly. I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend this time with him (I hear the clock ticking… he is growing up).

I am also appreciative of my wife’s initiative in making this memory and her sacrifice to not go into the stadium (she is as much of a UT fan as anyone). She toured campus and window shopped with the 3 girls in Athens instead.

Psalms 127:3 (CEV) Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord.

P.S My wife and I are puzzled by one thing. We have never quite figured out why our son is such a Dawg fan. He was born in Georgia and only lived there for about 9 months, but he is decidedly and passionately a Georgia fan. My wife and I have tried to talk him into becoming a Tennessee fan seeing how his mom and dad both have a degree from Rocky Top, we have lived in Tennessee for more than 10 years, his uncle played football there in the early 80’s and several other relatives have graduated from there. His dad, yours truly, was even a “flag boy” for UT basketball during the Ray Mears years. I dressed in an orange blazer, black pants, white shirt and carried a big sign on a stick. When the ball was shot, another flag boy and I held up the sign that said “ZIP,” when the ball went in the basket, we held up the sign that said, “BOTTOM.” If it was a really good shot we jumped up with our signs and ran around Stokely Athletic center, high fived each other and returned to our place. (We were sort of ancient perambulating Jumbotrons that flashed signs to the crowd as to what say.) If for nothing else, he should follow UT out of sympathy for his dad's fanatical childhood behavior.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What a Summer!

What a Summer! God is great…
  • some less fortunate kids in the Greenville, SC area blessed my wife and my two high school kids as they spent some time with them at M-Fuge,
  • an inmate's testimony about God encouraged one of my middle school daughters to do more to help people while on her mission trip to Gulf Coast,
  • some Peruvian kids helped my teenage son see a bigger picture and practice his Spanish as he and 9 other teens trekked through the mountains and towns of Peru with Good News,
  • some young leaders inspired my pre-teen daughters and me to greater faith at a Centri-Kid camp close to home,
  • some instructors encouraged my wife at the She Speaks speakers' conference
  • an aunt with cancer ministered to us (as we had intended to do for her)while we were on our vacation.

It seems to always work that way: you do some ministry, invest some time or money, or go on some mission trip intending to help someone else and God humbles you by giving you so much more than you could offer.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." - Jesus from Luke 6:38

Friday, May 28, 2010

Why Have a Home and Away Schedule for Church

Several of of our church members asked a great question: “Since we have great space and facilities at the Meadows (our large recreation area),why did we choose to go to three different locations for our yearly patriotic community event, Celebrate America, this year?”

Here is my attempt at answering this question. In staff meeting our recreation minister, John Lemons introduced the idea to us that we all have a HOME and AWAY strategy for reaching people for Christ.

We have lots of HOME events on our beautiful campus: Pumpkin Patch, Celebrate America, Easter Egg Hunt, Choir specials, Holiday events, as well as, our every Sunday and Wednesday activities. We also host a 5 day/week Child Development Center, a Community Kids after school program, and a Camp Ridgedale that bring hundreds of children and their families to our church each day. We also have the Summit Counseling Center and a host of Recreation activities like softball and all the Upward programs. This “come to our campus,” HOME strategy, is a great strategy for reaching people for Christ, but its only half the picture. Each of the things I have mentioned are wonderful activities and God has blessed us with many people who have chosen to follow Christ as a result of these kinds of HOME events.

However, we don’t have quite as many AWAY events; the kinds of events where we go out to the community as a church to be salt and light. This year, we wanted to try some more events where Ridgedale goes to where people are who may not have an inclination (at least initially) to come to our campus. Perhaps this point is best illustrated by a true story.

Last summer, as a service opportunity, Ridgedale helped build a playground for the East Brainerd community at East Brainerd Elementary School. There were volunteers from the community, local businesses, the fire department, and from other churches. Several from our church helped out during this week long project including our Senior Pastor, Brother Bill. Helping with this event was a wonderful young man and his family. This young man began working with some of the Ridgedale team members (enjoyed their fun and friendly, albeit sometimes snarky disposition) and he was invited to come to Ridgedale for worship and Bible Study. The man and his family visited several times and recently joined the church. The man had chosen to follow Jesus many years ago, but had never been baptized. I had the great privilege of baptizing the young man in April. This man didn’t hesitate to help with a Pavilion building project a few weeks ago. He recently attended Bible study and helped with our first Celebrate America this summer (AWAY event).

To summarize: we went off campus for an AWAY opportunity, met a family who had never been to our church services, invited them to worship and study the Bible (HOME events) with us, they came, they joined, he was baptized, they became active in God’s work through HOME and AWAY events. That is awesome!

So there’s one answer to the reason we are doing 3 Celebrate America events in the community instead of on our campus this year. Next year, we plan for Celebrate America to be on the HOME schedule again.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Treasure of an Encourager

I was at a funeral with my dad a couple of days ago and saw a long time family friend. My mother and this special woman have been friends since I was in elementary school. Immediately, this lady walked toward us greeted us with a beautiful smile and words of endearment. Instantly, I was filled with a renewed appreciation for the positive and encouraging heart of this wonderful woman. It was like finding a treasure that you misplaced years ago, but found serendipitously with its value tremendously appreciated over time.

Her eyes sparkled and a smile broke out across her face with every pause in the conversation. As we stood in the parking lot on a beautiful spring day her healthy silvery hair was blowing around her face like an aura of positivity. This woman has the rare ability to always affirm you just by the way she tilts her head and looks at you when she listens to what you have to say. She always boosts your esteem with comments like, “that’s great!” which make you feel like you’ve just told her the most wonderful and interesting thing ever. She makes you laugh and lifts your spirits with witty words and Barnabas-ish quips in response. Whenever you ask her a question, she always adeptly weaves the focus of the conversation back to the person she knows you like to talk about the most…yourself.

We all reminisced about yearly family vacations to the beach and an unforgettable 2 week tour of the Western U.S. with 6 kids and 4 adults in one RV. She recalled specific memorable moments from those adventures that made us all snicker and laugh and sigh with fond remembrance. As we visited for just a few minutes, I realized what a treasure this woman is to those who are privileged to interact with her. She always sees negative situations from a positive perspective and helps you see it too. Her four children enjoy the empowerment and success that comes from the lifetime of accolades and affirmations of a proud mother.

After seeing this woman again, I was glad to know that nothing had changed about her except the fact that she had become even more adept at saying the most optimistic words at just the right moment. She is an expert encourager and an inspiration to me. I pray I can encourage like she does.

Hebrews 3:12-13 (NIV) See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.

Monday, March 8, 2010

March Miracles

I have the privilege of coaching some great young leaders at a local gymnastics gym (Jill’s Gym). I think it’s wonderful when the extraordinary happens in March every year. Somehow, as if by miracle, many of the cheerleaders suddenly learn things or execute skills they have been trying to accomplish for months. Cheerleading tryouts seem to bring out the best in these young ladies.

I don’t know if it’s just their competitive nature, but girls who haven’t been able to manage a back-handspring by themselves since last year’s tryouts are able to do it again as if by divine enablement at the vernal equinox. If they can do a back-handspring now, and could do one year ago, why can’t they seem to manage it the other 10 months of the year? Maybe they are just not motivated. Maybe they talk or think themselves out of it. Or maybe the muscles just atrophy from lack of use. But many of the girls are in the gym all year around and just don’t perform up to the same level they do at tryout time. It is an interesting dynamic. It seems flip-flops (an old school term for back-handsprings) come out in the spring with the warm weather both inside and outside the gym.

But don’t we all do this to a certain extent? I remember a few years ago before my wife’s class reunion; we suddenly started eating a lot healthier, we worked out a lot more and one of us had to go and get our hair highlighted (she always looks great, but she looked exceptional!). Then when the reunion was over, it was back to less healthy eating, less regular exercise and other bad habits. We seemed to perform up to what we wanted to when we wanted to.

What if we could keep that kind of motivation all the time? I know, I know… some people perform exceptionally well all the time. They keep their weight in a healthy range, they eat healthy, they workout, they can execute a back-handspring anytime. But if the rest of us are capable of loosing weight for a reunion, or performing a back-handspring for tryouts, or whatever, why don’t we do it all the time? I’m guessing there are several answers for these phenomena, but it probably has much to do with how we see ourselves when we aren’t trying to impress someone, compete with them, etc.

Unfortunately, a similar thing happens in our walk of faith. We go through fits and starts in our spiritual life. We go to a camp, seminar, or (back in the day) a revival, and we are “on fire” for God. Or we understand some important bit of wisdom. But then life happens and we somehow loose traction and don’t live what we know to be true (we used to call it backsliding). Paul the Apostle encourages us to not go backwards in our faith walk, but build on what we have already learned. Philippians 3:15-16 (NIV) All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

I love to see a cheerleader get a back-handspring AGAIN just before tryouts, but it thrills me even more when a cheerleader can build on that skill and perform at a higher level the next year. God must enjoy seeing his children live up to what he has already taught them and enabled them to do.

Keep Moving Forward in life and faith! I want to encourage you to live up to what you have attained before. God has gifted you and enabled you to do some pretty awesome things. Keep using your gifts, doing good, and living well.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

True Love Endures

I was in my parent’s home Valentines weekend. I witnessed again True Love in first person.

My father carefully, faithfully, and tirelessly cares for the love of his life. She is his wife of 50+ years and my mother. This woman, who used to talk all the time, is no longer able to communicate more than just a word or two at a time.

About 8 years ago the symptoms of a cruel disease began to change my mother from a sharp, active, involved person into a woman who is now able to do little more than life’s basic functions. All her life she took care of other people. She hosted them in her home. She visited them in the hospital. She encouraged them in the nursing home. She cooked meals, kept kids, and inconvenienced herself to help other people in need in any way she could. She was always looking for someone she could help in a practical but unique way. She doted over my dad for more than 40 years, attending to his every whim. But now she is the one in need.

My father treats her as his special wife, the one he promised to care for in sickness and health more than a half century ago. In exhaustion a couple of years ago, he had to get some help from a nursing facility. However, he couldn’t stand being away from this woman who had never left his side. Every day he drove more than 25 miles each way to see her for not much more than a few minutes. He couldn’t stand the pain of separation any longer, and found an in-home assistant who could help him care for her so he would never have to be far from her.

I watched and wept as the movie, The Notebook, unfolded a story only too true to my parents. My father is the picture of gentleness. He listens as she tries to read and he reads to her, knowing she will not remember the last sentence. He uses his knowledge as a retired physician to see that she has the right meds and good nutrition. He takes care of her every physical need. He talks sweetly to her as if they were a young couple madly in love. He kisses her forehead and holds her hand. He admitted a few years ago that he was losing the woman of his dreams a little each day, but he has never treated her as anything other than the girl he begged to marry him as a young pre-med student.

Though my father grew up in church, he was not so faithful in attending, until she came along and made it clear that the WHOLE family would be in church together. She taught Sunday School for many years and she influenced him to accept ordination as a deacon, as well as, direct a Sunday School class for their peers. He still takes her to church every Sunday she is able.

Unless the miraculous happens, (and we all still pray for this) she will never recover from this disease this side of heaven. But my father, as long as he is able will love her with a giving, sacrificial love that goes beyond understanding. I pray I’m never entrusted with this kind of care for a loved one, but if I am, my prayer is that I can be as loving and gentle and doting as my father is with my mother.

Ephesians 5:25 (NIV) Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Fly in the Ointment

Wow, great weekend! Don’t you love it when you are able to live out some of the values you are hoping to cultivate in your life… like enjoying the happiness of connection time with family and friends… or the pleasure that comes when you assist someone in your community in some way…or when you are able to escape to a meaningful encounter with the One who is most important in your life?

I had one of those weekends. Looking back, it was a weekend that incites me to gratitude. He even opened up some time to invest in important areas of my life that have sometimes been neglected. As an added bonus, I felt like my family risked some healthy authenticity in areas we’d prefer to protect.

Even after the great weekend I just described, I am so tempted to dwell only on the negatives. I get so sidetracked by the coming stresses of the week I am unable reflect and be grateful. It is like Solomon’s proverbial “fly in the ointment” (Ecc.10:1). I have an extraordinary weekend, spent with extraordinary people, which holds the potential to grow me in wisdom and help me see the value in doing honorable things with good people. Yet, I jump out of bed, slide into a Velcro jumpsuit, strap on the bungee harness and launch myself backward toward the place I was months ago. In mid-flight I find myself hopeful that the Velcro has too much disgusting life lent from past launches to stick. Ultimately, I’m launched forward again to see where I’m headed and land safely where I need to be right now.

I’m ready to outgrow the negative stress and enjoy the strengthening opportunities of positive stress. So, I am choosing (with God’s enabling Power) to think about the good, the noble, the positive, the progress... I really do want the “more than” me >, in spite of my inane attempts to return to the “less than” me < in the piteous limbo of non-progress (which is also considered death to some).

The One who began this work in me will complete it.

Thanks to some extraordinary people and One extraordinary God.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Getting Back on the Dream Ship

My wife and I started a popular cd based financial peace class yesterday on our date day (I know…I’m so romantic! “Come on baby; I know it’s not a cruise, but let’s sit on the couch and do a money class together. Look deeply into my eyes and listen to the voice of a humorous financial guru.”) Though we had taken financial classes many years ago, we felt we were in need of a refresher to help dispel the bad habits that had claimed squatters’ rights in the abandoned wreckage of our personal financial principles.

We have definitely become over-consuming, ad susceptible, materialistic squid (you know, lots of grabbing tentacles and no backbone) …funny how the “must haves” of teenage children can weaken your resolve and cause you to make even more unwise financial choices. We felt it was time to go in and try to rescue our money management skills before they sink to a point of salvage only operations.

I recently did one of those life-circle exercises that evaluates several areas of your life like spiritual, family, friends, finances, career, adventure, etc and plots them on a wheel graph (from http://darrenhardy.success.com/) … I wasn’t too surprised by the results. Based on the ways I have invested the hours, days, and weeks of my life over the last several years there are some areas that couldn’t help but grow, others, however, are like starfish stumps just starting to grow back. The self-study revealed the ways I’ve have become like a flounder, myopically focused only in one general direction, but totally missing anything from other directions. It would explain why we were so easily caught by some medical, house, and vehicle financial snags in the last year.

Even with another 8 hour/wk job, money seems even tighter. Of course we added braces, cheer uniforms, camps, cool clothes, more fuel, car insurance increases and various other pubescent necessities. But it is not like this is some kind of life surprise. (“Well look honey, those little varmints grew up. They are eating everything in sight and outgrowing their clothes every week. How’d that happen?”) We knew this was coming, but the teenage tuna net somehow it snuck up on us anyway and we joined the millions of people being dragged into the cargo hold of the U.S.S Credit Card Debt. (It is one of a huge fleet that promises to finance the dreams of many, but somehow the commodores seem to benefit far more than those on their ships.)

Somehow, just like sedentary barnacles, we have become financially complacent bottom feeders who don’t care that the build up of useless life stuff has slowed the forward progress of our life’s own dream ship, so we thought it would be a good idea to abandon ship and pay someone else a premium to tow us along, but we’re finding out they are not charted for the destination we had hoped. Like Nemo, we hope to swim against the tide and win our freedom.

We’ve prayed about it and have kept giving our tithe, but now we have to work on the self-discipline to make wise choices with the money He entrusts to us.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

If You Were a DVD Remote Button

If you were a DVD remote button what button would you be? I know some people who would definitely be the fast forward button: their lives are fast paced and always busy. They see the world as a blur. Those who are more reflective would be the Reverse button, examining and re-examining frame by frame, looking to find the significance in everything around them. Some people are stuck on Pause; they are always waiting for something to be over, before they start really living again. They say, “After I finish school, I’ll do it,” or after I get married (the kids are grown, when I retire,…) then I’ll do it.” Some people would be the Power button, they want control over everything. My button, I think, would be the PLAY button. I love to have fun. If there is a funner (yes, I know this isn’t a word) way to do things, I want to find it.

Celebrating Progress

What do you do when you wake up angry with yourself for having messed up royally the day before? When you have done things that delay or even reverse noticeable progress?

It happened to me this morning after yesterday’s loss to insecurity and anger issues. The two-headed snake had slithered back into my head from the dark crevasses where it had been hiding. The venom of guilt quickly spread through my mind and even made my body hurt. But the pain, which had been much more common several months ago, seemed to hurt worse now, because the calluses of repeated regret had started to soften some. All I could do was lay awake in paralysis all night while the regret swallowed me whole.

I had been making good progress, because I learned some new Truth that had set me free. Wisdom told me to keep moving forward and acknowledge incremental improvement, but to watch out for attacks when fatigue, isolation, or neglect was prevalent; when stress was higher than usual. However, I was lured in by some of the same old lies and false promises (“go ahead yell and devalue them, that will show them you’re in charge,” and “go ahead, watch that show, the content is not really THAT inappropriate, besides you deserve it.”

It made me feel angry, because I know better, yet I arrogantly and unwisely followed the sucrose laced breadcrumbs down the self-defeating path…again. They tasted sweet for a moment, and then quickly turned bitter just like they always do. They always look like they will taste better than they really do.

I feel better now though, confessing, regaining forward focus, because Truth rescued me again, reminding me that I am more than a conqueror over these sorts of things. Truth and Wisdom reminded me that times of defeat in these areas are much more infrequent now than just a few months ago; that there is measurable progress. They also reminded me of other self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that haven’t reared their ugly heads in years!

They told me to celebrate the progress and move ahead. Celebrating the victories is like anti-venom that revitalizes you from the paralysis of regret and frees you to continue forward.

Philippians 3:12-14 (MSG) 12 I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. 13 Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. 14 I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back.

Friday, January 22, 2010

First Blog Post

This is a milestone. The guy who hated to write anything, who ignorantly told his college professor that he would never need a computer, is now blogging? I have enjoyed reading the blogs of others, but now I have my own. The move brings some fear and a sense of adventure. Fear that perhaps this is another one of those initially exciting endeavors that looses its appeal and sits unattended in best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-men limbo for endless time. But it gives a sense of adventure that the quirky love of words part of me will have a means to encourage someone or make them smile, laugh or even maximize someone toward greatness (the True kind of greatness that does good, and helps others and comes from a Divine centeredness).