Thursday, November 27, 2008

They're Here!!!

Our new additions have arrived. I haven't been this excited since Christmas Mornng when I was four or five years old. I didn't even realize that I loved my dog this much. What a sap, right?
"Lady" has delivered 10 puppies (an eleventh pup was stillborn), all are black, 5 girls, 5 boys. As you can see in the picture above, and as you would expect, mama was very tired but doing well. She is patiently nursing all 10 of her kids, cleaning them and nuzzling them constantly.
The puppies are the cutest things I have ever seen in my life! Each one fits in my hand, and their paws are so tiny that they won't even cover the tip of my pinky finger. Their tiny little whines, cries, and yelps are the sweetest sounds I've heard since my kids were babies. Watching them nurse and hearing their little suckling noises is amazing.
Finally, to watch how Lady instinctively cares for her children so carefully, gently, and beautifully leaves me in wonder of how God has made her--filled with all the knowledge she needed. It really is an inspiring wonder of creation!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Follow Your Heart...Are You Kidding Me?

There are few phrases used in our culture as often or with such romanticized zeal as the oh so ubiquitous phrase "Follow your heart". Undoubtedly you've heard it more than you can count and probably said it more than you care to admit, too. OK...I admit it...I've used it myself. I meant well when I did, as you no doubt did when you mouthed the phrase. It's not that the phrase is so darn cliche that makes it so bad. The problem is that, generally speaking, "Follow your heart" is just plain bad advice.
The hopeless romantic part of you may now be screaming "How dare he say that!" but hopefully the more rational and curious part of you simply wonders "Why would he say that?" Well, here's the simple answer for all of you from the pen of Jeremiah and the mind of God himself:
"The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9)
If our hearts are so messed up, then it seems obvious that following them is not very wise at best and pretty dumb and dangerous at worst. But there is a much wiser alternative to following your heart...LEAD IT INSTEAD!
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"
(Matthew 6:21)
Contrary to what you might have heard. Your heart will follow your investment. Whatever you start to invest your time, energy, effort, resources, and relationship into will become something you actually care about. Try it and see.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hammers that Shaped Me (Part 4)

There are a couple of other statements that have impacted me, but none of them nor even the ones I've shared in previous blogs messed me up as much as this one. It's a wake-up call to every church leader and every Christian. It's a challenge to for us all to consider whether we've gotten our ministry priorities out of order.

“It’s not that the Church has a mission; it’s that the Mission has a Church.” —Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways
Long before there was a church, even before there was an Israel, there was a missionary God. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the missionary God came to find them. His purpose in choosing a nation to serve him, His purpose in sending his prophets and giving his Word, His purpose in sending His Son, and his purpose in sending the church as ambassadors of His Son were all missionary in nature. The church is the means to His end. The end is the Mission--reconciling people who are far from God to Him.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hammers that Shaped Me (Part 3)

Every living thing reproduces. At least that's true if it's healthy. It's true of microorganisms, plants, fungi, animals, and humans. But we Christians aren't reproducing at a rate (at least in the US) that is even keeping pace with population growth. For those of you who are sleeping, I don't mean we're not having babies! What I'm talking about is that we are not producing new disciples.
Could it be that we are too hung up on information and not application in our own lives? Could it be that we are way too busy spreading what we claim to know, rather than bearing fruit of what we actually are? Listen to a hammer from Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, the founding pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship of Oahu, leader of a global church planting ministry, and author of a number of books including The Divine Mentor :

“You can teach what you know, but you can only reproduce what you are.”
- Wayne Cordeiro

Monday, August 18, 2008

Hammers that Shaped Me (Part 2)

Peter wanted to know what Jesus had in store for John (John 21)...the disciples wanted to know if the time had come for Israel to be restored to prominence (Acts 1)...people still ponder today over questions like "Why pray if God is going to do His will anyway?", "What will be the exact timeline of the end of time?" and "How does God's choosing us jive with our choosing him?" The bottom line is that we tend to obsess over things that shouldn't take up so much of our attention. We focus over and over on how God is going to do His job while our job gets left largely unattended, whether that's praying, sharing the love of Christ with people, making disciples, etc. The simple truth is...
"You can't do God's part; He won't do yours"--Unknown
We need to spend our energy doing what God has called us to do and learning the things about Him that empower us to carry out His purpose for us, rather than spending all our energy and time trying to micromanage God. He's not going to do our job for us after all, and he doesn't need us to do His.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Hammers that Shaped Me (Part 1)

Over the last 16 years of my journey with Christ, there are a handful of "Hammers" or statements that have stuck with me or shaped me somehow. They are observations, quips, or quotes from mentors, heros, and others who have poured into my life in some way--whether they knew it or not. In a couple of cases, these "hammers" are observations or statements I've made that arose from what someone else wrote or said. Maybe you've been impacted already by some of them too, and if not, maybe you will be. They may not be original to the person I heard them from, but I'll tell you who told me anyway. I'd love to hear about "hammers" that shaped you and/or how these impact you. Here's hammer number with more to follow...

"You don't learn your way to Christ-likeness; you obey your way to Christ-likeness"
(Dr. Bill Bennett of Mentoring Men for the Master, Wilmington, NC)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Confessions, Celebrations, and Lessons from a Loser

Ok, I admit it...I'm a loser. I said I'd do multiple stories on Guatemala...but I've changed my mind. Partially because I told the story that messed me up the most on my last post. It's hard to go back to the appetizers after you've already served the dessert. So forgive me if I've let anyone down...there may be more later on developments in G'mala but for now I'm moving on.

To all 4 of you reading this I also admit I'm a loser for not blogging in a while. But I swore I'd make blogging a fun thing, a good tool, not a time gulper. I'm trying to only blog when I've got something to share or celebrate...and with that in mind...

I'm a loser in another way...Inspired by (1) Dino Sinesi who is half the man he used to be a couple of years ago (literally) as well as more recently (2) by my father-in-law, Jerry Noland, who is getting healthy and 50 pounds lighter to date, and (3) by the fact that I'm 40 pounds heavier than when I got married and 10 heavier than 2 years ago, I too have become a Weight Watcher. I've lost close to 10 pounds but more importantly I've found a system I can live with and be healthier through for the rest of my life.

Here's what this "loser" has learned...(maybe it'll help some of you or someone you know)

  • I now know that I really eat because I love food not because I need it (watch out all you folks who--like me--don't drink, don't smoke, but replace them with food as your vice)
  • I've learned that "Full" for me was "If I eat one more bite I will not feel well" rather than "I don't need more".
  • I eat really fast so I tend to eat more than I need before my body chemistry has time to change and tell me that I'm full
  • I ate way more and way worse than I ever realized before I started writing down what I eat.
  • The first week was the hardest part of change (Day 3 and 4 I would have killed to eat as much and as badly as I used to), but 3 weeks later I'm enjoying what I'm eating and I'm satisfied--all while eating much less and much healthier.
  • I'll be dealing with my food issues the rest of my life--just like folks who deal with alcohol, drugs, etc. It's not a short term thing for me has to be for the long haul.

If I can do this anyone me!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Guatemala Stories (Part 1)

I have so many great stories to tell, but no one wants to read a long blog. So I decided I'd share one story per blog for a few days. Pictured here is Todd's 15 year old daughter, Lauren. I'm not sure of the name of the little girl in the picture with Lauren or that it is the girl from the story I'm about to tell you. But this is one story that is worth a 1000 pictures.

While playing with some kids one day, almost all of whom are barefoot in ragged clothes they've worn for a few days and dirty, Lauren grabbed some wet wipes and began to wipe the face and hands of one of the little girls, washing away layers of dirt in the process.
When Lauren had finished cleaning her up, the little girl petitioned Lauren through a language barrier for another wipe. No me we had wipes! But instead of cleaning herself further...the little girl took the wipe over to another one of her playmates and began to wipe the grime off of that child. She repeated this several times.
Lauren doesn't speak Spanish well (though she probably understands some), so she hadn't given her any instructions. But the little girl saw what Lauren did for her, to her, and intuitively shared that with others around her. Do you think there may be a lesson there for those of us who have had the experience of being picked up by Jesus, placed on his lap, and then being lovingly cleansed of all our layers of filth? It took more than a wet wipe for him. I think there may be several lessons, don't you?

Monday, June 2, 2008

The week in preview

Guatemala is a place of incredible natural beauty and yet inconceivable poverty. It's a place where the Catholic church is inseparable from the people's cultural identity and still a place where most of the people are far from God and for whom the Jesus of the Bible is a complete stranger.

This coming Saturday, June 7, Lisa and I will be heading to Guatemala for a week with 19 others to help with a medical clinic in a rural village near the Pacific Coast. I'm really excited that I'll be able to share in Lisa's first mission trip experience. This trip will be the longest period of time she's ever been away from our kids. That's a step of faith in and of itself for her.

For the next few days, its a mad rush to get some things accomplished before we leave . . . pick up some last minute supplies, pack for the trip, get the kids to their grandparents in Wilmington, NC, etc.

Tuesday--sharing with students at "Blast with a Fast" here in Camden

Thursday--I get to hang out with Chris Ruppe, Dino Senesi, Neal McGlohon (aka: "MC Hammer"), Jay Hardwick and some others at Cypress Project in Rock Hill

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Perfect Day

Perfect day...
  • Woke up well rested beside the woman of my dreams
  • Heard God speak to me in His word this morning
  • Watched my kids' face light up as I surprised them in the lunch room to take them out of school early, then watched them laugh, splash and play in a friend's pool, and in our dog Lady's bath water.
  • Had a picnic in the park with good friends and charcoal fired meat (insert grunt here... thanks for bringing the grill Chris!)
  • Heard God speak to me again in His word at the end of the day (wasn't even in a devotional time!...I'm not nearly spiritual enough to have 2 in one day!)
  • Lying down beside the woman of my dreams to close the day out
  • Enjoyed the freedom to do all of the above and tell you about it because men like my dad, my grand-dad, my step-dad, my father-in-law, my neighbor, several friends, and thousands of strangers I'll never know and who will never know me gave their time, blood, sweat, and tears...and in many cases their lives to protect me, my family, and our freedom.

Thank you Lord! Yet another day when I got far more than I deserved...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Quick on the Draw

In the old John Wayne flick "The Sons of Katie Elder" , there's a scene in which an overeager deputy is loading his gun to go bring in Tom Elder (played by Dean Martin) whom he hates. The wise, peacekeeping sheriff warns the deputy to do it reluctantly.

I am a lot like that deputy. Not only am I quick to load my gun...all too often, I keep one in the chamber ready to fire...when it comes to angry words that is. "Impulsive listening" and "impulsive patience" are phrases that seem so oxymoronic to my existence that they make me laugh briefly before the shameful realization sets in that these tools are seldom found in my saddle bags. I'm quick to shoot first and ask questions later when I'm angry--especially when I don't fear reprisal (like with my kids or my wife).

The thing is that when you shoot first and listen later, there's just so much blood! Angry words are like bullets--they're painful, destructive and deadly. On the other hand, no one ever died because of a drive-by listener. No police report has ever been filed because of a random act of patience. No family ever split up after complaints such as "All you ever do is listen to me!" or "You're so stinkin' patient with me! I just can't take it any more!" That's because listening and patience are always constructive and productive, while my anger is nearly always destructive and counterproductive. God already knew that of course...just read James 1:19-20. I want to be "quick on the draw" but not with angry words...with a listening ear and patience instead.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Between the Ears of Crazy Bill

I planned to go "light" this post and do something totally whimsical and fun and not terribly deep, or even spiritual. But doggone it, my bud Bobby "The Bobbage" Austin in Clayton NC ( messed up my plans a bit by turning me on to Tim Melton's blog and the poem he's posted. I just had to share the experience with you!
Not long ago we shared a message on the Gerasene Demoniac called "The Power of Story" (Mark 5) and I wish I'd known then about Tim Melton's first person look into the mind of the man with a 1000 demons. Check it out for yourself at In spite of the author's recommendation, I suggest you read the poem first before listening to the audio track of "Crazy Bill" that Tim has provided. It'll mess you up whether you think you need it or not. Thanks "Bobbage" for sharing...and thanks especially to Tim!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Innoculated but still Sick, What now?

The question of the hour for this "post bible belt" missionary:

How do we relate to / deal with the "innoculated"?
When you get a measles shot, they inject into you a weakened, dead version of the measles bug. Your body develops antibodies so that when you encounter the full strength, "real" measles you aren't impacted by it. You have been innoculated against measles.
So many in the Southeast have been innoculated against the Gospel. They've had just enough of a dead, dying, weak version of the Gospel that they are oblivious to the real, full strength version. They see themselves as Christ followers but are missing the transformation that follows an encounter with the "real" Gospel--a Gospel full of Christ. They've had their shot of religion.
The folks I'm particularly concerned about are not antagonists--like the antagonistic religious leaders that Jesus faced. They are merely apathetic for anything more than nominal Christianity. As a missionary in the Bible Belt, what do we do with these people? I don't have the answers...yet...but I know it's a question that we Bible-belt missionaries, church planters, and church leaders have to wrestle with. What do you think?

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Great Quote from "The Tangible Kingdom"

Here's a great quote from Hugh Halter and Matt Smay's book The Tangible Kingdom (and there are many more where this one came from):

"In a second-century letter, Diognetus, who was a tutor to Marcus Aurelius, wrote the following about the Christian community: 'They dwell in their country, but simply as Sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country and every country of their birth as a land of strangers.' This early church would have been an affront to our (Western / Modern) paradigm of security."

This book is a must read for church leaders...if we can handle it.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Burning Bushes and Fru Fru Dogs

I read Exodus 3-4 today and noticed some cool stuff in Moses' encounter with the God of the burning bush:

  • The Lord got Moses' attention via a supernatural detail in the midst of Moses' everyday life.
  • The Lord spoke to Moses (calling Him by name in fact) only after Moses paused to turn aside and take a closer look at something different (a burning bush that wasn't burning up).
  • The Lord knew and called Moses by name even before Moses knew who God was (see Exod 3:4 & 13).
  • Moses just met God but was called to serve in an outrageously important role; he would come to know God intimately not in a multi-tiered discipleship course or seminary but in the course of fulfilling God's call to service ("The Lord would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend"--Exodus 33:11).

How many times have I failed to notice something different--a glimpse of the supernatural--in the midst of things I've seen a 1000 times? Do I just assume that every brush fire I see is just like the last 999 I saw? Or do I take a second glance to see if there's something different happening, something worth looking into? God has placed in us a natural curiosity that causes us to turn aside when we see something out of the ordinary, but we may be just too busy and distracted to see the extraordinary details.

This weekend someone got a new yorkie pup and wanted to bring it over for my daughter (who thinks dogs are a higher life form) to see the furry ball of joy. As a result, my family and I spent a whole day talking, eating, laughing, and sharing life with some folks I love dearly who need a fresh if not first encounter with God. Just another overpriced fru fru lap dog? I see something supernatural in the details...I see a burning bush. God help them to see the same in us, then turn aside, and hear you call them by name.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Time to Dust Off the Equipment

I'm a guy so I'm prone to like toys. I have a history of getting a hair up my butt (that's "a whim" in redneckese) to do something, like say fishing for example, then trying to buy everything I can to do it well . . . no, to do it perfectly. I will obsess over having all the right stuff before ever getting started...I tell myself that first I need all the right rods, baits, coolers, clothing, hats (a real need for bald guys), etc. I could do the same over camping, woodworking, landscaping, whatever. I have the proof in my attic and garage. My climbing tree stand...used it 3 times to go hunting and the last was 10 years ago. My fishing rods...I've spent more time changing the line on them (after letting it sit and get old) than I have wetting the line in some fish-laden body of water. My power tools (insert male grunt here)...the most expensive of which have been tables for garage clutter rather than frequent shapers of wooden masterpieces. I have a whole lot more equipment for the things I intend(ed) to do than stories and evidence of how the equipment has been used.

Sounds a lot like modern American Christians and churches doesn't it? We are obsessed with getting more and more equipped, but somewhere along the way we stopped using it and started simply collecting it. I recently heard Tim Keller say that our failure to reproduce as Christians and churches "is not because we aren't smart enough; it's because we aren't alive enough."

Have we traded our Daddy's obsession for the harvest for an obsession with farm implements? Have we traded Daddy's obsession for fishing with our obsession for rods and reels? We're like kids who'd rather gaze at our baseball card collections than join Daddy playing ball in the yard. We keep searching for a closer relationship with God inside the church walls by collecting more equipment (Check out Ephesians 4:11-12...we are equipped for a purpose). All the while, God can easily be found pursuing his one obsession--the one who is lost. He'd be glad to hang out with us in the harvest. Maybe we should take our equipment out of storage, dust it off and join Him. We were made and remade in the image of The Missionary God and filled with the Spirit of The Missionary God who obsesses over lostness. And we will only be fully alive when we find ourselves alongside our Missionary Daddy pursuing his obsession, his mission. Time to dust off the equipment.

Friday, April 4, 2008

The Blind, the Deaf, & the Shushers

Sometimes Christian leaders have bemoaned the fact that "Church people are the biggest obstacle to reaching people for Christ". People who are far more spiritual, others who are far more cool, far more avante guarde (and better spellers) than me have said it, long before I understood it myself, and I tend to agree with them. But I thought it was a recent problem for the church, or at least something that had only recently become prevalent, even if it had been around for hundreds of years. At any rate, I never realized that it was a problem that went all the way back to the very first followers of Christ.

In Luke 18, Jesus--with a crowd in tow--is passing by a blind man begging by the roadside. The blind man, realizing there is a large crowd going by, asks someone to tell him what all the hubbub is about. "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by" they tell him, to which he promptly responds not by begging for the crowd's charity in hopes of a windfall by volume, but by ignoring the crowd altogether and crying out for Jesus to "have mercy" on him. It's at this point in the passage that you read something startling. It wouldn't surprise me today, but it did surprise me somewhat for those walking in the actual physical footsteps of Jesus. Luke 18:39 says this: "Those who led the way were sternly telling him (the blind man) to be quiet..."

Fortunately, the man had the sense to not be deterred, and he kept screaming for Jesus, realizing that He was passing by and this was his big chance. When He heard him, Jesus showed a great deal more interest in the blind man than did His lead followers. In fact Jesus had these lead followers bring the blind man to Him for a face to face meeting and ultimately he gave the blind man what he asked for, his sight. The man got to "see" Jesus, no thanks to those following Him.

Now to be fair, this is before the cross, the resurrection, and pentecost, so the disciples were not yet filled with the Holy Spirit. That's an important distinction between those followers of Christ and Christians from today--or at least it's supposed to be a distinction. We've all met Christians who made us wonder...we've probably been Christians who made others wonder, for that matter.

But isn't it amazing that it was "those who led the way" in the crowd following Jesus who "sternly" discouraged the blind man from bothering Him. Isn't it tragic. Isn't it especially tragic that we have the full accounts of all that Jesus modelled, we have the full accounts of all the disciples' mistakes, we have the Holy Spirit living in us to guide us, and yet 2000 years later, "those leading the way" in the crowd following Jesus are still the leading discouragers of people getting close up and personal to Him.

Like them, we get so preoccupied in getting Jesus to meet our needs, or in our hurried attempts at following Jesus, that we stop listening or even wanting to hear the cries of blind men by the road. We forget what it was like to need him and not be able to find our way to him. We forget that Jesus stopped to listen when every one else behind him was only interested in stopping the man from crying out. I imagine some folks even dropped some change in the blind beggar's bag saying, "Here's some money for you, now shhhhh." Blind men are crying out...many of us have become deaf...many of us are trying to make them mute rather than listen.

I think I heard something,

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Man Overboard

My first'll take far more than doing a blog to make me "cool". But you know that, right? I'm finishing up coaching at Intensive Church Planter Training in Spartanburg. I always get far more than I'll ever be able to give. It's always a divine redirect for me, an opportunity to evaluate how "harvest" focused I am. Or have I just become obsessed with the Sunday morning stuff of church, the mechanics of keeping rather than finding? This time, my three days with the planters and presenters at ICPT have been part of something bigger and more basic for me...

I've been reading John Ortberg's "If You Want to Walk on Water, You Have to Get Out of the Boat", and it is exactly what I've needed at this juncture of my journey. Forgive the cliche, but I'm at a crossroad. I'm faced with the choice to experience more of the same...a measure of effectiveness and usefulness...a "good" life and a "good" ministry. Or is there more?
I know there is. I can't help but believe that God has been showing me that He is interested in doing something greater than I've ever imagined...than I've ever been a part of. God has been wrestling me toward this realization for the last few weeks, even before I picked up Ortberg's book. But now I realize that I've played it safe most of my Christian life, I've stayed in the boat where I'm familiar and comfortable, at least more comfortable than I would be getting out of it and walking on the stormy waters with Jesus.

Trying to distill into understandable words a 3 week journey which I'm still processing myself is difficult, but let me just get to the nitty gritty of it all. I understand that my "boat" where I've been sitting comfortably to this point is a place of little faith. I've been satisfied to sit back and ride along content with whatever God might do around me. I've been content to have a God whom I believed walks on water, calms the storms, and can make me walk on water if he wants too. I've been content to say: "He can if He wants"...but never to risk actually asking him to do something that Great. How's that worked out for me? Pretty Good, really. Good, not GREAT, not great in Biblical proportions. That's just not good enough. God has helped me to see that I'd rather not risk being disappointed. I'd rather not ask him for something amazing than risk asking him and having him not do it.

I never realized that about me. I thought I was a person of strong faith. I've been safe in the boat, satisfied with a God whom I dared not ask for great things, lest I be disappointed. But he is a great God, greater than my I'm jumping the rail and asking him to pour himself out in a grand and glorious way that can't be know, like when a fisherman walks on water with a carpenter. I'm risking the asking, no longer satisfied for what I can do in the boat, for spectating as He walks on water alone without me.

Man overboard,