Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Digging Deep...Finding A Treasure in Zephaniah

Over the last year and half the economy has been a huge challenge for my businesses.  Even though I have complete confidence in my abilities, those of my staff and of the new business I am developing with my friend Brett, it has been very trying and difficult.  God has always blessed me throughout my life and I have tried to stay focused on Him, recognize and do His will, and help other people while continuing to work as hard as possible.  God has also given me the capacity to work long hours. Even though what I do is not physical at all, I have always been able to commit a great deal of time and effort into everything I do. 

During this last year though I have found myself doubting myself, feeling sorry for myself, being angry, and slipping into a pattern of not truly trusting God.  That trust piece manifests itself in a number of ways not the least of which results in me not following Him completely.   It is incredible how the evil one uses such times as these to try to separate you from the love of God.  

Mike Madding my pastor and close friend has challenged us to begin digging deep in our reading of the Bible and our "Quality Time" with God (...formerly known as "quiet time").  I am not much of a morning person so I have focused my quality time before I go to bed.  The last two weeks it has been hard but I refuse to go to sleep no matter how late before taking the time to open my Bible and look for God to speak to me.  I must admit, several times I have caught myself falling into my bad habit of going to parts of the Bible I know well and enjoy particularly in the various words of Paul.  Because of my familiarity of the various books he wrote I think I subconsciously avoid those verses that challenge me, call me out, or make me feel uncomfortable.    In order to overcome this I have deliberately been looking into books that I have little or no experience in, have not studied since college, or simply have not read in a long time.

Bring in the Old Testament.  For me if it is OT I am all about Proverbs, Psalms, and Isaiah.  They are familiar and have a great deal to say about life and our walk with Him.  It is the other books that I sometimes struggle connecting with but to stretch myself I really wanted to find something new, wanting to "hear" what God has to say to me...not just what I want to hear.

So last night it was very late.  I think it was around 1:30 am.  Getting a workout in very late, being very stressed over work and some other things, and just not being able to sleep I found myself finally sitting down and opening the Bible.  
The world was rushing at me it seemed and at every turn and I was basically trying to force myself to stay focused.  Throughout my flipping around I kept praying to God about all of the stress, financial challenges, doubt, and angst crowding my brain.  I was almost at the point of just reading something, closing my Bible, and trying to go to sleep when I turned to a book called Zephaniah.  I didn't even remember it being in the Bible. 

When I read this passage (see below) I knew God was in it.  It hit me right between the eyes as I read the words "He will renew you with his love.....I will remove disaster from you....I will restore your fortunes before your eyes...”  

I just sat there almost dumbfounded. Reading the passage over and over the words were ringing in my mind.  What is God talking about "remove disaster"? "Restore my fortunes?"   "Renew me with His love?

And then it became clear.  God was saying look I have got this if you turn it over to me, everything that seems to be vexing you.  Turn it over. Completely.  Keep Me in your midst.  I will renew you with love.

He may not return our business back to where it was or take away all the stresses of this life but because He loves us He will see us through.  He will restore our fortunes in a way that is far beyond what this world has to offer.

I hope I NEVER ever forget this passage.

Zephaniah 3: 17-20
17] The LORD, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
[18] as on a day of festival.
"I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
[19] Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
[20] At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you together;
yea, I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes," says the LORD.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Hole In Our Gospel, One Person, Eternity

Recently our church completed a six week series of messages and small group study based on the book The Hole in Our Gospel by the president of World Vision Richard Stearns. In this book Mr. Stearns lays out a compelling and challenging argument that we as the universal church of Christ have failed to meet the needs of our fellow humans all around the world. The Aids Epidemic in Africa, starvation and famine all over the globe, the lack of safe drinking water for an estimated billion people, the growing sex and slave trafficking going on even right here in the U.S., and many other major tragedies are cited as causes the modern day American church needs to champion in force yet have in a number of ways not done so. Needless to say, this study pushed a large number of people in our church hard out of their comfort zones me included.

I found myself struggling to get my mind wrapped around the shear magnitude of the many problems plaguing our earth: over 25,000 children dying each day from diseases that could have been eliminated with access to clean water and sanitation, over 15 million orphans due to the ravages of AIDS, and an estimated 2.5 million slaves trafficked worldwide just to name a few.

The horrors of what this broken world has to offer just seemed to be overwhelming and Richard Stearns ability to make you question your significance and make you feel guilty about it made the first 13 chapters difficult.

I found myself feeling angry that Mr. Stearns was pouring it on with such fervor yet I couldn't stop reading. As a leader of a small group within our church I also had to prepare for the study with the additional material provided along with a DVD produced by World Vision and my feelings of failure and overwhelming guilt as a Christ follower in America made me very frustrated at times. Somewhere after I think chapter 6 or 7 I wrote in my journal: "This is by far the hardest book I have ever read and yet the hardest to put down."

Page after page I felt as though instead of having what Mr. Stearns said he hoped would happen, "... (My) heart broken by what breaks the heart of God..." I became more and angrier with what he referred to as an accident of lattitude referring to a comment made by the lead singer of the super rock group U2, Bono, an incredible humanitarian in his own right.
I did my best to stay focused on the study and the weekly messages by our pastors and continue to pray that God would replace the angst I had in my head and my heart with an understanding and peace about it all.

It was not until we got to chapter 14 and were discussing the study in our small group did I finally have a breakthrough. In that chapter Stearns begins describing the many successes and improvements that have been made in the last decade around the world. It was during our small group conversation that it hit me that what Stearns was trying to do was to spur his reader, me in this case to action. Instead of being neutral and disengaged Mr. Stearns was trying to dislodge us from that comfortable position into one of conviction to do something no matter how small it may seem at first. His sustained and voluminous description of how large the problems were in the world was meant as a trumpet sound to rally us to the causes and make a difference as a collection of Christ followers and as individuals in His kingdom. I wrote in my journal that maybe just maybe the placing of someone in need in our path is as much about what we should be doing FOR the kingdom of God as it is about what they need FROM the kingdom of God.

It came flooding down on me like a cataract that rather seeing the needs of this world as so overwhelming that I am paralyzed to inaction that the God given talents that He has blessed all of us with along with the bounty He continues to bless us with in this country such be put to use with a goal just to impact one person in need at a time, not hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, at a time. If each of us would simply allow God to use us however He will to change the life of one person and then another, then another, what could be accomplished?

What impact would it have not only in this world now but for eternity? If just one person was helped in such a way as to see Jesus in all it and accepted Him as their Lord and Savior the impact would be unfathomable.
Eternity. Have you ever sat and tried to picture what that looks like? How long it is? How big it is?

For me it’s mind boggling. I struggle in my simple human mind to even remotely get close to an idea of its enormity so one day I tried to get a grasp of it. I thought about how we often exchange time for distance. For example, I live exactly 100 miles from the city of Asheville based on the mile markers on the interstate that runs from where I live to there. If you asked me the question how far it is to Asheville I am just as likely to say "Oh, about an hour and a half" obviously referring to the time it takes to drive there in a car as I am to say 100 miles.

In looking at how long eternity is then I applied this same approach. I went to the NASA website and learned that light travels at 5879 billion miles in one year. The concept of a billion of anything baffles me a bit I must confess but learned from another website that 1 billion pennies stacked on top of each other would be 10 miles high! 5879 billion miles in one year is almost beyond imagination but one year I can almost grasp.

Now again according to the NASA website the Hubble Space Telescope orbiting earth in the last two years photographed a galaxy a 100 million years old and so far away from ours that it took the light emitted from its stars 13 billion years to get to us! That light was traveling at 5879 billion miles per year for 13 billion years to get to us! How far is that? How much time is that? Are you kidding me? My goodness it’s beyond my comprehension.

Yet, eternity is longer than that. God has been around longer than that. He is bigger than all of that space combined.
And we as His saved are promised eternal life with Him through the blood of Jesus that is longer than 13 billion years.
If we through our serving God to help just one person on this planet that is thirsty, is homeless, is starving, is orphaned, enslaved, lacks clothing, our is ravaged by disease and through our serving that one person accepts Christ then the impact we have had on that person is eternal: Longer than 13 billion years of light traveling at 5879 billion miles a year. It is beyond our comprehension but absolutely achievable.

Instead of getting completely defeated and discouraged by the enormity of the needs of this world we should be emboldened by the magnitude of the impact we can have for eternity one person at a time. Instead of doing nothing because we don’t know where to start we just need to start and God will reveal the need.

The book The Hole in Our Gospel has after it all is said and done has motivated me in such a way. For me it has inspired me to continue to press forward with the CareerLIFE Ministry even though there have been some set backs and discouragements. By continuing the effort the hopes will be that the organization can be self-funded, create opportunities to help more people, and eventually fund other outreaches. I have set a goal that in 2011 to support at least one well being drilled by Charity: Water someplace in the world. Regardless, the whole focus is helping one person at a time in need. Help just one at a time. God will bless that effort and eternity could be impacted.

So what is calling you to action? Where can you put the bounty that God has blessed you with to use in making this world a better place one person at a time both for now and Eternity?

Nothing is too big for God to achieve when we allow Him to use us in His plan.
Where are you being called? Don't let the enormity of the problem keep you from answering. Step out of neutral and start moving forward. It will have eternal ramifications.

On this Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.,  let us all be thankful for the gifts we have all been blessed to receive and think about how each of us can put them to use to make a difference....one person at at time.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Hitchhikers -God's Timing Is Not Always Your Timing

The Hitchhikers

God's Timing Is Not Always Your Timing.
Part 1
Making myself available to be used by God whenever He needs to use me often times, I hate to admit, conflicts with what I want to be doing, my schedule, and my own desires. Recently, however, I learned a valuable lesson about obedience to Him and the impact it can have on another person a few weeks ago.

It was an incredibly beautiful October Saturday. One of those where the sky was that perfect clear blue, the trees were beginning to show their fall colors, and the air was cool and comfortable. I had been busy all morning with some work stuff that just had to get done and some chores I had put off around the house but I had finally gotten free and was heading to Lake Norman State Park to go mountain biking for only the second time in 11 years. Mountain biking had been a huge obsession of mine all through the 90’s and my addiction to it had almost killed me once and injured me severely another. Only after experiencing the second of two neck injuries and ultimatums from my orthopedic doctor and wife did I quit. It had taken me 11 years to get to a point where I felt I could go back to the sport on a casual, less aggressive, basis and not allow it put my family’s future and my health in jeopardy. I also had a single speed mountain bike that was not set up for seriously technical riding that could help throttle me a bit. You have to understand, besides skateboards, bicycles, and particularly off road bicycles, have been the “love” of my life besides my God and my family and to ride again was euphoric.

I was also heading to the great trails of Lake Norman State Park I had never been able to allow myself to see. Back in the 90’s I had worked with other mountain bike advocates tirelessly to get approval for those trails from the state but after my injury could not bring myself to go back to see the trails once they were built because I would probably never ride them. The anticipation of finally allowing me to roll through those woods and see the hundreds of man-hours the volunteers had put in to bring those trails to fruition had my heart beating fast and my mine fixated on getting there.
God had a change of plans in mind. I had gotten a late start and was driving quickly down Shelton Avenue/Highway 115. I had noticed the “E” light was showing in the car indicating I was very low on gas but I had pushed that to the limit before and besides I had a bicycle on the top in case I miscalculated. I felt like I had just enough gas to get me to the park and then back to Troutman after riding to get gas before driving home. All I could think about was getting to the trail before running out of daylight.

Then I saw them. On the side of the road walking toward Barium Springs almost at Third Creek there they were two unassuming men who had the appearance that they either had been working or were a bit down on their luck. The smaller of the two men was holding out his thumb trying to petition for a ride while the other man looked on. Everyone was driving by them and so did I. My first thought was “I don’t pick up hitchhikers and I am in a hurry.”

As I continued on I could not get them out of my mind. I tried to shake it off and as I was approaching Barium Springs Children Home about two miles past where I had seen them that now familiar “thought voice” I call it was in my head. “Marion, go back and give those guys a ride.”

“Are you KIDDING ME?” I almost screamed in my head. “I am almost out of gas, I am running out of daylight, I am getting ready to see trails I have waited 11 years to see much less ride and I don’t have time to do a good deed.”
But as I have learned now that voice doesn’t go away unless I act on it so I turned around in the YMCA parking lot and headed back up the road in search of the men. I kept thinking to myself “Well, maybe they only need a ride as far as Troutman and I can just drop them off. Yeah, that will be good. No problem.”

When I finally caught sight of the two gentlemen they were walking back toward Statesville. Again, “Are you kidding me? I turned around and drove back just so those guys can change their mind! Uggh!”

I reached the part of the road where they were, rolled down my window while pulling over, and called out to them. “Hey, weren’t you guys going the other way?”

The one who had been thumbing replied back to me from across the busy road. “Yes, but we gave up because we were suppose to meet someone in Mooresville at 4:15 and no one was picking us up. We are walking back to the mission (referring to, I found out later, the 5th Street Ministries Homeless Shelter).”

The third “are you kidding me?” went flashing through my head. “Mooresville” I thought. I don’t have enough gas for to get there and back and still go ride.

Instead, I told them to hold up and I would turn around. It took me a minute and the two, obviously “professionals” at hitchhiking, had run down the road a bit to a good pull off spot. The whole time I am thinking to myself “What have I gotten myself into this time?” Believe me at this point doubt was sitting in the seat beside me, was big, ugly, and pointing at me mockingly.

I got turned around and pulled over at the pick-up spot and the two climbed in. Both were looking a little worse from the wear of probably being on the street for a long time but were friendly and thankful.

I asked them their names and where in Mooresville they needed to go and the man in the back seat told me they needed to go to Wal-Mart. Have you ever been to Wal-Mart in Mooresville, NC on a Saturday afternoon? You guessed it. “Are you kidding me?” bounced loudly around in my head but this time there was another voice there too. “No. This is what you were supposed to do today.”

I agreed to take them there and we started down the road. The man in the front seat, the thumb guy, was named Robert and was just sitting there quiet.

All of sudden it happened. Gary says “Hey man. Don’t I know you? …Haven’t I seen you at the Cove Church in Statesville (my church)?”

I was wracking my brain but could not remember him and before I could speak Gary again says “Yeah man. The Cove Church in Statesville. That church is awesome. I love the way the people there are so accepting and make you feel so welcome. And that Pastor Mike. Did you know he was from Arkansas and had a brother that died and didn’t believe in God? Man I love his messages. I like this new series on Community. You know the part about all of us being in a hole together looking after each other what’s that called?”

“A foxhole?” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. A foxhole. Man I loved that. We are all in this together.”

Now let me tell you I can talk. I can talk a bunch but I think I met my match in Gary. From that point until we got to Mooresville he literally paraphrased all three of Mike’s most recent messages with a little Christian Chapman thrown in. Robert in the front seat chimed in where he could and it was obvious they had been going to church together.
In that short span I also learned that Gary had finally gotten a job up in Yadkinville as a welder and was heading up there Monday. He was going to take Robert with him and try to get him hired as his helper. I also learned that Gary had been on the street for a long time as had Robert. Both of them had struggled a bit with alcohol but that they both had faith that God would someday get them out of all of this.

When we got to Wal-Mart instead of dropping them off at the top of the parking lot I drove them straight up to the front door. I got out with them and we stood there praying before they went to meet the person that was going to give them some work for the evening.

After dropping them off I drove to the state park. I was able to only ride my bike a short time at the trail but all I could think about was how thankful I was that God didn’t let me off the hook. I was able to experience my church through the eyes of someone hurting like these two men and it was an awesome feeling. It was one of the best bike rides of my life. Somehow I had just enough gas to get back to Troutman and I made it home that evening with what I thought was a great journal entry in the making.

That in and of itself should have been the end of the story. But it wasn’t.

Part 2
Fast forward to the Monday following. Pastor Lewis came to meet me for lunch at the Groucho’s Deli in Downtown Statesville that is in mine and my wife building and where my office is upstairs. We were working on CareerLIFE Ministry planning but while we were eating I had told him about the hitchhikers. When we finished we had stepped outside into another beautiful October day and were just chatting before he was to head back to Mooresville and I back upstairs when walking down the street there was Robert, the quieter of the two hitchhikers.

I stopped Robert and asked him why he didn’t go to Yadkinville like they had discussed with me. Robert said that there was really no promise of a job up there so he had stayed behind. He looked very distraught and even more drawn than Saturday. I asked him what was wrong.

He proceeded to tell me and Pastor Lewis that he was from Florida and that there was a warrant there for his arrest. He had just been at the police department in Statesville trying to turn himself in because he wanted to go back to Florida, do his time, and get his life back on track. Unfortunately, his offense, a minor one, was a “no bond” warrant and because of cost cutting measures the state of North Carolina would not extradite him back to Florida. Here he was ready to turn himself in and he could not even do that!

I looked over at Pastor Lewis and asked is there anything we can do and Pastor Lewis was all over it. He told me to get his information and he would get back with me the next day.

After Pastor Lewis left I asked Robert if he had eaten yet that day. It was almost 2 pm and he shook his head “no”. I took him into the Gary’s Sweet Shop and got them to fix him anything he wanted while I got his information from him.
Robert produced his driver’s license, social security card, and gave me the county in Florida where the warrant was issued and I went to work. I told him to meet me back here the next day and went back to my office.

My recruitment firm occasionally has to do criminal background checks and I was quickly able to determine that his story was legitimate; he did have a bond for a few minor offenses, and was facing about 3 months of jail time. I also confirmed that they would not pay to have him brought to Florida.

Once I collected all of the information together Pastor Lewis took over. Even though almost the entire staff of the Cove was in Atlanta within a day he and Patrick Webber had purchased him a bus ticket. I coordinated with Billy at 5th Street Ministries to get him transported to the bus station on Thursday morning early in downtown Charlotte. My wife Donna packed him a bag of food (including some of her “famous” homemade muffins), water, and juice for the trip, and we got him ready to go. I had picked up a Study Bible and put that in the bag too. In it I had written his name, that it was from The Cove Church, and to always set his sight on God in everything he does for the rest of his life.

The next day the great people at 5th Street Ministries put Robert on a bus back home and on Friday he turned himself in to the local authorities.

This whole situation made me realize that maybe the reason God hadn’t met Robert’s needs is because He has been waiting on me to allow Him to use me to do so. It is something I hope and pray I will never forget.

When you see someone in need maybe just maybe the reason that God hasn't met that need yet is because it is as much about what you need to be doing FOR the kingdom of God as it is about what that person needs FROM the kingdom of God.
Who has God put in your path that needs you?

Matthew 25:40 (New International Version)
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Matthew 25:45 (New International Version)
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crossing the Bridge Washed Out

Sunday the weather was amazing and I was so excited about finally being able to get on the road with my skateboard and do some serious miles. After church, a good lunch, and a few chores in the yard I got my gear together and set off on a 26 mile push through West and North Iredell. Training for the Surf2TheSurf long distance skateboarding trip across North Carolina planned for June to raise awareness of brain injury and money for Hinds Feet Farm’s day programs has been hampered greatly by this winter’s weather. Needless to say I was stoked to see temperatures in the high 50’s and low 60’s, sunshine, and dry roads! It was ON and I was bound and determined to test my fitness level to get a picture of where I stood. I had a chance on Saturday afternoon to go out and push for 14 miles on one of my normal training loops and had felt fairly good so the idea of stepping it up and deliberately choosing a route that had some big climbs and some long false flat sections was motivating. The term “false flat” comes from cycling and means a section of road that appears to be level or even slightly downhill but actually is up hill. The longer you are on a false flat the more it burns and knowing that I will see quite a bit of that type of terrain when I hit Leg 3 from Apex to Wilmington I knew Scotts Creek Road needed to be part of my training.

I headed away from the house in my normal path out of town and found myself locking into a fairly good rhythm. Traversing through the neighborhoods at the top of Race Street, Hedrick Drive, then out to Front Street, and a jaunt over to North Side Drive, I was feeling fine and my heart rate though high was in control. Everything felt like just another training day. The sport of long distance skateboarding for me has become a test of managing suffering. The more I can tolerate higher and higher levels of suffering the more I get out of it. I know, sick huh? I think all endurance related sports have this element as part of its key focal point and long distance skateboarding is no different.

My push was going well. The climb up Island Ford Road was hard, as usual, and my heart rate was high, but as the road leveled out heading toward West Iredell High School my recovery was again good. I was feeling the test of the climbs and passing them. By the time I made my turn north onto Old Mountain Road I had settled on a great pace and was in a zone. Old Mountain Road is one where concentration is critical because of the traffic and I felt like I was focused and rolling great. My friends Jason and Sherri had passed me somewhere and I learned later that Sherri had remarked that I looked like a man on a mission.

After several miles I came to my planned turn on to Miracle Farm Road, a fairly short rolling road that ends finally when it terminates at the bottom of a very steep hill where a small river flows through a beautiful little valley. The first downhill section is a favorite of mine because it has a good uphill after a fast section you can easily fly down. Then after another mile or so the descent to the river down that steep incline awaits. It’s a hard descent that requires a great deal of foot braking (literally putting your foot down on the pavement to slow you down) because of the bridge, stop sign, and ninety degree turn at the bottom. Still I felt in control on the board and was making my way through the section when I saw the first sign. “Road Closed 1500 Feet.” At first I was confused. How could that be? I mean I just came off of Old Mountain Road where I had been paying careful attention and I had not seen any warning of the road work. I continued forward. This time I surmised that the road must be just closed to local traffic only and I would not have any problems as I moved forward. Besides, if I was forced to turn back and re-route my push I was in a position to get caught out in the dark. By this time it was late afternoon and going forward with the route I only had about 10 miles to go to get home. Turning around would be over 16 miles back to the house and even at the pace I was traveling would have taken just a little less than 2 hours. At best I had an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes of daylight left.
In five-hundred feet was the next sign, “Road Closed 1000 Feet.” Again, I begin to rationalize that the road may be a bit rough but closed completely probably not. I continued on. Another five hundred and you guessed it “Road Closed 500 Feet.” At this point I stopped. This was the very steepest part of that descent and with the road’s potentially in bad condition just around the bend I dismounted my longboard and hung it through the straps of my backpack on my back. I begin the walk down the rest of the hill and as I turned the corner it became very apparent the reason for all the signs. The bridge that once stood at the bottom of the hill across a small river was gone. I blinked my eyes a bit as I stared at this incredibly large crane on my side of the river and what appeared to be the beginnings of a new bridge footing. Other than that, there was no sign of any way to cross. Again I began calculating the distance I would have to travel if I had to back track compared to the remaining daylight available and I knew I needed to figure out a way across. I could see the road I needed to be on. It was only a few hundred feet in front of me. I could clearly see my next turn and direction to travel to continue my training push home yet this deep ravine and small river stood in my way.

As I continued to walk toward the space that once was a bridge I began looking up and down the river to see if there was another way across. Surely there was a tree down, a foot bridge, or maybe even some rocks I could easily cross over. I did not see anything. All I could see was the huge ditch and a very deep fast moving stream of water swollen further by all the snow and rain we have had this winter. Right across the gap was my safe route home but regardless of how close getting across the river had to be accomplished before I could continue on my way.

When I reached the end of the road I walked up to the edge beside the crane. The water had been damned on the side and the river was now very narrow at the point but was moving very fast. As strong of a swimmer I am the idea of falling in that with a Camelbak backpack and a 42 inch skateboard strapped across my back was not appealing in the least so attempting to wade the creek was not part of the plan. I suspected that water was cold and hypothermia and skating wet another 10 miles or so was not a thrilling prospect either. I began to search the bank for something I could lay across but could not find anything and I just stood there a moment staring at the water obstacle in front of me, the road on the other side of the bank I needed to be on, and just for a moment seemed stuck. Going back would surely take me on a dark road home. Even though I had been alert I missed the signs on the previous road warning of the closing that could have encouraged me to alter my route. Once I was confronted with the “closed” signs it was too late. I was all in. Focusing on the raging water in front of me I just simply stood there.

Then, for some reason I looked to the right and out of the corner of my eye I saw a small one foot wide make shift footbridge that the construction workers building the bridge must have fashioned. Here I was standing looking straight ahead where the large bridge once stood and all I could think about was getting across at that very point when an alternative was simply a detour of a few feet. I began to laugh at the combination of my stupidity and the fact that for the first time in my long distance skateboarding career I was about to go hiking.

I made my way down the big rocks that the crew had put in place to stabilize the bank of the river which had been severely damaged by the very floods that must have taken the old bridge down. It was a bit slick but I was able to make it to the footbridge which was a great deal narrower than it even looked from above. The water was moving very swiftly underneath and I knew that falling in was not an option. I had my phone in my hand as I stepped slowly out on the one foot wide board. My thoughts were that I began to totter I would toss it to the bank across so that it would not get submerged and destroyed by going in the water with me. I figured I would be able to crawl out and at least call for someone to come pick me up or at least allow it to be used to help find the body. (Its funny how thoughts like that go through your mind). You see I use a program called Map My Tracks (www.mapmytracks.com) that uses the GPS of my phone to map my progress when I am out training so that if something happens my family can have someone come find me.

Crossing the shaky footbridge was a bit of a challenge but I made it fine. I knew if I fell to the left I had the risk of hitting my head on the board so I kept telling myself if you fall, fall right. It was narrow and yes it was not easy but it was still what I needed to do to get back on the path home. I climbed up the bank, stomped the dirt off of my shoes a bit, and began the push up the road on my board the whole time laughing and grinning about the crossing of the bridge washed out. In ten miles I was back at home.

As I was telling this story Monday morning to a friend of mine my friend said “You know there’s a message in that story?”

At first I did not see it but as I thought about it I agreed. Life is often times so much like that training push. It starts out with a great deal of hope and excitement. Yes, there is suffering that comes along the way like the big climbs or the “false flat” but for the most part as people we seem to move through it. We continue on with our life focused on what we want, the path we have chosen for ourselves, and oblivious to the signs that tell us that there is a detour coming up the road. Because we seem to suffer some but can handle it we begin to get this feeling of what I call false self awareness where we think we can pretty much handle anything. Don’t get me wrong. I do think God has created us to be a confident people but how often do we actually find ourselves all of a sudden standing at the end of the road staring at a bridge that has been washed away before we could cross it? Somehow along the route we have focused on a direction we have planned and when we do see a “road closed sign” we miss it, ignore it, or simply just do not believe it. We also often find ourselves looking at the direction from whence we came to this point and find that darkness waits if we try to retrace our steps. We are standing at the edge of a bridge no longer there but the prize, that road ultimately home, is just across the way. It is that road to life that is right there almost under our feet yet for some reason there is a chasm between us and it. Along the route we had even experienced times of false flat where we thought we were cruising down hill when in all actuality we were laboring to move forward. Once we arrive at the barrier impeding us we look straight ahead at it, just as I did looking across the ravine, singly focused on the space where once the bridge stood. Because of the long road to get to this point it is hard for us to look anywhere but in the direction we have been pushing when all along by simply diverting off of that path and looking for an answer we can find that small narrow footbridge off to the right. Yes, that path may seem hard but it is not as hard as the suffering that brought us to that point. That bridge might be narrow but it is not filled with near the dangers that that big open road of our own choosing was behind us. And the way home once we have crossed is solid under our feet. Turning back from this point leads ultimately to darkness but in front of us is enough light to keep us safe.

In Matthew Chapter 7 verse 14 it says “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life…”

So, what is standing in your way from crossing over the footbridge that ultimately leads you home? What signs did you see but ignored that told you that you might be heading in the wrong direction? Is it possible that maybe you are so okay with your sufferings at the moment that you do not realize that there is something better or have you reached that space where a bridge once stood and decided rather to risk it any further you would just turn around and head back into the darkness?

Several years ago I wrote a bit of free verse that compared life to climbing a mountain. In it I noted how we as humans are apt to cling to a place along the way that is familiar even if it is painful because we fear the unknown more than familiar pain. What narrow footbridge seems to be more frightful to you than returning to the familiar suffering of the route that brought you this far?

God has a plan for your life. He does give you free will to choose that plan or stick with your own direction. Because He loves you he has laid down a footbridge through His Son Jesus Christ that will put you ultimately on the path to His love and faithfulness. Yes, it may be a narrow one but the end is so worth it.

So, what’s keeping you from crossing that bridge that is washed out in your life?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Turning A Situation Around-Notes from the Road with The Follow Me Tour

Last week's Follow Me Tour stop in Kingsport, Tennessee turned out amazing even though it started out very rocky and crazy.  It was just Pete and I taking this one and when we pulled into the parking lot of this Christian teen club Pete made a joke saying "I hope they know we are coming."  It had been booked out about 2 months ago.  Sure enough we walk in and the lady that runs the place has this look on her face that said "I forgot"!    She was a bit rattled because they had also over-booked the number of bands for the night and was really stressed out.   At first she was really skeptical about us and started quizzing us about what our ministry was about.  She asked exactly that and I answered "It's about Jesus."   Her next question was "How do you feel about gays because we may have some people here in that lifestyle?"  My response was that though I don't personally support that lifestyle that Jesus says we are to love everyone, share our faith with everyone, not be judgmental, and share His love and redemption. 

Then she said that she would see how the night goes and that we maybe would be able to speak but she wasn't sure.  I think she was taken aback when both Pete and I said that it was no problem and that we would just hang out, be around the teens and young adults, and just be a part of the evening however it worked out.  She then asked me to be the MC to open with prayer and introduce the bands.   As the night got started one of the band members came back to where she was at the concession stand asking if they could get some water for the group.  She told them that she used to provide water but needed to sell it to them now because of budget cuts.  He was great about it and went back to his merchandise table to get some cash.  I quickly added up the members of all the bands in my head, pulled out a $20 and paid for the water (a dollar a bottle of something she could have purchased at Wal-Mart for $2.50 a case).   I think that was the act that completely turned the situation around because after the first band she came up to me and asked if we would do the message between the third band and fourth. 

When it was time for the Blue Collar Preachers to take stage I think the message went well.  God put it on my heart to talk about how we face adversity in this life but how through his grace and love we have the hope of eternal life with Him.  (1st Peter Chapter 1)  The crowd was a pretty rough disenfranchised group of youth from the Kingsport area (read:Emo) and I hope it hit home with them.  I talked about how God is with us throughout every day's walk and just continues to pour his love on us even when we don't seem to want it. Pete focused on how God can do amazing things in our lives even when we are challenged by life itself.

A lady who was there who was the mother of one of the band members of the first band that played (it was there very first performance) came up to me later and handed me something.  She said that God had put it on her heart before she left the house to give it to someone at the place and after hearing the message and learning that the Follow Me Tour had no funding, no base church, or anything, that she knew it was for us.  I just stuck it in my pocket and didn't even look at it.

Pete had just rented the space where the Victor Ministry was (the place we saw Jay Bakker) for a Sunday afternoon Bible Study/Outreach/Office for his ministry and a home base for the Follow Me Tour that morning.  I reached in my pocket and said "Well, here's some money to start your fund for "The Gathering" (the name he's given it).  When I looked down I realized that what I had thought might be a twenty was a HUNDRED!!!!  It was crazy man…this woman had shared with us how her son had never gone to church, how her ex-husband had been abusive and was in prison, and how now God was working in their lives and that playing in a Christian rock band had saved him.  What a witness!!! 

We could have gotten upset and angry driving 190 miles to a place to find out that we were not part of the program. We could have allowed our egos to step in and destroy what turned out to be a blessing. Somehow, as we have learned throughout the Follow Me Tour run since June of this year, by simply following Him where ever He leads us something good will always come out of that followership.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Are You?

During a long distance push yesterday afternoon as a recovery from Saturday’s 60 mile monster I passed a lady in her yard who was struggling with large bags of top soil in the back of her pick up. She was a slightly built lady who appeared to be in her late 60’s but never the less was muscling these 50 lb bags by hugging them and slowly walking to the flower bed she where she was placing them. As I road past I remembered what George (Franco-Pastor of Operations at the Cove Church) had talked about in his message that morning about “who is our neighbor” and how we as Christ followers are called to help others.

After I had gone about 50 feet down the road God placed it on my heart to turn around and go back and offer help. There were at least 7 bags I noticed still in the bed of the truck and it was looking like it was about to rain. I turned around and skated back up to where she was and asked if I could be any help. Picture in your mind how I looked: Black Adidas shorts, red New Balance running shirt, red and black CamelBak backpack, mountain bike helmet (it’s not as hot as a skateboard helmet), Tifosi sport sunglasses, already covered in sweat, and riding a really big skateboard.

The lady at first naturally was taken aback. The look she gave me has now become a very familiar one since being bolder about stopping and praying for people on some of my skating trips. It reminded me of the poll we had taken in church that morning that said that the majority of us did not stop and offer help to people that we did not know because of fear. This was that look of cautious fear but because of the heat and the fact that there were actually eight more bags to unload she welcomed every so reluctantly the help.

It took me all of two minutes to unload the bags. Being somewhat tall and having a pretty good frame I was able to reach in the bed and grab the bags one in each hand and haul them over to the flower bed across the yard. The whole time I could tell the woman was just trying to figure out what I was going to ask for in return or what was next. When I got finished I thanked her for letting me help and again she just looked at me trying to figure me out.

Then it happened. She blurted out “What are you?”

At first I could not figure out what she was asking. A long distance skateboarder? A neighbor? Another weirdo who is about to ask for money?

I had to ask her to repeat the question.

“What are you? A policeman?” She said.

I was still lost to what she was trying to determine but then it hit me. Maybe I looked like a bike cop…except on a skateboard? Hmm. I was still confused.

Finally God gave me a answer and it was directly from George’s message about how Christians are perceived in a poor light.

“I am a Christian” I said.

She just stood silent staring at me and I repeated myself. “I am Christian and that is why I stopped to help. That is what Christ Followers are supposed to be doing.”

A smile, the first one of the whole exchange, spread across this lady’s face and I could tell that it was as much a huge release of her fear as it was thankfulness.

Before I left I asked her if I could pray for her and I did. I prayed that she gets her garden done before the rain came, that she be blessed by God’s great love and grace, and that she have a great rest of the day.

After I got up the road a mile or so the question she kept asking was just ringing in my head.

“What are you?” It was not “Who are you?” or “Why are you stopping?” or “Where do you live”?

No. Her simple question was the most complex one she could have every asked anyone.

“What are you?” cuts right to the core of our being as Christ Followers. Answering that question should be a foregone conclusion if we are truly living up to what we confess to be but unfortunately that does not always show through. As I have quoted before there is a song by Warren Barfield, an awesome contemporary Christian singer/songwriter from Eastern North Carolina who now lives in Nashville, called “Mistaken”. The line from the song that has always jumped out at me is “I shouldn’t have to tell you who I am. Because who I am should be speaking for itself.”

Maybe that line needs to be “Because WHAT I am should be speaking for itself.”

Our actions, our words, our deeds, and our whole demeanor should be answering the question “What Are You?” on a daily basis. Yet, as George discussed in his message yesterday as Christians we fail as a group to convey that answer in that manner.

So how do we then put into action what is asked of us? How do we answer the question of what we are?

John 13:35 helps give us a first step. As disciples and followers of Him we must love one another:
“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another”

Jesus then adds even more clarity to how we should answer our identity question:

Mark 12:30-31 (New International Version)
30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'31The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'[b]There is no commandment greater than these."
You see by following what Jesus says will ensure the inheritance of eternal life with Him it is love that defines us. Love for God and love for our neighbor should shout the answer to the question.

“What are you?” Do your actions reinforce the distrust of Christianity today or are your actions speaking for what you profess to be? Does your LOVE scream out Jesus?

I for one want nothing more than to break the stereotype of the Christian who is seen as closed minded, hypocritical, and insensitive. In my life I have been guilty of all three with a special emphasis on being a hypocrite. For me supporting a mission in Central America with money was one thing but helping my “neighbor”, the lost or downtrodden right here in our own backyard has been lacking.

There are people in our surrounding community that need us as Christ Followers to just be there for them. There are homeless, people who have lost jobs, people who are dealing with illness or depression, the elderly, the poor, and those in crime ridden neighborhoods. There are also people who seem to have everything, money, nice cars, and large homes on the lake, but have something missing in their lives.

“What are you?” Let your actions answer that question. You see people do not need to know “who” you are. They just need to know “what” you are: A Christ follower who loves them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The World

The World tells you that there is no god but that you are a god yourself.

The World tells you that you deserve everything you can get.

The World tells you that you there is nothing more than what you see right here.

The World tells you that life just happened and we are all animals fighting for our scraps.

The World gives you grief.
The World gives you pain.
The World gives you anguish.
The World gives you death.

So why don’t you turn away from the World and turn toward the Father? Don’t you want more than what the World can offer you?

Yes, the world gives you a million reasons to believe that God doesn't exist, that the Resurection didn't happen, that Jesus didn't come to earth and is not the Son. But what has the world done to convince you that you should believe in the world?

Open up your minds and open up your hearts to things this world will never offer. Hope, peace, love, and the promise of eternal life.

Try it. You may like it for eternity.

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life"