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Archive for the ‘Victory’ Category

I drove home from Memphis in silence today.

This was a long day that began with news of the death of a church member and then ended with the experience of being with another family while they said good-bye to a 15-day old child (the father has written a stunningly beautiful reflection on his son’s brief life here).

So, at the end of this painfully long day I made the 90 minute trip home in silence. My soul could not bear one more word, note, voice, or sound. Even the rhythmic bumping of tires against the pavement on I-55 seemed to blur into the grief that encapsulated the drive home.

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ImageAs the years go, 2012 has been a good one personally and professionally. This year was a marked difference from 2011, which at times I would like to forget, but believe will ultimately go down as one of the more important years of my life.

On December 31, 2011 the new year was not looking so bright. Just 10 days before I had spent the night in the hospital because of chest pains related to a season of unrelenting stress. I limped through Christmas Eve—typically my favorite service of the year—and struggled to prepare for worship on January 1 (which was the first Sunday of 2012).

I went to bed on New Year’s Eve early (because that’s how I roll now that I’m past 40). And then a strange thing happened. I dreamed. And I learned an important principle: God will always conspire to remind you of the truth that He is not done with you. That the past does not determine your future.

I’ve never been a big proponent of “dream interpretation.” I had a friend in seminary who kept dream journals of every dream he ever had. He had rows and rows of journals and had trained himself to wake up to write down his dreams. He was a good friend, but I always felt like this was an odd quirk that he shouldn’t share with anyone.

Dreams are just dreams, right? They don’t mean anything. They’re just random images produced by neurological stimuli.

That’s been my take on dreams, at least. Until December 31, 2011. That night my dreams were vivid and clear. I’ve never had anything like them before and haven’t since. And I’m convinced that they were God’s desperate attempt to reach me at one of the darkest moments of my life. God conspired to reach me through a way that I could see and understand. And because of these two dreams when dawn broke on a new year, I truly believed I had begun a new year.

Dream One.

In the first dream I was back in my home church in Ackerman. The pews were out of order and the lights were off. And people kept telling me that I was supposed to preach. Which was terrifying to me because I wasn’t prepared to preach. I wasn’t even sure why I was there. Then behind me a voice came whispering to me, “Christ is alive.”

And the dream was over.

Dream Two.

I was wandering through a dark parking garage. I think there were others with me but never saw anyone. As I exited the dark parking garage, a strong voice told me, “No more fear.”

And the second dream was over.

When I woke the next morning, the dreams did not fade. They stayed with me. As I rose to preach that morning, I preached with the confidence that Christ was alive and that I no longer had to fear. In fact, I distinctly remember the joy of that morning. Probably the first joy I had felt in some time.

And here’s what I took away from that: Our God will go to great lengths to remind you of the truth of his love and grace. Maybe God won’t use dreams to speak to you (or maybe God will). Maybe it will be a great sunset, an unexpected conversation with a friend, that random quote you see at 2 a.m. on Facebook, a Bible Study, a sermon, an encounter with scripture. Who knows. But here’s the thing: I am convinced that our God will conspire to bring light to your darkness. And will use any means necessary.

That unexpected scheming of God gave me dreams that allowed me to begin again this year. My prayer is that you will have the eyes to see and the ears to hear as you enter this new year and new season of your life.

Happy New Year.

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On Tuesday, November 6, Americans will head to the polls to vote. This has been a particularly nasty election cycle. Candidates, supporters, and the media have all played to our worst fears and have pushed the level of dialogue in our country to its lowest point in a generation or more. With facebook, twitter, email and texting, we have exponentially more ways to voice our opinion in 2012—and more ways to denigrate the thoughts and opinions of others.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard statements like this one far too often in the last few months: “If you vote for ______, then you don’t love America.” Or, “A vote for ______, means you want America to fail.” Statements like these are damaging to our democracy (which is based on the ability of people to freely vote for the candidate of their choice, in case you’ve forgotten), and damaging to our witness as Christians and to the Body of Christ as a whole.

300 years ago, John Wesley wrote this in his journal:

“I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them, 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.”
John Wesley, October 6, 1774

What if we took Wesley’s words to heart over the next few days? What if you, because of the conviction in your heart and the judgment of your mind made a firm decision who to vote for and then made the commitment to not speak evil of “the other guy” or even speak evil of supporters of “the other guy.” Remember, if you want a one party system there are places you can go for that: North Korea, China, Cuba, and Russia to name just a few.

Or, if John Wesley words aren’t convicting enough, think about what Paul says in Galatians 5:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: . . .  enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions . . . and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Strong words from Paul about how we speak of and treat those we disagree with on any topic. For Christians, this is a matter of whether or not we’re willing to step up and actually live what we believe in every arena of life–even in our political discussions and disagreements.

So, join me in prayer these last few days before the election arrives that people will faithfully discern their vote, that they will vote, and that even in the midst of a contentious election we will do what we’re all called to do: love God and love people.

And if you’re looking for a third-party candidate, I strongly endorse this guy:

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Mr. Vaughn was my nemesis.

He taught me Biology, Biology II, and Chemistry in high school (and was also the faculty sponsor for the chess club). And, though I liked him, he drove me crazy–particularly in Chemistry.

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When the planes hit the towers on September 11, 2001, I was in a staff meeting. Jennifer Hart, on staff at the time, came into meeting late talking about radio reports of something strange happening in New York. After staff meeting, I went upstairs to lead a Disciple Bible Study. During the breaks I would go down the hall to watch the news. None of us understood the enormity of what was unfolding before us.

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Seven years ago tomorrow (August 29), we spent my daughter’s second birthday cowering in the laundry room as Hurricane Katrina blew through and uprooted trees, destroyed homes, and flooded the coast.

This year, we’ll spend my daughter’s 9th birthday riding out Hurricane Isaac—hopefully not in the laundry room.

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Well, here we are. The final day of the journal from the final day of the sabbatical. Over the course of sharing these journal entries, I’ve edited most posts for length and content (some content was extremely personal; some would’ve been utterly boring to you; some was redundant). But today’s post you get in its entirety, only edited for egregious grammatical errors and clarity.

Thank you for sticking with me in this journey. I’ve appreciated your comments and encouragement along the way. But the truth is I did this for my own soul. I needed to relive and revisit what God did to me and for me in these weeks. 

This isn’t the end of the blog (more on that tomorrow). But for now, here’s the final entry. Enjoy.

July 3 – Day 42
10:05 p.m.
Home

A leader can’t lead until he knows where he’s going.
~ John Locke (to Jack Shepherd)
Lost, Season 1, Ep. 5

Forty-two days ago I was on a plane heading to New York. The adventure was beginning. The walk-about commenced with a hug and kiss from Audra at the Gulfport Airport. I knew these weeks were going to be important. I just didn’t know how important.

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We’re approaching the end of the journey. In just a few days, I’ll offer the final post from my sabbatical journal. The end of the journal won’t be the end of the blog! I’ve got some great things planned for the weeks ahead. For those of you just stumbling into this, a reminder of what I’m doing right now:

Over the course of my 6-week sabbatical, I kept a journal of my travels and experiences. I’m sharing some of those to give you a flavor of how God spoke over the course of my time away. Sometimes I’ll share an entire day’s entry. At other times, just a partial/edited post. After the journal entry, I’ll share some of my post-sabbatical reflections on that entry. Each day I started with a quote followed by my reflections on the events of the day.

If you “follow” the blog (upper right on the home page), you’ll get automatic email updates when I post the next entry. You can find previous posts in the links to the right. At the bottom of each post, you’ll notice some “share” buttons. Feel free to share this with others if you think it would be interesting to them or help them.

June 29 – Day 38
9:10 p.m.
Home

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.
~ William James

Home. For good. My lunch date in Water Valley bailed on me today so I decided it was a sign to come home early. If my calculations are somewhat accurate, I travelled over 6,600 miles in 6 weeks. And every step of the way God was lighting the path, teaching me, holding me, and even fighting with me and for me. Never once did He leave me on my own (BTW, Never Once by Matt Redman is the theme song of the summer).

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Over the course of my 6-week sabbatical, I kept a journal of my travels and experiences. I’m sharing some of those to give you a flavor of how God spoke over the course of my time away. Sometimes I’ll share an entire day’s entry. At other times, just a partial/edited post. After the journal entry, I’ll share some of my post-sabbatical reflections on that entry. Each day I started with a quote, followed by my reflections on that day.

If you “follow” the blog (upper right on the home page), you’ll get automatic email updates when I post the next entry. You can find previous posts in the links to the right. At the bottom of each post, you’ll notice some “share” buttons. Feel free to share this with others if you think it would be interesting to them or help them.

June 26 – Day 35
11 p.m.
Water Valley House

All great Christians have been wounded souls.
~ A.W. Tozer

It’s quiet here. I can hear frogs and crickets singing outside. Inside the sound of the struggling air conditioner is all I hear. This final time away will be a time of silence and listening.

Today’s quote from A.W. Tozer is important, I think. Often I look at Christians I admire (like Len Sweet, Andy Stanley, Homer Peden, Nancy Bishop, Willis Britt, etc.) and think that they suddenly became great examples of how to live as a follower of Christ. But the truth is that all of them in one way or another faced the crucible of pain and loss. Some of their stories I know. Others I have no clue what their pain has been. Yet for all of them, whatever their pains were transformed them into the people they are today. They allowed God to shape them. My prayer is that I’ve allowed God to do that for me over these weeks–and will let God shape me in the week ahead.

Tozer reminds us that the scars and deformities brought to us by the battles of life are to be reminders of our weakness and God’s great power. For most of my life I haven’t known what to do with my scars. I’ve hidden them, ignored them, or pretended they were inflicted upon me. This time, though, the hurt was too deep, the fear too real to ignore. I believe that I have embraced the pain, the scars, and the wounds. The wounds have made me different. Better in some ways. More aware of blessings. More expectant of joy; more willing to receive instruction. The wounds have made my relationships better. As painful as they were to receive, the scars are sign-posts of a great victory. Not my victory, but Christ’s victory. For in my weakness His strength has been revealed.

May I never forget these scars.

Come, Lord Jesus. Come.

Reflections on Day 35:

All of us, at some level, have a sense of embarrassment about our failures. Our brokenness. We want others to see us as strong. Unbreakable in the face pain. So, we hide our scars. We act as if they didn’t exist. But our scars are not just our scars. They are reminders of God’s incredible power to save us even from the darkest pits of life. Our scars are part of our story and part the story that God is writing through our lives. Our scars provide us opportunity to talk to people authentically about pain and joy; despair and resurrection. But we have to be honest about them first.

In one of the Lethal Weapon movies (there were so many I can’t remember which one with out watching them all again), where Mel Gibson’s character and his girlfriend (Rene Russo, I think) have this moment of comparing scars and bullet wounds. They’re proud of what they’ve been through. Maybe we don’t have to proudly brag about our scars and wounds. But maybe it’s time to own them. To claim them for what they are–evidence of God’s strength in our weakness.

Question: What scars and wounds in life do you need to own?

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Over the course of my 6-week sabbatical, I kept a journal of my travels and experiences. I’m sharing some of those to give you a flavor of how God spoke over the course of my time away. Sometimes I’ll share an entire day’s entry. At other times, just a partial/edited post. After the journal entry, I’ll share some of my post-sabbatical reflections on that entry. Each day I started with a quote, followed by my reflections on that day.

If you “follow” the blog (upper right on the home page), you’ll get automatic email updates when I post the next entry. You can find previous posts in the links to the right. At the bottom of each post, you’ll notice some “share” buttons. Feel free to share this with others if you think it would be interesting to them or help them.

June 24 – Day 33
3:40 p.m.
Comfort Suites (Room 209) – Cumming, GA

Twas grace that taught my heart to fear;
And grace my fears relieved.
~
John Newton

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