Twenty Years Have Passed

I recently connected with a number of friends I had lost touch with after high school.

It’s difficult to believe, but 20 years have passed since I lived in the Chattanooga area in a little neighborhood called Mill Run, nestled neatly in a partial of land located directly behind my Alma Mater.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, downtown city skyline.

Chattanooga, Tennessee, downtown city skyline.

I loved that neighborhood, the place we called home during my high school years, the covered bridge you had to cross to get to the school, and the rich memories I have of my childhood there.

I loved it, and I left it.

There’s a Darrell Scott song that says,

“It’s been fifteen years since I left home
Said good luck to every seed I’d sown
Gave it my best, then I left it alone
I hope they’re doing all right”

In my case, it’s been 20 years, but the words of the song ring true just the same. It was almost as if I took the first available train out of Chattanooga and, with my well-wishes, left it alone.

Perhaps that’s why this fall, when I had the privilege of helping coordinate our 20 year high school reunion, it was accompanied by a flood of emotions. It’s hard to describe the mixture of joy and regret, excitement and anxiety, and deep reflection that accompanies a 20 year reunion in your childhood town.

I know many who don’t like the idea of reconnecting with people you haven’t seen in 20 years. I get that. To varying degrees, we were all pretty foolish in high school. But I found this reunion very beneficial. My wife put it well, “It was very different from the 10 year… It seemed like everyone was very comfortable and not trying to impress each other.”

The fact is, there’s a lot of water under the bridge that leads back to our high school. Twenty years is a long time. Life has beat us all up a bit, and we’ve lived long enough to experience some major failures of our own. We’ve fallen on our faces many times, and we’re more aware of our need for grace (and hopefully more gracious as a result).

One of my friends from elementary school recently posted this on FaceBook:

“I am going to church today. My deepest prayer is that God will send wisdom and peace to me and bless my wife and children. I will pray, I will sing, and I will listen. May the Lord have mercy on me for all that I have done that is so wrong. Bless all of you.”

This note is one of my favorite notes that I’ve ever read on social media. I’m confident my friend will receive mercy from God.

Mercy is not getting what you deserve.

Grace is getting the favor you don’t deserve.

Both mercy and grace are available to everyone who calls on the Lord, even after 20 years of straying (or more).

As long as you have breath in your lungs, it’s never too late to turn to the LORD. “While you are among the living, you have hope!” (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

God’s self-revelation of Himself is as a merciful and gracious God: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

He is full of tenderness and compassion toward you: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14).

If you come to Him, and pour our your heart to Him, He will hear your cry and respond with grace and mercy: “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry” (Isaiah 30:19).

You have not outlived God’s mercy.

Twenty years may have passed, and that is a long time; but God can make everything new.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

What I Learned About Fear On Our Family Vacation

I watched my 9-year old son playing in the ocean on our yearly family vacation in Fenwick Island, Delaware, and I learned something about life (yes, there’s a beach in Delaware; and no, it’s not cold there, at least not in August).

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When we first got there, Joshua didn’t worry at all about the waves. He just dove in headfirst and attacked the sea with passion and full abandon. He wore a life jacket only because his dad and mom made him.

Then, it happened.

He got rolled by a monstrous wave. I mean it broke right on him. It wasn’t an “over, under, or through” type of wave. It was an all-out sucker punch. He had no time to react. The wave just came upon him like an uppercut, and Joshua took it directly on the chin. Driven harshly into the bank, he lost his breath, cut his lip on the sand, and tasted the salt water’s sting.

Dazed and confused, a new emotion entered my son’s soul, not something he’d previously associated with the ocean.

Fear.

It took him two full days and a lot of encouragement before he ventured back in the water, this time with his dad by his side. On one of those days confined to the shore, we talked about what David said in Psalm 56: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid.” That verse helps me tremendously because I, too, struggle with fear. I told my son that my fear may look different from his, but the truth is that there are many times when I’m very afraid, and it helps me to know that King David struggled with fear, too.

I think I often approach life a lot like my son was approaching the ocean. I dive in laughing until I get smacked around. Then everything changes. Disillusioned by hope deferred, I keep my dreams to myself. Knocked over relationally, I’m less apt to dive back in. Sometimes, it’s easier just to say, “I’m not getting in again.” But then I think about all I’m missing and wonder if there’s another way of dealing with my fear than pulling back. I see another way in this psalm.

I like how David admits his fear in this verse. He doesn’t walk around saying, “I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid.” He doesn’t drive around with a No Fear bumper sticker on the back of his car.

Instead, David just acknowledges his fear. He owns it. He confesses it. And then he goes to God with it. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.”

I talked to Joshua about what it looks like to admit your fears and to take them to God in honest prayer. I shared with him about my own fears in business and how I was praying through them. I encouraged him to talk to the Lord, as David talked to God in this psalm, to battle his fear through prayer and trust in the Lord.

A huge smile came across my face when he got back in the ocean, this time with a healthy respect for the waves and a greater appreciation for the God who controls them and who helps us battle our fears.

As I survey the landscape of my own life, I can relate more to Joshua and to King David than to the No Fear guys. The truth is, I’ve been knocked around a few times. And every time it happens, I’m less likely to dive in to the deep-end and more tempted to fear. But every time fear strikes, I’m beginning to see it as an invitation to go to God in my trembling and put my trust in Him. “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose Word I praise, in God I trust, I will not be afraid.” (Psalm 56:3-4. Isn’t it good to know that we can be honest with the Lord about our fears, and He will give us courage and peace?

The Birds Do It, So Why Not You and Me?

“Yesterday I looked at some birds in a cage.

Birds Singing

These poor little creatures are entirely dependent on those who feed them. They cannot help themselves. If seed and water is not supplied, they will die. Yet there they sit and sing with all their might. Their state of dependence never distresses them. They never think that their keeper will fail them.

That is my position. I am God’s singing bird. Perhaps I wonder where I shall get my bread or my next sermons, and a great many cares and troubles come to me. But why should I be troubled? Instead of mistrusting my keeper, who has fed me these many years, I had best sit and sing as loudly as I can. That is the best thing to do. The birds do it, so why not you and me?

The Lord has constantly been true. Do not doubt.

‘For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear'” (Hebrews 13:5-6).

Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters, page 322

If You’re Waiting on God, You’re Not Alone

Leaning against the tall, black signpost at the 5-point crosswalk on 5th and Main Street in downtown Franklin, my eyes move upward toward the walk-sign, my feet eagerly anticipating the indication that it is safe to cross the busy intersection.

Don't walk New York traffic sign

Even as the church bells ring softly in the background, an automated voice commands me through the warm summer air to wait.

“Wait”… “Wait”… “Wait”… “Wait”…

And finally,

“Walk sign is on”… “Walk sign is on”… “Walk sign is on”…

At the prompting of this sophisticated crosswalk, I amble along the street joyful but contemplative. I can’t help but wonder how much of my life has been spent waiting.

Waiting to get married. Waiting for children to come. Waiting for the doors to open for pastoral ministry. Waiting to plant a church. Waiting for a financial breakthrough. Waiting for progress in so many life-long prayers, dreams, and desires.

Waiting on the sign that says it’s safe to proceed.

It’s a brief part of every short jaunt from my office building to the local coffee shop just to snag a shot of espresso for the morning’s push. But it’s a major part of our lives as a whole. So much of life is spent in waiting.

And it’s easy to grow weary while you wait.

On This Side of Heaven, We Wait

The truth is, for the Christian, all of life is one big, steady wait.

There is a groaning and anticipation, an expectation, a longing, and a yearning that is natural for the believer on this side of eternity. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God”, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:19; 23)

In this world, we will never outgrow our waiting. The pain of it is with us at the dawn of every new day even as the dew kisses the grass and the birds greet the morning with melodic singing.

Every day arrives holding some new measure of waiting. Yet, God’s mercies are also new every morning, which makes the waiting worthwhile. God upholds us with sustaining grace when He calls us to stand in line and wait.

As we manage our way through the fits and starts of our everyday lives, it’s helpful to know that waiting is a major part of God’s plan for us.

If you’re waiting on God, you are not alone. The Lord enrolls each of His children in this university. Abraham was promised a son at 75; God delivered on the promise when Abraham was 100. Joseph was given a dream and then sold into slavery; it was decades before his vision became reality. Moses wandered in the desert 40 years before seeing the Promised Land. David was anointed king of Israel and then spent years narrowly escaping death at the hand of Saul before the promised kingship was finally granted to him.

Even if you have your desires delivered, ultimately God has placed eternity into our hearts and we are in a constant craving for the future day when his glory will be fully revealed in us and through us.

One day, the complete realization of our inheritance in Christ will finally be ours. On that day we will be fully redeemed and there will be no more waiting. For now, we live with the reality that our best life is future, not present. Our best life is then, not now.

If you’re growing weary in your waiting, remember that you’re not alone. The LORD works on behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).

And He, also, is waiting… to be gracious to you:

“Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you,
and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”
(Isaiah 30:18 ESV)

This post has been adapted from an excerpt in the book What Thirty-Somethings Need to Hear: When Age Meets Grace.

The Joy of Working In a Job You Love

I am so grateful for the opportunity to work in a job I love, surrounded by a group of individuals I deeply respect, who are united with a common purpose that truly serves companies and changes lives.

provisions-group-logo

It also doesn’t hurt that the base of our operations is an abandoned fire station on 6th avenue in historic downtown Franklin. I have a standing desk that provides a great view outside, via the bay windows of our renovated garage doors, and I make most of my business calls outdoors. Our office is within walking distance from the 5-Points Starbucks, so I have a daily view of history as I sip my morning jolt of java… a blessing I don’t ever want to take for granted.

Provisions Group had humble beginnings, fueled by the compelling vision of our Founding Partner, Mark Freeman, to change people’s lives by putting them to work in jobs they love. Since 2003, the company has grown immensely and now offers strategy and talent to the largest healthcare companies in the U.S.

Though our firm has grown in size, the integrity of our purpose and our process has stayed fully in-tact. Mark has consistently led our growing team in prayer and the pursuit of excellence for the clients we serve, the consultants we employ, and the candidates we interact with. It’s a wonderful privilege to partner together in our common mission.

Simply put, I love my job.

As I approach each work week, I’m often reminded of these words from Wisdom Literature:

“There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God has given wisdom and knowledge and joy” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26)

To enjoy your work is a gift from God.

To help others find meaningful work that they enjoy is quite a gift, as well.

So, I am thankful that The Gospel Coalition has featured Provisions Group in the Faith and Work Series of their TGCvocation Column. I hope you enjoy the article and that you, too, find enjoyment in the work you do.

Redeeming Grace Church Welcomes Its First New Members!

After 18 months of meeting together on Saturday nights, Redeeming Grace Church welcomes its first official new members – 111 precious people (67 adults with their 44 children).

God has been so kind to Redeeming Grace Church!

Here’s a brief video capturing memories from our first 18 months together. Every picture is a portrait of the faithfulness of God, and we are grateful!

One of The Most Powerful Questions I’ve Ever Been Asked

It was a sunny day in Chattanooga, TN. I was 17, and I was working as a “bag boy” at the local Red Food Store. Sweat was dripping from my temples as I hustled in and out of the building carting groceries mostly for busy moms and elderly ladies who appreciated the help.

Polycart Flickr

In those days, at least in the store where I was working, people generally tipped the bag boys. It was not uncommon to get a dollar or two for 10-15 minutes of work, and I quickly discovered that the friendlier I was and the faster I could help a patron, the more cash I would take home.

It’s been over 20 years, and I can still vividly remember the conversation I had with one of the customers that hot, smoldering day. I had never met this woman before, and I never saw her again. It wasn’t a long exchange, but it has left an indelible mark on my life for these 20+ years.

As I recall, I was wearing a white shirt with khaki shorts. A wooden cross dangled from the end of a tight rope necklace, making it visible between the collar of my shirt.

When I loaded the final sack of provisions into the trunk of her car, she handed me a tip, paid a thoughtful compliment, and asked me one of the powerful questions I’ve ever been asked. Here’s how it went down…

The Lady: “Your such a kind young man; do you mind if I ask you a question?”
Me: “Sure.”

The Lady: “That cross around your neck” (pointing to the wooden cross dangling from my rope neck chain)
Me: “yes…”

The Lady (The Question): “Is it decoration, or is it real?”

I can remember being somewhat stunned by her question. Initially, I didn’t know how to respond.

The Backstory

The truth was, I wore the necklace because I thought it looked cool. I also wore it because in the circles I ran in, it was socially acceptable. I went to church every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and on most Wednesday nights. I was a leader in our youth group, and I had recently been baptized.

On the outside, everything looked great. I wasn’t drinking or doing drugs. I was the Sr. Class Vice President heading toward graduating high school as a Valedictorian with a 4.0 GPA. Yet, inside, I was fully driven by envy and selfish-ambition, the desire to “one-up” my identical twin brother in a constant competition for the applause of others (I’ve written previously about my struggles in comparison as an identical twin).

I frequently found my emotional state was dependent on how I measured up against him, and he often won the rivalry. We had five major fights our senior year of high school. When I say fights, I mean the real-deal: raw, fist-flinging, furniture-throwing, glass-breaking, injury-inducing bouts and brawls.

During our last major fight, we stood in the cul-de-sac and duked it out, my face taking the worst of the beatings until our older brother stepped in and stopped the fight. The entire scene was like something from a bad movie, full of anger and hatred. I retreated to the woods on my hands and knees, with the dirt between my palms. I looked up to the heavens and prayed, “God, please help us.”

It may have been the first time I truly prayed.

Is This Decoration, or Is It Real?

I share these details to give you the context for this particular exchange. Basically, I was a “religious” guy, a pretender with a wooden cross around my neck, masking a hidden life of anger, lust, malice, envy, and hatred. I was far from God.

Maybe the question just entered her mind, prompted by the Spirit, and she was faithful to step out of her comfort zone and ask it. If so, I respect her for her sensitivity to the Spirit and boldness with me. Or maybe she could tell I was a fake, kind of like how someone at a bank could recognize counterfeit bills just but being so familiar with the real thing.

Perhaps she wasn’t even aware of how deeply it would affect me. In any case, I could not get the question out of my mind, and as I slowly made my way back to the front doors of the grocery store, all I could think was, “That cross around your neck… Is it decoration or is it real?”

Deep down inside, something told me it was more than decoration to her and whatever she had, I lacked.

It wasn’t long after that I heard the gospel during my freshman year of college on the campus of the University of Tennessee and the cross became real to me. I heard the good news that Jesus Christ lived a perfect, lust-free, greed-free, envy-free, sin-free life and that he willingly laid down his perfect life to die a substitutionary death on a wooden cross in order to bear the full wrath of God for the sins of all who would trust in him. That night, God turned me from my trusting in my own performance to trusting fully in the Savior and my life was forever changed.

The True Message of the Cross

The cross is not a decoration. The cross is a declaration of the holiness of God and His great love for sinners. It’s not about religion. It’s about being real with God. It’s about coming to Him just as we are and admitting that we’re so bad that it took the Son of God himself to come and to live his life for us and to offer his life as a sacrifice so that we could be forgiven.

The news of the cross is at the same time the most horrifying and best news in the world. It displays for us vividly that we’ll never be “good enough” to earn the favor of God because we’ve all blown it. That’s why Jesus came, and that’s why he died. It’s not faith + our works that will save us. It’s faith alone in Christ alone for the glory of God alone.

That’s what the cross is all about. It’s about dropping the act, admitting our need for rescue, and rolling the burden of our sin completely over to Jesus while we trust entirely in the life he lived and died for us. That’s why this dear woman’s question has stuck with me for so many years:

“That cross around your neck.. Is it decoration, or is it real?”

Only when it’s real will we turn from our own performance and trust fully in Christ alone to save.

Is the cross real to you? Oh, may God make it so real to you that you find eternal life and present joy in Him! “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).