How to Move a Mountain

Mountain

In Mark 11:23, Jesus said, “I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.” To be honest, that verse has troubled me for a long time. The mental image I get from Jesus’ statement is that of a huge mountain being suddenly lifted up and thrown into the sea; but never – not once in my life have I seen that happen. In reality, I can’t even find one example of a mountain going swimming in the entire Bible (with the possible exception of the flood, where God brought the sea to the mountain instead of vice versa).

Was this just a figure of speech from Jesus? Possibly. A parable? Perhaps. Still, that poses a problem for me: If Jesus said I could move mountains, but He was just using that as an exaggerated figure of speech, how do I know which of my problems fits into Jesus’ category of mountain? The actual problem lay in my interpretation.

Let me illustrate with a story: About a year ago my wife was looking through some boxes in one of our upstairs closet. She came across an old prayer list of mine. I had written it in the year 2000. That had been a year of many changes and lots of uncertainty. I changed careers, changed houses, had only recently married, and spent half of the year unemployed. During that period I had begun to use a prayer list on an everyday basis. Over the next couple of years I prayed with that list nearly every day. There was one entire page of personal requests and another page of prayer topics related to my church and its ministry.

Sometime during the next few years we moved to another house and this list got packed away into the box. As I read through the list, fifteen years later, I was stunned. Every item on both pages had been answered by the Lord! Some of them would only qualify as hills or ridges; others were full-blown mountain ranges. Some of them sounded really noble and spiritual (i.e. discipleship and ministry goals) while others sounded trivial or even slightly selfish (like asking for opportunities to work with certain people in the music industry, or wanting to break par with some regularity). The thing is: God answered them all!

Let me go back to Jesus’ statement and read you the very next thing He says: I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them. (Mark 11:23,24  HCSB – emphasis mine)  

I assumed mountain moving was one dramatic, gigantic event. In reality, I realized that most mountains are moved one shovelful at a time. There is this beautiful picture in the book of Revelation of God sitting on His throne and in front of Him is a bowl, which is full of the prayers of the saints. This shows that there is a cumulative effect of praying. This is what I had missed. While a mountain being picked up and tossed into the sea might be more impressive, the mountain that is moved by shovels and front-end loaders is just as gone.

I began to look at my latest list, which I have been using for about 3 years now. I highlighted the mountains that were completely moved in green and the mountains that were showing signs of progress in yellow. I’ll be honest; there are a lot of requests that don’t fit either category. It is that way with mountain-moving. I don’t imagine the first hundred shovelfuls would even be noticeable if I started trying to move Lookout Mountain (the fact that I might get arrested would also impede my progress). However, the reality is that eventually even a great mountain could be moved one shovelful at a time. Thankfully, the time frame isn’t quite that long. First of all, every problem isn’t an Alp; and secondly, there comes a tipping point where God sees that you have cleared enough space for Him to bring in the heavy machinery and finish the job.

That great twentieth century philosopher Tom Petty put it this way:

“The waiting is the hardest part

Every day you see one more card

You take it on faith; you take it to the heart

The waiting is the hardest part”

I have to agree with him, but it sure helps to picture each prayer I pray as one more shovelful off of that mountain, as well as one more prayer in that bowl in front of God’s throne.

Here are three pieces of advice from one mountain-mover to another:

  1. Pray with a list – It helps with your focus, as well as the cumulative effect.
  2. Use a Journal – Record each small bit of progress in the various situations. It helps bolster your faith.
  3. Keep diggin’ – When you feel hopeless, helpless, and joyless, just pull out your list and stick that shovel in the ground one more time.

So, how do you move a mountain? One shovelful at a time.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin… (Zech. 4:10)

Time for a Better News Outlet?

I was in a fast food restaurant today and a young man who looked to be around 20 years old was cleaning the dining room. He looked over to me and said, “It’s almost New Years.” I grunted my agreement with my mouth full. He then said, “Maybe 2016 will be a better year.” “What made your year so bad,” I asked (thinking, how bad can things have really been for a 20 year old?). He said, “Nothing really, I just heard a lady talking about all the bad things that happened this year and saying that she hoped next year would be better.”

I began to think about some of the horrible things that happened in the past twelve months. There have been terrorist attacks (including my own hometown), senseless acts of violence, questionable police tactics, and wars and rebellions around the world. Who knows, this might have been a record setting year of bad news.

On the other hand, what about all the good things that happened in 2015? While we have painstakingly compiled accurate statistics about how many lives have been lost to violence, sickness, and starvation, where can I find the numbers on how many lives have been saved by vigilant doctors and nurses and emergency medical personnel? How many deaths have been avoided by the millions of dollars and man-hours of humanitarian aid and philanthropy? How many children have had their futures redirected because one teacher saw past the problems and recognized the potential? And how many acts of violence have been avoided because of the excellent work of a therapist, pastor, or mentor? Who knows, this might have been a record setting year of good acts!

That’s the rub, isn’t it? We don’t know. While CNN and FNN tell us all the bad news (and MSNBC just seems to rail against life, in general), who is telling the good news? Why isn’t there a GNN… a Good News Network? Think of the stories they could tell 24 hours a day, seven days a week: stories of selflessness and generosity, stories of police and fire personnel who risk their lives to protect others, or stories of people getting onto planes and travelling halfway around the globe to build a shelter or dig a well for the less fortunate.

To be honest, I am not sure we have any more bad things going on today than at any other time in history. Since there are more people on earth than ever before, I suppose it is possible. However, it is also possible that, because we have 24 hour news coverage rather than 2 time slots a day, we report a lot of stories that didn’t make the final cut 20 years ago.

If you subscribe to the first theory of population growth being the cause, then the converse would also be true: there would have been more acts of kindness, love, and generosity than at any time in history. We just don’t have anyone telling those amazing stories. You might say that you don’t choose to see the world through “rose-colored glasses;” but why choose welder’s goggles as the alternative? Do we really want the dark and beauty-less perspective with which we are often presented? The Apostle Paul gave us this suggestion:  Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise—dwell on these things.” (Phil. 4:8 HCSB) 

Why not tune in to GNN for a little while? It might change your whole perspective.

Two Men Named Goss

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” — Isaac Newton

This past weekend, I lost two long-time friends and mentors with the same last name. I met Charley Goss on the first day of seventh-grade football practice. He was the coach who I thought made us run too much and seemed to always call the name of the biggest guy on the team to come pulverize me in “bull in the ring.” He was also the history teacher who paddled me so often that I joked with his wife that I might stand with my back to his casket so that he would recognize me. I met Lari Goss about 20 years later in a recording studio. He was the big-name producer who made time to talk to no-name me.

On the outside, these two couldn’t have been any more different. Charley was a former state-champion wrestler and a member of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame. He was a big, strong man with a booming voice. Lari was a smaller, quieter guy, who was a Grammy award-winning musician, producer, arranger, and orchestrator.

Inside, though, these men were very much alike. They shared two remarkable traits. First of all, they were both passionate about what they did. Charley loved athletics with all of his heart. He coached football, track, and wrestling. In his spare time, he refereed wrestling and even played on a softball team with me for a summer. Lari loved music every bit as much as Charley loved sports. I was once on a television show with Lari and the interviewer asked him what advice he would give to young musicians who might be watching. He said to love music with everything within you… to be willing to do it anytime, anywhere, and to be willing to do it for no pay. While it would take too long to list all of Lari’s accomplishments, one of the greatest facts about him was that he had done it anytime, anywhere, and often with no pay. For this reason, he had a presence in nearly every field of music. From working in the studio with some of the original members of The Atlanta Rhythm Section to arranging and orchestrating the Grammy Awards Show; from producing the Brooklyn Tabernacle choir to producing custom albums for fledgling artists, Lari touched nearly every genre of music.

The second quality these men shared was the one which impacted my life the most. While they were passionate about their respective fields, they were equally committed to mentoring the next generation. They both recognized potential in young people and did everything they could to help them discover every drop that was in them. I wasn’t a really good athlete, but Charley pushed me to run longer and faster, to try harder in class, and to become my very best. As I got out of school, he smoothly transitioned into a friend and encourager who always had time to talk to me as well as listen. To say that I wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much in the music field without Lari’s help is an understatement. He was the person who produced, and endorsed the first two songs that I ever had released on a record label. He also cared enough to tell me when songs weren’t good enough. In fact, he turned down 16 of the 18 songs I played for him (some of them in the first 30 seconds), before choosing two for that first recording. The music industry is full of people who owe Lari a debt of gratitude. For example, on the first album I did with Lari, he brought along a college student who was taking his class on orchestration. Lari had recognized his potential and begun to mentor him, so he allowed him to direct the orchestra during our sessions. That young man, who is named Bradley Knight, is now a well-known arranger and orchestrator in his own right.

Ironically, my best friend, who is a Grammy nominated producer and musician, can tell a similar story. He ran track for Coach Goss at East Ridge Junior High, and years later moved to Nashville, where the first person to give him a chance and hire him for a session was… (you guessed it) Lari Goss.

The world is a better place not only for having enjoyed the talents of these two men, but because a generation has come behind them that will do even greater things because of the impact of Lari and Charley. While you would have looked at them and seen opposites, I look at them and see the same face… the face of Jesus. I wonder how many people will pass into heaven in the next few decades and will make a point of looking up Charley or Lari (or both) just to say thank you.

 

The Three Crosses

Nearly every day I drive by three enormous crosses beside Interstate 75. As I pass by, I am reminded of the message that each of the three crosses speaks to me.

I am thankful for the middle cross for a thousand different reasons: it reminds me of a Father’s relentless love which refused to accept separation from His children. It speaks of the high price that was paid by my Older Brother to redeem me – of the unthinkable pain and humiliation that He not only faced, but embraced as the means of purchasing my freedom. It also causes me to rejoice in the fact that it wasn’t the final destination of my Savior; that the grave was opened, death defeated, and eternal life provided by the horrific torture of that cross. It reminds me that there is no obstacle I will ever face that can’t be defeated; no pain I will ever feel that Jesus won’t understand; and no length to which He won’t go to rescue me… again and again.

I am also thankful for the second cross, for it tells the story of repentance and forgiveness. It tells me that no sinner’s past is too bad, and that no lack of good deeds on anyone’s resume will exclude him from being forgiven. It shouts the message that as long as there is one breath left in your body, one beat left in your heart… even if the very last thought you ever hold in your mind is a prayer of repentance, Jesus will hear it and honor it. The second cross declares that it is never too late!

Finally, I am strangely appreciative of the third cross, as well. While it tells a story of bad choices and a hard heart, it reminds me that God gives us the freedom to choose… even to choose to fail. God knows that compulsory love isn’t love, at all, and forced obedience is actually slavery. One can only truly love if he is given the option of not loving; and our obedience is a gift we can give to our Savior only because we can choose not to give it. So, while I wish that everyone would make the choice of the repentant thief, it is the right to choose that makes our worship pleasing to the Lord and our obedience a way to express our gratitude.

“looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb. 12:2)

Maybe Today

Maybe today, I will do something great

Maybe today, I will write something that changes the way someone thinks… and lives

Maybe on this day, I will speak an encouraging word that lifts the spirits of someone who is carrying the weight of the world

Maybe, before I sleep tonight, I will invent something that makes life easier for those all around me, or create a melody that energizes a generation

Perhaps today, I will identify an opportunity I have been missing or give away something someone has been needing

Maybe today, I will start a habit that redefines who I am, or what I believe

Maybe today will see the answer to the prayer I’ve been praying, release from the burden I’ve been carrying, or a solution to the problem I’ve been facing.

Maybe today, I will find it in my heart to finally forgive… and forget

Maybe this will be the day I meet a person with whom I can share my heart, hopes, and fears

Maybe today, I will find the courage to take that big leap… or the next small, systematic step

Today, the door to opportunity may swing wide open, or the door to failure and heartache might close… and lock!

Maybe today, I will recognize God’s still, small whisper in the noisy traffic of life

Maybe the clouds will clear, the fog will lift, the silence will break…

Maybe today will be the day that changes everything!

…His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! (Lam. 3:22b,23 HCSB)

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)