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Tuesday July 17, 2007

Day 44 - Manchester TN to Chattanooga TN, 79.3 miles, 5:37

It was almost deja vu. At least, it was reminiscent of our first week out West. But here, the storms make thunder and lightning and humidity. The rain isn't near as cold. The climbs aren't near as long or as steep. And the tunnels, well, I had yet to navigate one out there in a city at rush hour.

It's only through the navigation of God that every day of this tour has been a blast. Today was every bit of that, as our convenient store ministry trucked into Chattanooga soaking wet. The difference, though, in these convenient stores, they sell hats that say "I Love Jesus."

A lot of things are different in the South.

Picture this. We did some rolling hills through the country. We climbed some short, easy mountain passes. We continued southeast on Hwy 41 atop a mountain for about 15 miles from Monteagle through Tracy City and then down into Jasper. We crossed into Chattanooga over Nickajack Lake, rode around Raccoon Mountain into Rock City (you've seen the "See Rock City" signs? I rode right past it today). But, everywhere I looked around here, I saw people putting their love of Christ out front. Signs, bumper stickers, you name it.

It began a couple weeks ago, as we came into Kansas. Then Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and now Nashville and southern Tennessee, this is the south I heard about growing up in Tampa. I thought I had seen the real Bible Belt when we lived in South Carolina for a year and a half, but what I have witnessed first hand on this tour is that the Bible Belt stretches at least as far Missouri and probably even Kansas.

Why not farther, I thought? Why not around the world?

As I rode today, finishing up John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, the story repeating itself in my head was one of leadership... leadership that begins with the man of the family.

It begins today with the man in the mirror. The conscious choice we make as men to make Jesus the purpose for our families, over time, will completely shape the way our local communities our perceived and received by those who live in them, and by passers by.

The model came from Christ and was passed to His disciples, to the Founding Fathers,  and to me and you in 2000 years. Yet, while we are certainly working toward that "world" vision, our own country seems to be two worlds: the Wild West, and the rest of the country.

Don't hear me say there aren't faithful Christians evangelizing the lost and the suffering in every corner of this country, but the nagging question still strikes me. Who were the men who set out for the West to find a new life, to find gold. Where were their choices for Christ, and why is the evidence for those choices so outwardly scant in so many places out there?

Maybe it's just so vast, but I still had some conflict. Are the men of the East any less adventurous, a bunch of church-hugging homebodies?

No. As Eldredge stressed in his book, like Christ, a disciple's true nature is fierce, fiercely loyal and fiercely loving. I see a Christ whose commitment to His purpose never wavered, never changed. He was spontaneous but always in the context of His purpose. He was adventurous, but only in that which pleased His Father.

I start to get a picture of the West and the purpose that gave it life. It was so different from Christ's purpose to save us eternally from our sins, or the purpose that led our Founding Fathers to America.

The Wild West? Well, I guess, at least for today, it seems to me like an alter ego of those Founding Fathers. Maybe it's their crazy brother, or even the Prodigal Son. Whatever, the choices made by those men have shaped still today the way communities represent their values.

What does your heart look like to a passer by? How would they recognize the heritage your choices have made to shape your community? How are the choices men are making to lead their families in Christ showing up in your convenient store?

Paul said in Romans:

Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written:
   "Those who were not told about him will see,
      and those who have not heard will understand."

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 J. Boe Ellis - 813.732.0619