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Monday, April 30, 2007

There are days when the job of ministry gets to be overwhelming. I guess that can be true for any job. I've often joked that I would love to be a garbage collector for the city because you would probably take home less trash at night. There are those days where I think we spend more time babying the Christ followers than we do invading the darkness. I'm not talking about ministering to our people but about having to deal with all the whining and "nah-nah" that comes from "Christians" who are a mile wide and half an inch deep. You know the ones that Paul wrote about when he said "some of you should be living off the deep stuff in God's word but instead we are still covering the basics." How frustrating it is to have time wasted (and I mean that in the harshest sense of the word) with eternal babies that refuse to grow and prefer to be coddled. It's time that could be spent on building new relationships, taking new Christians to deeper levels and fighting the real battles we face in loving a world to Christ.

Then there are days like yesterday. We baptized two new believers in our worship. Two young men who came to the point where they realized their need for Jesus. It was so awesome watching as they began their journey and talked about how God had gotten their attention and had won them over with His love. If you're reading this guys (I doubt that any teen is taking the time to read a 39 year old pastor's blog, but just in case), stay strong, never doubt His love for you and His desire to see you reach your fullest potential for His glory. Don't stay a baby. Grow, read, pray, go, serve, share, love and become all that He desires for you. You are the reason that this job is worth every sacrifice we make. You are the reason that God called us to go. You are the reason that God asked us to plant this new work in Franklin. And, for the millions more who need to know God's love for them, I pray you hang on until we make it...after we've tended to all the babies that suck energy and life from a body that should be moving forward much quicker than it does. In the end, God's love will change you in a way that you cannot believe.

Friday, April 27, 2007

This Sunday morning at about 7:30 a.m., I'll join with a bunch of guys from our church to do the same thing we have done every week for over two years. We'll back up two trailers to the school where we meet and, one by one, we'll move equipment into the areas where they will be used to worship, teach, fellowship and gather. Part of that set up and tear down each week is a stage where our band leads worship. From time to time there will be a drama or an interview, a testimony or an interpretive movement of some kind. And, most weeks, I or one of the other pastors here will step to that stage and deliver a message of some kind--something we believe God has led us to bring to our people.

That stage becomes the place where we try to "display" God, if you will. For the people who come into our gathering, it is where we try to show His love and teach His truth. It's not always done right. The pastor's not perfect. My Southern dialect and goofy sense of humor can serve as a wall to someone's hearing as much as a bridge. Here's the amazing part. Despite all of the problems we can have with what's put up on that stage, God still gets glory. The song may not come off just right or there may be some technical problem, but God's spirit is still given a chance to work on individuals who have found their way to Ridgeview that week. It's quite humbling to know that He will do that in spite of the myriad of imperfections.

And it causes me to think of another stage where God is "displayed"--our lives. Rather than week-to-week, it's a minute by minute showcase of God and His greatness. On this stage, you and I have full authority to do what we choose. We can turn the spotlight on ourselves and try to gain a little fame for us. We can allow sin to become a distraction. Or, we can do what stages were created to do...serve as a display for the "star" of the show. In this case, it's God. And every move we make becomes either a reflection of or a stumbling block to his character. I'm praying today that my life would become the perfect stage for God's glory so that others may see the purest display of His love. John the Baptist (this really cool yet weird guy in the Bible) said it this way, "He must become greater and greater; I must become less and less." John 3:30 NLT

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Good afternoon to my new friends in North Carolina. Thanks for your amazing hospitality as I spent the day with you on Tuesday. And thanks for your prayerful support of what we are trying to do through these speaking engagements. I hope I get to join you again soon in the Tar Heel state.

There's a part of me that loves making trips. Going new places and discovering new things brings a lot of excitement. I almost feel smarter (I know, it doesn't take much) for having been exposed to new cultures and meeting new people. There is an element of fear, though. The uncertainty of new places and new faces. I was thinking as I flew home from Charlotte last night about how tired I was from learning names, interacting with new people and sharing my story yet again.

I think that's true with any new venture though. If trying something new were easy, we would all be doing it. But any time we choose to take a new direction with our lives, there will be a little trepidation that accompanies that decision.

Carrying that thought a little further...how much more is that fear intensified when it is a new path that is forced upon us rather than one that we chose? For example, living alone after the death of a spouse, starting a new career after being "down-sized," or moving to a new city as a child. No new thing is easy...but they are so good for us. I walked around outside the auditorium at the hospital yesterday. There they have a museum displaying some of the early history of medicine that includes some of the instruments used from the early 1900's. Can I tell you how thankful I am that some guy, somewhere challenged the efficiency of a hacksaw for surgical procedures? How much have all of us benefited from the person who decided that he would try something new one day and give something else besides a shot of whiskey to numb the pain? Were these guys afraid when they brought their new ideas to the table? You bet! What if they failed? What if others laughed or their ideas failed to be embraced? But, worse yet, what if they had decided to stick with status quo and not challenge the process? I think we have to agree that new faces, new places, new ideas and new philosophies can be a blessing. And sometimes the only way those ideas will come is if they are "forced" upon us.

My involvement in the medical profession is something I would have never chosen for myself. While my contributions are limited, I think they are valuable. I think they are worthwhile. But, without the death of my son, I would have never entered this field and been challenged to do what I do. Something new, something scary but something that I can see now, has the influences of God's purpose for my ministry. I hope you'll do your part to embrace something new this week. You'll never know where God may lead you.

Monday, April 23, 2007

And all of us brightly reflect the glory of the Lord. And as the Spirit of the Lord works within us, we become more and more like him and reflect his glory even more. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT

I can remember the first time I had growing pains--the real, physical growing pains, not the emotional kind. I was lying in bed and this aching feeling started to shoot through my legs. It got a little worse so I crawled out of the bed and half limped, half walked to my parents' room. There my mom assured me that it would be okay. That it was normal. She said, "If you won't to grow to be like your daddy, you'll have to go through some of those pains." It didn't make the pain go away but it was enough to coax me back to bed with visions of being six feet tall and a real man like my dad.

I can't tell you the number of times, especially as I've gotten older (I said "older", not "old"), that people have seen pictures of my dad and said how much I looked like him. No, I never made it to six feet and I've managed to keep a little more hair than him but, I must admit, I do look like my dad. Thanks to those growing pains.

I thought of that this morning as I pondered this verse. Growing pains of another kind are a part of any Christ-followers walk. It says so right here. You and I, if we want to look like Dad, must endure the re-shaping and the transformation. Will I ever be God? No. But I should desire to be a very good imitation. (see Ephesians 5:1) That desire will lead me to press on when the aches come or when life doesn't feel like it should. The longer I look at Christ--the more intense my focus becomes on him--the better my reflection becomes. The rough edges are honed. The imperfections are chipped off. The impurities burned away. (Sometimes I feel like my impurities would light a bonfire that could be seen in Asia--but I digress). All of this is so that I could look more like my Father. Every difficulty, every trial, every downward motion in my life is matched with the promise that God can use it for his good, can make it part of this transformation, if only I will surrender. So, I start this day staring intently at Him. I pray that my reflection is purer today than it has ever been. I pray that my passion for Him grows a little deeper today. I pray that the people of North Carolina these next two days will see a very good imitation of him. Maybe, just maybe, it will inspire someone else to visions of being like their Father.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Just wanted to throw in a little shameless promotion. This Monday and Tuesday, I will have the opportunity to join the medical community in talking about patient safety and the medical communities efforts to make our hospitals a safer environment. All of this is a result of working with the hospital in Savannah after Josh's untimely death due to a medication error. It's one of many doors that God is opening for me to go into varying venues (that's a cool phrase) and share a message of hope, grace and forgiveness. This week it's Charlotte, NC (the Concord area). In May, it will be Jekyll Island, GA.

To the right, you'll see a new link added regarding Ridley Barron Ministries (don't worry, I'm not about to become a televangelist). It's an organization set up to facilitate the scheduling and carrying out of this ministry. If you or someone you know would be interested in me sharing my family's story and, more importantly, God's greater story of grace, feel free to follow the link to get more information. It's a bare bones site for now but will continue to grow.

Also a new addition to the blog is the subscription option to the right. By doing this, you will receive an e-mail update notifying you when this blog has been updated. It keeps you from coming back to this site unnecessarily. I promise there are no hidden agendas, you won't get "spammed," and it's simply a way to let you know when some thought has spurred me to write again. You will note that this is happening with more frequency and I hope that will continue.

Finally, I appreciate your prayers for me as I share next week in NC. Pray for my words to be His, for my safe travel and for my amazing kids as I leave them for two days. I promise guys, I'll be home in time for your game on Tuesday H and in time to say your prayers A. Love all of you and appreciate your continued support.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

"The death of one child brings the end to a universe of possibilities." Unknown

I heard this quote the other day. Actually, it was the other night, three o'clock in the morning. I couldn't sleep so I flipped on the TV and began to watch the coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech. As they wrapped up another half hour of interviews, the anchor segued into the commercial with this quote. And it caused me to think. First of all, I thought about my son. How true this statement is. Will I ever know what "universe of possibilities" could have been attained if Josh had lived? How would his life changed others, blessed others, or made other lives different? Would he have cured some disease, taught some world leader or fathered one of our future presidents?

Then my mind flashed back to the 32 lives that were ended (33 counting the gun man). How would our lives been different if just one of them had lived to fulfill their purpose or to realize God's promise for their life? Greater still, how has our culture been touched by the deaths of over 4,000 babies a day due to abortion in our country since the Roe v. Wade decision? What price do we pay for the "luxury" of terminating unwanted lives? What larger price will we pay for a mad man's decisions this past week in Virginia?

As those thoughts rumbled around in my sleepy head, one huge thought came to the forefront. My mind was drawn to the two children upstairs, the blessing and responsibility I have been given in training and loving these children. I have prayed for years now that those two kids would grow up to change the world. It's still my prayer. More than I ever I want to love them so that there are never any doubts about that. I want to assure them that no mistake or failure would ever change that. I want them to know that God loves them. That he is crazy about both of them and desires the very best for them. I want them to comprehend His plan and to know that He has a purpose for their existence. More than anything, I don't want them to get to the end of their lives and feel like they have missed one thing that God had for them to do. Maybe, just maybe, if someone had prayed those same prayers for Cho Heung-Sui, there would have been some different headlines this week. And we would have been different people as a result of all those "universes" opening to their possibilities.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV

I tend to be a little bit of a news junkie. I really have to watch myself some times because I will get caught up in a particular story or event and will spend great amounts of time following the story. Quite often, it's regarding some cultural event. I guess one of the newest ideas is to have these blogs connected to articles in the paper so that the readers can respond to the writer's thoughts. I must admit, I can lose my cool reading some of the things that are written in these blogs. I haven't really decided if they just attract some strange characters or if Americans have really lost every bit of common sense. Nevertheless, this phenomenon is not a new thing. Paul said that foolishness abounds, even when it comes to the Gospel. For centuries, mankind has managed to take the simplicity of the Gospel and turn it into leatherbound fetters for the hearts of men. Rather than offering liberty to the soul, we confuse its meaning and turn it into a cumbersome institution of rituals, "dos" and "don'ts", and legalistic trappings. How sweet it will be on that day when the blind are given sight and the chains are loosed. Jesus said that the faith of a child could receive the Gospel, yet the minds of grown men somehow miss it. I desire so much for the people of our community to taste the greatness of God. But I do not want His grace tarnished by our foolish representations of it. I want my church to be a place for all who will come and ask questions and seek answers. This is not "anything goes" mentality; rather, it is more of a "God can heal any pain" simplicity. I often wonder how the world's opinion of Christ would be changed if we would live the Gospel just as God intended it without our additions or editions. I pray that, today, you would experience the love of Christ and the grace of our Father unecumbered--just as He intended it. Then and only then will you and I fully know the power of God.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Here it is again--April 9th. Three years ago today that the accident happened and my wife was taken. As much as I might like to forget that this day exists--strike it from the calendar and just live with the other 364 days--it just keeps coming around. In reality, though, it's no different than any other day when I miss her. No different than my children's birthdays or holidays or Saturdays or any other day when I catch myself wishing she were still here. I'm in the middle of writing an article for a magazine about the accident. It's caused me to think and reflect on what has happened these three years. They seem like forever. I remember looking through the things that were pulled from the crash--golf clubs, suitcases, new clothes we had bought for the kids, books and other items. All of them had been thrown violently around the van as it tumbled down the side of the road. As I thought back on that this week, I was struck by what a vivid picture that has been of our lives. Tossed and turned and thrown violently upside down. Some things are broken and beyond repair. Others carry with them scratches and dents. Some were never seen again after the accident. One book, in particular, carries smudges of blood from someone in the accident. Friction and force will do that to an object. But friction also does something else to an object--it refines it. Like the sandpaper that works against the wood or the file that smooths out the metal, friction can make some things better. And over these last 3 years that has been my choice. Will I allow God to use this to make me better, to smooth out my rough edges? Or would I rather become dented, broken and unusable? That's a choice we all must make. No matter what you go through or what life throws at you, you alone decide what becomes of it. Call it looking for the silver lining, being an optimist or whatever you choose. For me it has literally been the difference between living a life of useless existence filled with bitterness and rage or living a life that points others to my Peace. Without Him I am nothing, with Him I can be something amazing. And, like the book on my shelf, I carry around within me the smudges of His blood--images of another life changed by the reality of Easter!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

"How precious are your thoughts about me, O God! They are innumerable! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up in the morning you are still with me!" Psalm 139:17-18 NLT

I remember the days when I was dating Sarah Ellen. For most of that time, she was in Carollton, Georgia attending college. I was in Fort Worth, Texas--12 hours away--enrolled in seminary. Needless to say, we spent many hours on the telephone trying to make those miles disappear. I would take a lot of good natured joking from the guys when the phone would ring and someone would announce that it was for me. My heart would leap because I knew that someone (not just anyone, but this girl I loved so much) was thinking about me. I think we're all the same.

At my house, every afternoon is mail time. Unfortunately, on most days, the majority of the mail is from someone wanting to sell us something or to collect on a bill. But there are those days when one of the kids will get a birthday invitation or a holiday card. There face will light up and I see in them the same thoughts I had not so long ago--"Someone was thinking of me." I read the verse above this morning and I thought about the Easter holiday as it is approaching. How amazing is it that, when Christ was layed on that cross to give himself up, God was thinking of me? Even more amazing is the fact that He has never stopped. Long before I was conceived, God thought of me. Last week, when I lost my cool and blew up at my kids, God was thinking of me. Next week, when I screw up again, He'll still be thinking of me. And those thoughts are so unimaginable, so innumerable that I could spend the rest of my life thinking of Him and never "outthink" Him. Tonight when I lie down and tomorrow when I get up--He'll still be going. He'll never tire, never get bored. When some new child is born, they won't squeeze me out. My sin won't squelch it and time cannot diminish it--God loves me and He's thinking about me. It makes my face light up to think of it--not just anyone, but someone I love so much can't take His mind off of me. I hope you feel that reality in your life right at this moment. No matter what the condition of your life, God loves you and can't stop thinking of you. Hope it makes you feel all warm inside to know that the Creator longs to be with you.