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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Okay, are you as tired of hearing about Rosie O'Donnell as I am? As far as that is concerned, I am tired of hearing about the opinions of all celebrities. I'm not sure why we care so much about what they think or feel. Yeah, they make lots of money but it's definitely not for any valid reason. Don't get me wrong, I love movies and sports just like the next person. But when Rosie can lose a job one week because of her controversial nature and be considered for a $20 million paycheck the next, something is seriously wrong. But...I digress. Why should I care?

Why is her opinion or the opinion of any other on the laundry list of names any more important than my neighbors or the person who cuts my hair or the funny old man that wonders down the street in front of my office from time-to-time? These people have proven time and again that they have no greater understanding of life than any of the rest of us. They've also proven that their integrity is about three notches lower than most (e.g. Alec Baldwin's promise to move to Canada if President Bush got elected).

The way I see it, there's really only one opinon that matters. Only one view of life and living has ever made sense, stayed true or proved itself correct. It comes from God's Word--the Bible. Many time I think about what a more civilized place this world would be if we all became students of the words found in that book. How would politics change and cultures be rearranged if we simply followed its teaching!! But it has to begin with those who say they love the book--Christ followers. Unfortunately, I'm finding more and more "believers" who don't have a clue what they believe or what God has to say about their lives. They struggle. They waiver. They falter in their faith. All because of a lack of trying. Instead, they find themselves camped out in front of some TV listening to Rosie's views on life and Baldwin's opinion on government and politics. All the while, God's answers wait to be found. Sounds so simple and, yet, it just never gets done. Maybe it's time we cared less about public opinion and tried our very best to live lives that were directed by God and God alone. If I become what God desires for me and you do the same--Rosie's opinions don't matter much any more. Thank God for that!!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My competence has been challenged on more than one occasion. There was the first time I picked up a chainsaw and waved it around my dad. There was the first time I ever had a bunch of my friends in the car with me and they questioned my ability to drive. And there was that first time after I got married when I said to my wife, "Why do we need a mechanic? I can handle this!" Those negative comments used to bother me alot. As I've gotten older, I have learned to let many of those comments go or not take them so critically--especially when they aren't true. I have also learned that recognizing my limitations enables me to be comfortable with what I can do (public speaking, plunging the toilet--don't laugh, there are a lot of similarities) and what I can't do (re-wiring a house, playing the piano).

Having gone through these life lessons, it's not a surprise to me when I come across someone who just doesn't get it. You know who I am talking about. The one who just doesn't get what they don't know but works really hard to prove to you they do know it. Talk about rubbing on my last nerve. I used to get so frustrated by those conversations with people who would ramble on and on--all along proving they didn't have clue what they were talking about.

It's a defense mechanism. It is a way that we protect ourselves, more specifically our egos, from any chance of outside attack. Bottom line is, it's a pride thing. And I guess that's why the Bible talks so much about pride and how it hurts us and angers God. Now, that whole introduction leads into my big concern for the day--the pride of some leaders in the church. I read a lot of books, blogs, articles and websites. I watch and listen what other leaders are doing and how they are succeeding. And I see a lot of pastors and other church leaders who proclaim that they have some kind of "corner on the market" when it comes to God. They stand above their followers and act as if they are above accountability and, most dangerous of all, beyond the loving correction of God or His people. No wonder many churches flounder today with a lack of direction and no evidence of God's presence. Honestly, I tremble when I think of what correction awaits these men and women. The Bible is clear (Hebrews 13:17) that those who are called (me included) must give an account for the leadership we give. I just pray that when I lead, I'm taking people some place that is worth the journey.

I have learned what I am good at and am working on the areas where I need improvement. I still have my stubborn moments but I can see where God is humbling me and re-shaping me constantly. I guess the bottom line is my desire to hear God say, "Well done" rather than "What the heck were you thinking?" There aren't many guarantees in life but there is this one: God's word will guide you into truth and truth will set you free. Free from failures that limit you. Free from fears of incompetence. Free from the unknowns of life.

Monday, May 21, 2007

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world... Ephesians 1:4 NIV

It was a familiar routine every afternoon right after lunch. All of us fifth graders would go racing down the hillside from where the school sat and up onto the rec fields at our playground. The choices would vary as to what we would play, but the ritual of what would come first never did...choosing sides. Now, I have always been a pretty athletic guy and a well-liked kid. I realize I was very blessed in both of those things. But Jerry wasn't. Jerry was the outsider. Not because of anything he had done but because of the way he looked, the way he talked and his lack of coordination. The latter proved to be a huge liability when it came to things like kickball and football. You know, things that shake the foundations of the world.

Every day, captains would be selected and the choosing would begin. It pretty much went down the same way every day and every day, Jerry would be last. The truth is, some of the guys would have never selected Jerry at all if the teachers had not demanded that everyone get to play. Secretly, I hurt for Jerry. I wanted to pick him first (or even third or fourth) but I wanted to be cool too.

I remember the day things changed. I can't remember who the trend setter was. It's a shame because they were a hero that day. Someone chose to make a difference and to take a chance. No, they didn't take Jerry first that day. But they did let him kick first. And, when Jerry kicked the ball clumsily from the side of his foot, that kid ran alongside of Jerry all the way to first base--screaming and cheering like he had won the World Series. Jerry's smile could have lit up three counties with the biggest grin I have ever seen. Jerry's attitude changed that day. He became a slightly different kid. Even more so the next day when he wasn't chose last--just next to last. And, now, where one kid had cheered for Jerry the day before, the whole team became Jerry's fans. Including me. I hope that Jerry remembers those days fondly. I know he probably hurt for all those days he was last. But maybe there is a large portion of his memory that is brightened by the days he became everyone's MVP.

That's what you and I are--MVPs. Not because of what we can bring to the team or because of our past achievements. No, it's because of what that verse says above. "He chose us...". The good news is that it wasn't an afterthought. Before the world was set in motion, before the first sunrise occurred or the first wave splashed onto the shore, you and I were chosen to be on His team. None of us are any better than the other. None of us can do what only the Captain can do. But He chose us any way. Then, He sent His Son to secure our place on the team. His sacrifice made sure that our selection was secure. Only one thing keeps us from being a part of the game--our refusal to be chosen.

School came to an end that year and I don't know what happened to Jerry. I would love to know what he became and what happened in his life. I'd also love to know what a difference that day (and the ones to follow) made in his life. Maybe nothing; maybe everything. For you, Jerry (and all the "Jerrys" who are out there), rest in the joy of knowing that you were chosen...chosen before the world began.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. Psalm 103:8-12 NLT

I have always loved these words. How cool is it that a God so loving and perfect can look past our failures to see our potential? Have you ever thought about that? In many ways, it's like being the parent of a young child. No matter how many mistakes that child makes, you choose not to give up on them. You know that their failures cannot outweigh the potential they have. Can they walk when they are born? Of course not. But it doesn't mean that they won't run like the wind one of these days. Are they the best talkers? Only if you speak unintelligible blubber. But (most) will grow up to speak eloquently--and probably refuse to shut up on most occasions.

These verses offer us such great hope. But, there is a contingency clause. I hope you got it and didn't read right past it. It's right there in the middle of verse 11--"toward those who fear Him." Now, keep in mind, the word fear does not mean to be afraid. On the contrary. God longs to have an intimate relationship with all of us. Fear simply means a proper respect--the kind of fear that keeps you from crossing your parents' wishes (hopefully) yet keeps you coming back to them for the deep love and affection that a parent should show.

Here's what bothers me most about this verse: If God clearly gives himself permission to forget our sins once we ask for forgiveness, why do we feel we have the right to remember them? Not only our own but everyone else's as well. I can still remember bad choices that I made in elementary school. Fights I had with friends, lies I told to classmates, bad choices I made to disobey my parents. But Psalm 103 says he remembers them no more.

So, what's the good news for you and me this morning? Glad you asked. Rebellious child, you can go home again. God can remove your rebellion and you can be free. Adulterous husband, your love can be pure again. God can remove the stain of your past and give you another chance at your first love. Jealousy? Anger? Greed? Lust? Hatred? You name it, God's got a cure for it. And it does not rest on the opinions of other people and what they think about your past. Thank God (literally). It's only because He throws my sin as far as the east is from the west (rather than a man throwing a baseball, it feels like to me it's a catapult throwing a gigantic boulder sometimes). And because He has done this on my behalf, I stand totally right before Him. No fear, no guilt, no shame. Just the UNFAILING LOVE of a God who knows me intimately and still chooses to love me deeply. Interested?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"We do not know what we ought to pray for..." Romans 8:26

If ever there was an understatement about my prayer life, this is it. This may be a shocking confession for a pastor to make but I sometimes go into lockdown when I start to pray. It's not that I don't know how. I've been doing it since I was old enough to remember beginning with the familiar "Now I lay me down to sleep..." It's more about not knowing what to pray.

I think I really got a jolt back when I was in college. I remember being challenged to pray for some of the weaknesses in my character by one of my mentors. So, I began the spring of my freshman year to pray for patience--something I've never had an abundant supply of. I prayed with all my heart that God would begin to produce patience in me. Rather than the magical "poof" and the overnight change that I expected, God sent me to California for the summer to spend 10 weeks teaching children in a day camp. Talk about developing patience...boy, did I ever. It wasn't the way I expected but it definitely re-shaped me the way I had desired.

Then, it happened again while I was in Texas attending seminary. I was praying about some selfish thoughts and habits that I had. I knew that they did not honor God so I simply asked that he would make me more selfless, a servant for others. Within two weeks I met the woman I would eventually fall in love with and marry. Nothing will teach you about serving others more than true love. And God had done it again. Changing my heart in ways that I didn't expect but that were exactly what I prayed.

So, be careful what you pray. You never know how God will answer...but He WILL answer. It may come as an overnight supply. Or, it may come as a trip to another state. It may come in the form of a new person God brings in your life...or, in some cases, takes out of your life. I had always prayed for a better prayer life and a stronger faith. The loss of my wife and son brought me both. As always, I tell you that I do not believe that God caused that accident. But in His omniscience (that's a fancy word for His ability to know all things), God carried me through that great tragedy AND answered a prayer that I had prayed.

Don't know what to pray? Don't worry. The rest of that verse says this: "...but the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." Just keep believing that God hears every prayer and that He cares deeply for what your needs are...in a way our words cannot express.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

7To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV

Have you ever given any thought to those things you consider your "weaknesses?" I know. Stupid question. If you're like most people, your weaknesses tend to be glaring in your eyes. Kind of like the teen who gets a giant pimple the night before his first date--he just knows that everyone has to be staring. How could you possibly look at me and not see ...?

Paul had that same question. And he took his concerns straight to the Source--God himself. The answer he got must have surprised him. Surely he didn't hear the Lord correctly. Did He really say that this weakness was good? that it had a purpose? that he somehow could use it? In case you missed it, read it again. That's exactly what God said to Paul...and to you and me.

That problem you carry. That burden you think is too much to handle. That character trait that saddens you or that struggle that has haunted you all of your life can have a purpose. NOW, before you start blaming God for your problems, keep in mind that this does not excuse you and me from a life of holiness. The Bible is very clear that purity is our ultimate goal. But Paul learned that the struggle for holiness can be a showcase for God's grace. I love the way it's worded here--"for my power is made perfect in weakness." God's grace becomes an oasis of love in the desert of our imperfection. My anger, your greed, my failure, your imperfection--all are opportunities for God to show "His stuff." And He does it well.

So, keep this in mind the next time you are focused more on your weakness than on His strength. God can shine through your weakness if you'll trust Him. In your weakness, no matter what it's shape or form, God is strong--strong enough to carry you by His grace.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

I am a very blessed man. You don't have to convince me of that. I have been all of my life. But even I get caught off guard by the blessings that God sends my way. There are the very obvious ones like my children. Every single day (yes, even on the "grumpy daddy" ones) I am well aware of the "blessings" that roam the halls of my home. Their smiles brighten my day and their love lifts my spirits in the worst of situations. Then there are some of the less obvious ones--problems that make me stronger, temptations that strengthen my resolve, hurdles that prove what an amazing God we serve. I may not see them as I experience them but eventually they show themselves to be undeniable. There's a third group of blessings too--the infrequent ones, the ones that aren't there all the time but they bless me just the same.

Let me give you an example: old friends. I got a surprise phone call from an old friend this past week. Honestly, it was an old high school girlfriend. Her mom had run into my mom and they had shared stories which led her to pick up the phone and call me. (Thanks, S, it was great talking with you). In the midst of that conversation, the overwhelming thought of God's grace hit me. I needed that phone call on Monday. It was a normal, busy Monday. Not a bad day--just already headed in the direction of being a long one. I didn't recognize the number when it rang here in the office. I almost didn't answer since our ministry assistant wasn't here and I was in the middle of sermon preparation. I am very grateful that God led me to pick it up.

But I'm more grateful for friends like her--the ones that transcend the miles and the years to reach out. I don't know when I'll get to talk to her again. Hopefully it will be much sooner than the last time. I do know that she was a blessing to my life 22 years ago (yes, it was that long ago) and she blessed me again this week. Which got me to thinking...who do I need to call? Who is it that I need to bless that I haven't talked to in a very long time? Or even someone I spoke with last week who could use an additional touch before too much time passes? I picked up the phone and called my mom, for one. She needed to hear from her youngest. I called another friend and had lunch with yet another. Honestly, I spent the entire day thinking about the friends God has placed in my path over these 39 years. Each one is a blessing that has changed my journey and made it a little bit nicer in their own special way. Thank you, friends (the old and the new) for the blessings you give to me in your friendship. Hope your life has been as rich as mine because of our knowing each other.

Monday, May 07, 2007

It's amazing how a little bit of praise can change your day and lift your spirits. I'm not talking about praise that we receive. While that is good, it can be blown away by the smallest failure or criticism. No, what I'm talking about is praising God. I have a friend who is teaching me a lot about this. I hear her frequently muttering under her breath during difficult situations: "Count it all joy." What she's talking about is the principle of praising God, allowing His glory to lift you during any situation (James 1:2-4).

I was thinking about that just a little while ago as I was having a few quiet minutes here in my office. (OK, I admit it. I was having my morning quiet time here in my office at 1:45 p.m. That's what happens when your 12 year old forgets his school project until the morning it's due). I read this passage: As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men...who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. 2 Chronicles 20:22 NIV

I don't think I realize how many times the Lord fights on my behalf. How many times, when my focus is clear and I'm doing what I should, does God take care of things I never knew I faced? If only you and I could worry less and worship more. Paul talked about learning contentment in trouble. James said to count is as joy when we face troubles. Jesus asked who could add a day to their life by worrying. And, yet, we still do it. Rather than praise, our natural reaction is to worry--negative meditation, if you will. And it never changes a thing. Praise does! It lifts our hearts. Removes our worries. It returns our focus to God and His ability to change our world by changing our circumstances. So, I'm going to try (harder) to focus on joy. In all things, at all times, through all circumstances I will choose to count all things joy. Now, back to that "morning" devotion...

Friday, May 04, 2007

For He wounds, but He also binds up; He injures, but his hands also heal. Job 5:18 NIV

Maybe one of the most difficult things about our faith is trying to understand the reckoning of God. As a student minister turned pastor, I can't tell you the number of times where a conversation with someone has gone something like this...

Person: "I'd really like to believe in God, but I just don't think He's very fair."
Me: "Why not?"
Person: "Because He allowed ______________(insert your own personal tragedy here.).
Me: "I know that's difficult to understand but..."

For 17 years of ministry I would try to help people understand why a good God would sometimes allow bad things to happen. I worked really hard to get them to see where I was coming from and what I was trying to show them. Then the accident that struck my family occurred. Suddenly, I was the one in the conversation above. I was the one who was asking those very difficult questions of God.

You know what I found? My answers to them were the same answers I found for myself. The same hand that chooses to allow injury is the same one that healed (is healing) my heart. It's a confusing (downright "befuddling") dichotomy. Maybe you've heard this expression. "The same sun that melts wax hardens clay." How can the same God who loves me with all of His heart (and I truly believe that) allow me to hurt like I have these 3 years? I have to understand the amazing knowledge of God. He sees the whole big picture of my life and yours and millions of others. He understands how all of that intertwines to play out for His glory. He even knows how the "hardening of one heart" might lead to the "melting" of many others.

In simpler terms, it's just like me and my kids. I am the same man every day. My love and heart for them does not change. I only want the very best for them. The same hand that administers discipline to their lives is the one that serves out the chocolate chip cookies (made because I love them--the kids and the cookies). The same lips that deliver corrective words are the ones that smother them with kisses before they go to bed at night. It's confusing to them sometimes, I'm sure. I can tell by the looks on their faces. But what they are learning (what I am learning about God as well) is that pure love brings necessary choices, not all of them are pretty. But all of them are done because the Father sees what the children need. Sometimes it is the painful sting of loss or hurt or injury. But the same Father that injures takes great joy in delivering the healing that we need. It has not been an easy lesson to wait patiently for the healing to come...but it has, indeed, been well worth the wait that was required.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Before I get into what I wanted to post today, I thought I'd share a little information about how this thing works. I get a decent number of comments to the things I share on here. Thanks for reading. Some of you reply directly to my e-mail (rbarron@rccfranklin.com for those who want to know). Others of you choose to use the comment button on this page. Either is fine. However, if you use the comment button on this page, you need to understand that it comes to me as an anonymous comment--there is no name or reply e-mail attached. If that's how you would like it to be, that's great. I don't mind that at all. Again, I just appreciate you reading. However, for me to know who you are, you must sign your name in the comment. For me to reply to you, you have to go a step further and put your e-mail in the comment. I just make it a policy that I usually won't respond to any anonymous comments through the blog. To protect your identity, if you would like for me to reply, it might be best to send me an e-mail. If you are just looking to make a comment, the regular route of doing so through the blog is fine. Hope that makes sense. On to the blog...

My last blog got lots of response. I guess I really touched on a concern that many of us have about where the church is headed and what kind of job we are doing in fulfilling our purpose. Especially since the responses have been overwhelmingly positive. There was, however, one comment (I know, I'm going against my policy of addressing anonymous comments but bear with me) that asked me to clarify what I meant at the end of the blog about "baby Christians that suck life and energy from the church." Please keep in mind that the thoughts I blog on here are not specifically addressing my church or people who attend there. This is a "universal" blog. I write to people who are long time friends from other places, new friends in some of the areas I travel to speak in, and even complete strangers who have been directed here by someone else who reads. I welcome each of you and thank you for taking the time to check it out.

The comments I made last time were universal in nature--more about the Church than my church. Now, does that mean I don't have some in my church who fit that description? Absolutely not. I've been in ministry for 20 years now and I've yet to find a church that did not have at least a few of these people (some churches had more than their share). So, yeah, I've got some. You do too if you go to church anywhere. And that was the reason for the post. Let me put it to you a different way and see if the comment makes more sense. We (the universal Church) serve a mighty God. He says if we glorify Him we'll draw more and more people to His name. We're not doing a very good job of it in a lot of cases. At a time when Congress is considering the passage of a "hate crime bill" that seriously could impede our ability to teach truth, the church is distracted by so many petty issues. When over half the world is living in deplorable conditions, going to bed hungry or dying with AIDs, the church is doing an okay job of response when we could be doing so much better. I attribute that to a weakened church--lack of purity in its leadership and lack of energy due to addressing unimportant issues.

Now, back to the question of this baby Christian thing. How do you know who I am talking about? Well, it wasn't written so that you and I could stand around and point fingers at the people we know who fit that description. It was written so that all of us (you and me) could do some serious soul-searching to determine if the shoe fits...Am I a part of the problem or a part of the solution? I used to have an associate in the ministry who put it this way (I know it didn't originate with him but he's the first I heard say it): "The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing." Do we begin each day with the soul purpose of glorifying God? Do we honor God's command that whatever we do, "whether we eat or work or play," that it be done for the glory of God? If you are a part of the problem, will you deal with yourself and accept the command to consider the whole counsel of God's word? And, if you have seriously searched the recesses of your heart, allowed God to do the same and determined that you are not a "whiny Christian", will you pray with others that the ones that fit that description would diminish so that we can be about the work of the Kingdom? Thanks to the "poster" who asked for the clarification. Hope my thoughts are "clear as mud" now. And, I welcome other comments, good and bad on your thoughts regarding this subject.