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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Comfort.

Comfort. The word resonates with most of us, especially if you have been or are currently going through a difficult time. There isn't a one of us who doesn't enjoy all the ideas that come to mind when someone mentions the word. Scripture has a lot to say about comfort and how God wants to comfort us and bring us rest.

On the other hand, we are constantly challenged to get outside of our "comfort zone" and not get "too comfortable" with our faith. The obvious implications being that comfort makes us lazy and apathetic about the call God gives to His followers. So, which is it that God truly desires for us--comfort or not, safety or not? Is God "schizophrenic" when it comes to His direction in regards to this area of our life?

Let me offer this explanation. Our picture of comfort nowhere resembles what God had in mind when He talked about it in Scripture. When the Savior promised comfort for His people, he wasn't talking about never facing the challenges of a real world. He didn't mean withdrawing to a "holy huddle" designed to keep us from facing danger.

Let me share two competing images. One view of the Christ-life is a gingerly stroll through a blooming meadow while birds flitter in blue skies overhead. Sweet. Not realistic in this world. The other image is the one more like what Christ has called us to--you and I in a rubber raft crashing through Class V rapids down the Colorado River...with no oars!! The difference? Christ is at the helm. And as we crash over every rapid and lean into every turn, we do so with an adrenaline rush for the life to which He has called us. Security comes not from what we are able to do in that "trip" but from knowing who "mans" the helm of our raft. He's made this trip a million times and he knows every bend of the river. He will guide us into each adventure and challenge with the promise that we do not go alone.

Here's the difference it makes--all the difference in the world. "Meadow walkers" do very little for the Kingdom that matters. Oh, they may fill a chair at church or throw in some significant cash at offering time, but their life in Christ is characterized more by how little danger there is. They do everything THEY are capable of and use their resources and gifts to the best of their ability.

"River riders" are the ones who crash the gates of Hell, who never met a soul that wasn't worth winning and who understand the meaning of the phrase "crucified with Christ." They, too, offer their gifts and talents but are continually asking God to stretch them and take them to deep places where only God can fulfill the plan through them (Luke 5:4) It is a life of comfort like you and I could never imagine on our own. It is the true "Christ-life."

One question remains. Which path will you choose?

Friday, May 22, 2009

I love my church.

I love my church. That's not news for most of you. But there are a lot of reasons for that. Thursday was just another example of why. Our staff and a few other members of our church took the afternoon to serve lunch to the faculty of Freedom Intermediate School on their last day of class. As usual, the people were blown away by your loving hearts and servant's attitude.

This isn't the first time I've watched our church family in action--serving meals, taking care of needs and loving on others. It's a perfect example of us trying to be a church without walls, a church with influence. Now, not one of those people may ever enter the doors of our church or become a member of our family. But they have been loved on and served by Christ followers who get what that phrase means.

One quick reminder for the readers who are Ridgies. Tomorrow is our corporate fast. This is for members who truly feel led by God to participate and it's only for those who are medically in a position to do so. I am inviting you to join others who will be participating in seeking out God's direction for each of us individually and as a church family. If you've got questions, let me know. We'll "break the fast" together as a family at our annual Memorial Day picnic where we already have over 200 signed up to join us. It's gonna be a great Sunday!! We'll see you there.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It's a bittersweet week that I'm living through right now.

It's a bittersweet week that I'm living through right now. And it makes me feel just a little bit older. On Monday, I watched as Abigail finished up fifth grade and was "promoted" to the sixth grade which means she will be in middle school next year. Today, I watched as Harrison was promoted from eighth grade into his freshmen year at Independence.

Can it really be that they are that old? That I am that old? Watching Harrison this morning caused a rush of emotions to come regarding these milestone moments in their lives. I thought back to the day that Abigail graduated from kindergarten (she was just "Abby" then). It was just a month after Sarah's death. I cried all the way through the event. The thought of Abby growing up missing her mom was crippling that day.

Today, thanks be to God, the emotions are still there--still very raw--but there is peace. I have peace knowing that she and Harrison are doing well. Both are good kids, good students and a joy to my life. I also know that, while Abby and Harrison will not have "their" mom at these events, they have been blessed to have a very good mom who stands by them and supports them.

As the eighth grade promotion wound down and I made the drive into the office, these thoughts were all swirling around in my head. In those few moments, God brought to mind this passage:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God... Isaiah 43:2-3 NIV

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Love.

You know, Scripture talks about this character trait a great deal. Jesus told us how important it was and that it was the reason He came. Paul described what love is for us (1 Corinthians 13) and John said we had to love just like God or we were fooling ourselves about our relationship to Him (1 John). Yet, you look around at the world and you don't see a whole lot of love. And you walk into the doors of many churches and there are regular demonstrations of "untrue" love that abound.

I was giving some thought as to why it's that way. Why don't we do a better job of loving as Christ as loved us? Here are my thoughts:
  • Christ's love was never self-serving. Christ loved for the benefit of those He loved upon. He wanted to see them in a better place. He wanted to love them away from poor choices. It was never about Him.
  • Christ's love was more than a feeling. Christ didn't wake up one morning and say, "I feel like loving the world". You can't convince me that Christ "felt" like loving the soldiers on the cross or the mockers who stood at His feet. His love was not an emotion; it was a decision to do what was right and what would honor His Father.
  • Christ's love was sacrificial--truly sacrificial. Not sacrificial like we want to describe it in our 21st century America. Rather, it's a true willingness to give our all for others so that they might be blessed. Just like Jesus...

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-7 NLT

Therein is where we miss it...just like Jesus. How can we possibly say we have loved our wife, our kids, our neighbor, our co-worker or the stranger on our street until we have done it just like Him? Jesus set the standard. Our job is to measure ourselves to see if we really can love like He does.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Goals.

Back a few weeks ago, my youngest daughter, Landon, celebrated a milestone occasion. She got her first soccer goal. Actually, she got two in the same game. I wish I would have had a camera poised for the very moment that the ball went in the net and she turned to face Lisa and me. Her smile was priceless.

You see, Landon had run hundreds of miles, kicked thousands of balls and rolled in the grass more times than I care to count in order to get to that first goal. She had worked hard, run fast and done everything the coaches had told her to this point but that first goal had avoided her till that moment.

As I reflected back on that moment this morning, it got me thinking about another goal. This one from Paul:

I'm not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don't get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I've got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I'm off and running, and I'm not turning back. Philippians 3:12-14 Message

It's hard work getting there. Just ask Landon. But I don't think for a minute that she would trade all that hard work for the feeling of knowing she had made her goal. Pressing heavenward, you and I can know that same feeling. But we can't lose hope. What lies ahead, God only knows. And He has promised to "coach" you the entire way. Someday, you and I may know the feeling of what it means to have achieved all that God desires for you and me. Till then, we keep on running...and falling...and getting up again...

Proud of you, Landon. Don't ever stop giving it your all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Perspective is a funny thing.

Perspective is a funny thing. I remember playing a game as a kid where I would focus on an object. Then, I would close first one eye and, then, another. With each opening and shutting, the object would dance side-to-side and even appear to "move." (right now, some of you are trying this very game as you sit at your computer). You could even go cross-eyed by narrowing your perspective. Call it crazy...it passed the time between commercials while I watched the Lone Ranger/Batman hour in the afternoon.

Perspective can change everything. I shared that thought with our youth last night as I was talking about personal responsibility and making the choice to withstand temptation. For instance, look at how we perceive ourselves in Christ. I think too many of us look at our lives from an incorrect perspective and, thereby, have difficulty living out the call to "be imitators of God" (Ephesians 5:1).

Let me use my wife, Lisa, as an example. Lisa is a realtor, a wife, a daughter and a mother among many other things. Many Christ followers choose to believe that they are defined by these words. In Lisa's case, it would mean she is a realtor who follows Christ. The problem with this perspective is that it puts the major emphasis on her career--her success is now based on what she does, not who she is. I believe the more proper perspective is this: Lisa is a child of God who sells real estate.

Why is this so significant? Because Lisa's worth is not based on how many houses she sells or how many clients she has. Her worth has already been established by the fact that she belongs to God. Believe me, in our current real estate market, you don't want to be identified by the number of closings you have. That's true for all of us, even pastors. I am not a pastor who serves God. I am a child of God who has been chosen to serve Him through this place of leadership.

Give it a shot. See if it doesn't change a little bit about how you see yourself or the choices you make. God DID NOT create you to build a career, a family or a reputation. He created you for His glory and we best fulfill that purpose by living our lives as true sons and daughters of God.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I love a good story.

I love a good story. Whether it is told in the confines of a good book or shared by a master storyteller from the stage, I love to hear a good tale. The importance of stories is revealed throughout Scripture. God made it clear that, through stories, He wanted His goodness and renown to be made shared with generation after generation. The obvious implication being that as we remember His goodness and faithfulness in past generations it will inspire us to trust Him with greater faith in these times.

Psalm 78 (where I found myself this a.m.) addresses this specifically for the people of Israel. In recounting their unfaithfulness in verse 11, the psalmist writes:

They forgot what He had done, the wonders He had shown them.

This is a good reminder for us, especially those of us who are parents. However, I think it's true for everyone. It's very easy to focus on our troubles, our problems or our difficulties. When we forget what God has done in the previous days, we can get frustrated or discouraged. We can even lose hope altogether. Stories remind us that God is good all the time. While the stories of Scripture are powerful testimonies of who God is, they are made that much more powerful when coupled with stories from our lives. These "contemporary" tales remind us that God is not a God of the distant past who is removed from our lives. Rather, He is very much an interested party in our lives today.

I have seen this truth played out time and time again as I talk about His faithfulness in walking with my family through Sarah and Josh's death. When I am willing to stand before others and talk about God's strength in my weakness, there is inevitably some person nearby who needs encouragement or wisdom, love or compassion.

Recommit yourself to sharing your stories with your children, spouse, neighbors and co-workers. The power of your story may carry the very medicine that someone needs to make it one more day. Remember His faithfulness and the ways (big and small) that He has provided for you.

We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders He has done. Psalm 78:4 NIV

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Just got through re-reading a familiar story.

Just got through reading a familiar story. Something struck me as I read it this time. Take a look at the beginning of this story and see if you catch what I saw:

16 That evening Jesus’ disciples went down to the shore to wait for him. 17 But as darkness fell and Jesus still hadn’t come back, they got into the boat and headed across the lake toward Capernaum. John 6:16-17 NLT

The story says the disciples left Jesus behind. Are you kidding me? Why in the world would you leave the Savior behind? These guys have been hanging out with Jesus for months now. They know who He is and (most of) what He is capable of. Why would you dare move on ahead without Jesus in the boat? Of course, you know what happens next. The Bible says that a storm with gale force winds covers the sea and threatens to swamp their boat. Read the rest of it:

18 Soon a gale swept down upon them, and the sea grew very rough. 19 They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, 20 but he called out to them, “Don’t be afraid. I am here!” 21 Then they were eager to let him in the boat... John 6:18-21 NLT

The storm hit and they kept pushing through. Probably felt like they could handle it themselves. After all, they were experts in this part of their lives. They had ridden out many storms on this sea in boats just like this.

Boy, doesn't that sound familiar? It's a mess that many of us create in our own lives. We long so much to live life our way, on our terms, without the Savior. Our attitude is, "Jesus can have some of our lives but there are some we can handle on our own." I imagine the disciples felt that way. But any time you try to live life without the Savior, you can bet that there will be storms and some of them will be huge. Financial crises, marital stress, physical crises, emotional turmoil. The only way to bring an end to your storm is to let Jesus back in the boat. He will set your feet back on the solid ground and put your life at peace.

Notice something else. The Bible says they didn't recognize what Jesus was doing. Here He is, the answer to their problems...and they are afraid of Him. Don't let your problems, your doubts or your grief keep you from seeing what the Savior is up to. Keep your eyes trained for His arrival because He has promised He will never leave you nor forsake you. Your best bet is to never leave the shore without Him but, if you do, look for His rescue...if you trust Him, it will arrive. Then you will know what peace in the midst of a storm can be like.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Boy, you can tell it is the end of the school year.

Boy, you can tell it is the end of the school year. I can't decide who is checking out first...the kids or their teachers. Trying to get my four to stay focused and on task is a daily battle in the Barron household these days. There are countdowns. There are missed assignments. And there are too many days when they aren't even bringing a book home to study. But as I went through that little list of "daddy complaints" something there sounded vaguely familiar to me.

Did you catch it yourself or were you too busy looking ahead at your life?

It sounds strangely like too many believers I know. Pardon the analogy where it falls short but maybe you'll see it more clearly this second time round. Counting down the days, missed assignments from our Teacher and we don't even bring home the Book to study.

I can't really blame the kids too much. I was a lot like them myself. The danger is that we may have fallen into that same trap ourselves as Christ followers. The "vacation" will come when God decides. Till then, our minds must stay focused and our attention drawn to the One who leads us. The Book must become our companion and we cannot grow weary. I pray that we all will be found faithful to finish the race and to finish it well. Till the final bell rings, it's our responsibility.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Today's sign of the apocalypse...

Today's sign of the apocalypse...the non-Christians feel "left out" on the National Day of Prayer. Shocking! This news comes from the headlines of our local propaganda piece better known as the paper (www.tennessean.com) I don't put much stock in the article itself. It's a paper trying to create news (notice I didn't say report news) so that they can sell their paper. About now, everyone is screaming "seperation of church and state" which is neither in the Constitution of the U. S. (check it for yourself) nor what Jefferson intended when he wrote that phrase in a letter to Baptists in Virginia.

Why is this even in the paper? To stir up conversation. Well, here's the conversation they seek. Why are we talking about this? No one whined in the evangelical community because we weren't included at the latest gay rights parade (which, by the way, if we are talking about breaking laws are typically blatant in their disregard for public decency statutes). I don't recall hearing any Christians get upset because the Southern Baptists weren't on the agenda at the last Yom Kippur or Ramadan celebration. Why is it that no one gives a hoot about Christ or Christians until we try to do something worthwhile and then, all of the sudden, we are the ones who are intolerant?

Let's take this one step further. When is the last time the Christian community's feelings were considered when a movie was released in Hollywood mocking Christians or their faith? When is the last time that the news reported a "hate crime" committed against a Christian--the same newspapers that want to call every crime against homosexuals a "hate crime?" After all, aren't all crimes "hate crimes?" Anybody here ever heard of a "love crime?"

Okay. I'm ranting and raving. I know it. So I won't keep rambling. Let me put it all into a few sentences to share the bottom line with you. The name of Jesus Christ offends. He told us it would. We shouldn't be surprised. Very few people have a hard time talking about God and a Higher Power. We love knowing there is Someone watching over us. But the name of Jesus drives a wedge between "Holy name droppers" and true followers of Christ. That name, the name that is above every name, the name that is the only one that brings salvation and the only one that offers hope, is the one that is most rejected and put down.

So, to all my non-Christian readers. Feel free to pray today or any other day. You are granted that right as a citizen of this (once) great nation. You can pray to the birds and the bees. You can worship Oprah or Obama. It is absolutely your right as an American and, because I am an American, I will support your privilege to do this. But don't ask me to stop saying the name of Jesus or teaching the truth about salvation. As a Christian, I am not given that right nor would I choose to do so if I could.

10 Let me clearly state to all of you and to all the people of Israel that he was healed by the powerful name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, the man you crucified but whom God raised from the dead. 11 For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures, where it says,
‘The stone that you builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.’
12 There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10-12 NLT

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

I love thinking outside the box.

I love thinking outside the box. That's one of the reasons I love church planting and that I am excited about what God is doing at Ridgeview. I've said since our beginning that I love this aspect of who we are. Many churches will say, "We haven't done it that way before" in an effort to silence anything new or different. At Ridgeview, I want that same phrase to become a watchword for us....Hey, we've never tried it that way before. Let's give it a shot.

This requires a willingness to talk with others, learn from others and, above all, a willingness to see failure as a not-so-bad thing. One of the companies I have always admired is Southwest Airlines. It isn't the largest airline in America but has continually been one of the most successful, partially because of its willingness to learn. And one of the places they turned to for help demonstrates this outside-the-box thinking.

When faced with the challenge of plane maintenance and quick turn around (which is how airlines make their money and increase customer service), Southwest didn't turn to business leaders or other airlines. They consulted the pit crew boss of an Indy 500 race car driver. Here's a guy who is responsible for changing tires, refueling a car and servicing an engine all in a matter of seconds. I'm not sure what the takeaway was for the people of Southwest but I think it's impressive that they were willing to open their ears to others who might teach them.

Apply that to your spiritual life. You and I can get caught in unhealthy ruts because we do the same thing the same way all the time. Now, as one who likes his routines, I understand that they can be a good thing. But if you never change your perspective, never stretch yourself to look at your faith in a different way, then you are limiting what you can be in Christ.

Thinking outside the box spiritually may mean changing the place you serve at your church or maybe starting to serve for the first time. It may mean changing the version of Scripture you read or the place that you have your quiet time (or maybe trying a quiet time for the first time). Whatever you do, don't allow routines to turn to ruts which in turn become spiritual dryness and even death. The Bible says that God makes all things new and that His mercies are new every morning. It even encourages us to sing to Him a new song. Maybe what we need is a fresh new encounter with Him each day. That very well may mean getting outside your place of comfort and trying something new...

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

There are times I can be just like a little kid.

There are times I can be just like a little kid. (It's okay, Lisa, you can say "amen.") And, if we're honest, all of us can be that way with God. Take for instance one story in Scripture where Jesus tells his disciples to "watch for His return" but to be wary "because no one knows when." (Matthew 24:36-44)

Can you imagine what kind of response that got from the disciples? "Are we there yet? Is it time? How much longer?" It brings back memories of numerous road trips with my kids.

We can get so anxious about what God's timing is and when it's all going to happen--not just with His return but with everything. So, after reading that passage this morning, I flipped back over to Psalm 75:2: You say, "I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly."

I've got friends right now who are (im)patiently waiting for what's next...a house to sell, a child to come, a doctor's announcement or some other information that keeps them holding their breath. It's hard to step out of our "backseat" mentality and trust that God's timing is best. It seems so easy for us to second-guess. You and I have to remember that, just like our young children, we cannot understand the concept of time in an eternal dimension.

As I sit and wait for events to happen in my family's life, I feel your impatience. But God is right and God is true and His timing will prove to be very best. Guaranteed.