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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's almost here

At the risk of sounding like a Christmas song, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. The message of Christmas day is that God became one of us. Why? So no one could ever question again, "God, do you understand what I'm going through? Do you see and hear what your people are going through?"

His resounding answer, for all of eternity, "YES! I know your hurt and I feel your pain. I have live it. I have walked it. I have felt it."

This Christmas, the Barron family would like to wish all of you the very best and brightest Christmas ever. Rest in peace knowing that God Himself has come to save you and bring you eternal hope. God bless you as 2009 rolls into 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This Christmas

It happened again this morning as I was having breakfast with a friend at a local restaurant. I took the opportunity to ask a couple of the waitresses how their Christmas plans were coming and if they were ready for the big day. They recounted stories of stress, anxiety, hurry and worry. I sighed as I thought to myself, we're missing it again. Two thousand years after the first Noel (that's French for Christmas. Now aren't you impressed?) we still can't comprehend that this was a simple event for a reason. God wanted us to receive it for what it was.

Since breakfast, I've been sitting in my office thinking about my afternoon yesterday. Two of my kids helped me as we walked through one of the more poverty-stricken areas in Franklin. We were inviting people to our Christmas eve event at the school where our church meets (5:30 on Christmas eve. If you are in town, make plans to come and bring your family).

I though about the images of the day. Standing on porches that sagged under our weight. Hearing the sounds of children crying behind the tightly shut doors. Feeling the heat escaping through broken windows that desperately needed repair. Watching the smiles on the faces of people when they were assured there were no strings attached to our "gift" from the church.

God really does love the whole world. I hope we grasp that. It's more than just a children's song or a nice thought. When the angels came to proclaim peace on earth, it was for the overworked waitress and the under-worked single mom. It was for stressed-out executives and lonely fathers separated from their families this Christmas. But every single year, we trade this message of love and hope for temporary gifts, for boxes and bows, for shopping sprees and decorations...for things.

I pray this year that more than one family comes to find that He, Jesus, truly does bring meaning to our lives. And that meaning can be lost in an instant if we choose to embrace Christmas in any way other than what the shepherds and Magi did...with complete awe and worship of this new born child.

Monday, December 21, 2009

What's in a name?

Most of you know that Biblical names, particularly in the Old Testament, carried tremendous meaning. They were often indicators of personality, descriptors of the times or predictors of future events. For example, Isaac, was born to Abraham, the father of Israel, at an old age. Abraham means "father of nations." After God promised to give Abraham a son very late in life, he and his wife laughed at the thought. Isaac was subsequently given his name which means "laughter."

Isaiah the prophet carried a name that literally meant "Yahweh is our salvation." Isaiah's prophecies to the King of Judah were about this very thing...that God alone could save the nation from its enemies. His prophecies also bore witness to another significant name...Immanuel.

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NIV

This name, more than any other in history, carries significant weight for all humanity. Immanuel literally means "God with us." More than just a great idea, it was the announcement of the most significant event in history. It was told to the people of Judah around 730 b.c. It was announced to shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem on that first Christmas night. It has been proclaimed for more than 2000 years since that day. It is the very reason for all the excitement and all the joy that permeates our homes this time of year (whether we choose to acknowledge it or not). It is this amazing reality...God is here!! Not distant, not removed, not out on the edge of the universe. And not dead or impersonal as in other religions. Our God is real and has chosen to make Himself known through His son Jesus. It is indeed, good tidings of great joy to ALL people. Immanuel!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Josiah and the coming revival

Lisa and I pray together every morning before we start our day. There are prayers for our kids--their safety, their growth, their relationships, their future. We pray for other family and friends who have current needs. We pray for each other and for our church. Lately, one of the consistent prayers we have uttered for ourselves and the church (both Ridgeview and the universal church) is that God would send revival. Not a meeting, a transformation.

Throughout history, God has sent times of revival but ONLY when God's people were willing to do their part. I found myself in 2 Kings this morning, re-reading the story of King Josiah. He became king at age 8 and ruled from Jerusalem for 31 years. The cool part of his story is the revival he ushered in for Judah at age 26. One day, he sent his secretary on an errand to the temple. There, the high priest informed the secretary that he had found this cool book in the temple that he thought the king might be interested in. The secretary read it for the king. The king was moved to tears and repentance. (that book? The Torah, or law, which was the "bible" for those in Judah in that day).

Josiah's response was what I think God seeks from His people before revival comes. Josiah left nothing to chance. He purified the temple. He tore down every false idol in Judah. He sought the idols out himself and made sure there were no more poles, no more holy places. He even had the false priests, who had misled the people, put to death. He got rid of the mediums and fortune tellers as well. He did not leave anything to chance. He radically removed any pretense of sin from his nation and Judah was blessed. Revival came.

The final summation of Josiah's life and reign was this:
Neither before or after Josiah was there a king like him who turned to the Lord as he did--with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his strength, in accordance with the Law of Moses. 2 Kings 23: 25 NIV

Think about that statement--"neither before or after." That's some serious company that Josiah has been placed in--David, Samuel, Hezekiah--all good kings in their own right. But Josiah did what we need to do. He uncovered the truths of God's Word found in the Scriptures, he repented and prayed for God's direction, and he removed every temptation, every sin, and every lingering obstacle to his obedience.

The revival we seek will never come until we get serious about the sin that we harbor in our lives. We must not allow sin to co-exist with Christ in our homes because it only leaves room for failure. God seeks those who will respond with the fervor of Josiah. Then, revival will come and we, and our families, will be blown away by how truly good our God is.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I just wanted some stamps.

The Christmas craziness has been in full effect around Franklin since Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) but it officially ratcheted up a notch at our local post office this week. I dropped by there on the way to work this morning to pick up some Christmas stamps. I just needed a few to make sure our Christmas cards got out on time. The line was out the door. There was one poor fellow shipping what looked like his entire Christmas list. Final total for shipping...almost $500.

Another lady, who spoke poor English, was trying to find out why the stamps she stuck on her three post cards wasn't enough. It was kind of comical watching as she, with her broken English, communicated with the very Southern gentleman behind the counter about why she needed ten cents more. Talk about worlds colliding.

There were bags and bows and boxes everywhere as people wrapped up there last minute details for getting their items shipped. Thirty minutes later, I had my "Mother and Child" Christmas stamps and was on my way to work.

So, my blog today is a public service reminder. There's probably much left to be done before December 25th (if you are like most of us). There are cards to mail, items to ship and probably a few left to buy for. You have just nine more days to get it all done. But, whether you are ready or not, Christmas will come. It always does. It did 2000 years ago and, believe it or not, most of them weren't ready then either.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Believe you can.

One of my favorite things to do as a pastor is to read the emails and notes and to hear the stories of victory that come. Believe me, there are far more than most of you realize (confidentiality keeps us from sharing some of the really good ones). I love when people have stories about how their families have been changed or relationships have been mended. They are the indication of a very powerful God that we serve. They encourage others and help us to know that others can have that same kind of victory and overcoming in their life if they will just trust God.

Therein lies the stumbling block...that whole trusting God thing. It's one thing to say it or to sing it on Sunday morning but something entirely different when the stuff of life hits us on Monday morning. But believing God can do what He has promised is the difference between a life that comes unglued and life held together. Make no mistake, we will all face those difficult days. The outcome is less about what the circumstances are and more about what we do with those circumstances. Here's a really cool verse of promise I shared with Lisa this morning. I hope it encourages you as you face the Deceiver today:

May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise; then I will answer the one who taunts me, for I trust in your word. Psalm 119:41-42 NIV

The lies of the enemy are strong but God's word is stronger still. Trust that He can and will deliver no mater what the enemy says.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A pet peeve

I've got this pet peeve. It's about truth in advertising. It really irritates me when you see one of these ads come out where they say, "New and improved" when just last month they were saying they got your teeth "as white as possible". Does that mean what was once considered impossible is now possible?

Then there are the truck ads: "America's number one selling truck." How can they all be the best selling truck? Of course, some of them add in the phrase " its class" as if that's supposed all make sense for us.

Here's another one: "No cash up front" but in the small print you read "this doesn't include all necessary fees, taxes, title charges, etc."

There is even a radio station now advertising this in our area: "Nashville's official Christmas station." Really? Because I don't think the Mayor's office really recognized one station as THE official station for Nashville this time of year? And, even if I missed that memo, I bet it wasn't really your station that was named, especially since the next station down the dial is proclaiming the same thing.

My problem is this (I know, you're thinking "don't you have anything else to worry about right now?")...we have a serious void of truth in our culture. No one knows how to tell it any more. Presidents lie. Role models lie to their fans. Dads lie to their children. Students lie to their teachers. And it's because we have created a culture where truth is heralded as a worthy virtue but no one is willing to go first. We accept lies from our elected officials. We allow companies like the one's above to fudge on their advertising. We don't expect our kids to always be honest. And then everyone acts surprised when we discover our kids have been caught in another lie. They are just acting out what they have seen since the day they were born. We expect people to be truthful with us but don't demand the same from our own hearts. Before we can expect the world to live in truth, we've got to be living lives of integrity in our words and our actions. Truth matters people. Just ask God what He thinks...

The Lord detests lying lips but he delights in men who are truthful. Proverbs 12:22 NIV

Therefore each one of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor... Ephesians 4:25 NIV

Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of it Creator. Colossians 3:9-1o NIV

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Our purpose

Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:5

A few years back, I was standing in the line at Lowe's looking for something else to buy (hey, I'm a man. I can't help it). I had picked up the stuff I really needed but, because I love Lowe's and I love gadgets, I'm always checking to make sure there isn't something else I need. A cup full of flat pencils caught my eye. You probably have seen them and maybe knew long before I did what they were. They are called carpenter's pencils. One day, some really creative guy got tired of his pencil rolling off of his work area. So, he took his hammer and slammed the pencil to flatten it out and keep it in place. A new device was born (disclaimer: I don't know that this is how it happened but it seemed good when I wrote it so work with me), a device with a unique purpose.

Birds were meant to fly. So were planes. Cars were not...but they were meant to drive. And you and I were meant to love the Lord. That's it. Every moment of every day in every circumstance, we were created to have a relationship with God. The great tragedy of life is when we take life's benefits, its "side dishes" if you will, and try to make them the main course. You were not created to get married, have a career or have children. Those are life's benefits. When you and I get our focus off of loving God and onto the benefits, we get our priorities whacked out and our lives become...chaotic.

It takes real passion to live like God wants us to. And ALL of that passion must be focused on the main thing. If you are going to seek after God and love Him, go all out. Nothing else counts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Mondays and rainy days.

Leadership is difficult...especially on rainy days. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE Corporation, once said, "A leader's job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be." For me, that challenging task becomes more difficult when I'm laying in bed on a rainy day with a head cold. I can't see past the end of the bed, much less past tomorrow. I'd rather pull the covers closer and enjoy the warmth. (I have a very nice bed and its twice as comfortable on days like today.)

But isn't that why every organization needs leaders? Think about that. When times are cloudy and the future doesn't look very clear, the tendency of everyone is to stay where its warm and dry, to stick with what is comfortable. Its much easier than the alternative...launching out into the unknown and trying the unproven. But that's what has to happen if the church is to stay relevant and dynamic. Yes, it's easier said than done. As I said a few weeks back, "Everybody loves go first." But it's change that positions us where we need to be and prepares us for the "what's next" in God's agenda.

As we try to focus more on people and less on programs in our church, we will face change--a change in perspective, a change in procedure, a change in thinking and a change in the way we measure success. It is change that is long overdue and absolutely essential. But it's a journey we will share together as we do whatever we can--short of sin--to reach those far from Christ.

"To reach people that no one else is reaching we must be willing to try things that no one else is trying."

Monday, December 07, 2009

The SEC Championship game was a shocker to me.

The SEC Championship game on Saturday afternoon was a shocker to me. While I suspected that Alabama might have a chance to beat Florida, I never guessed they would have throttled Tim Tebow and the Gators the way that they did. It was literally the first time in his career that I ever saw Tebow on TV looking confused. Somewhere about the middle of the third quarter, he looked to the sideline and had this really confused look on his face--like he didn't know what would work offensively for the Gators.

Thankfully, he's gotten the other answers right. The really important ones. While I am no means a Florida fan (far from it), I have secretly watched and cheered for Tim Tebow these last four years because he was such a bold and outspoken witness for Christ. My prayer? That he would live the faith he proclaimed to have without faltering along the way. In victory and defeat, Tim held his integrity in tact and lived his faith without apology (one estimate this morning said that over 8 million people googled John 16:33 after Tim wore it on his eyeblack Saturday).

From a tried and true Dawg fan, Tim, it's a pleasure to say "well done" for the way you lived your life these last four years in the public's eye (with the exception of one Saturday each of the last four years in October). May God bless you in whatever is next and increase your influence.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Like many of you, I've watched with interest...

Like many of you, I've watched with interest the unfolding saga from this past weekend related to Tiger Woods. I believe the whole thing has been grossly overplayed by the media and the events of the weekend are very unfortunate for Tiger and his family.

Yesterday, I was sitting in a restaurant when the news broke of Tiger's apology regarding charges of infidelity. The one statement that caught my attention from his release more than any other was this: "I don't believe that personal sins should require public press conferences..." (not the exact words, I'm sure).

True, Mr. Woods. Very true.

When any man or woman makes a mistake on the level of what he has done, forgiveness and healing become imperative. But, at the same time, I think Tiger is learning a very hard lesson--one that Charles Barkley once resisted and Steve McNair unfortunately never grasped. When one chooses to live their life in front of the lights and cameras, every small detail of who you are comes under close examination--from what you wear to what you eat, from what you watch to who you watch it with. It's an unfortunate fact in our star-crazed culture. And no one is exempt, regardless of how much they may plead for privacy for their families.

Mr. Woods transgressions are awful. Infidelity for anyone is a tragic choice that hurts everyone touched by the poor choices. But I couldn't help but catch myself praying for Tiger yesterday as I began my lunch. Praying that he would, indeed, get the space he and his family need for their healing. I also prayed that he might come to understand the significance of that word--sin--and perhaps come to know the forgiveness and grace of Jesus. Here's to your healing, Tiger Woods...emotional and spiritual.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Does God really care?

Does God really care? It's a question that has been asked for ages. It's also one dealt with head on by the Scriptures. From the psalmists who questioned God's presence to Job who doubted God's concern to the prophets who questioned God's tenderness for His people, the question of God's compassion for His creation has always been around. The answer to that question is best answered, not with words, but with the arrival of Jesus.

I remember a valuable lesson I learned many years ago, while I was serving as a summer missionary in California. One lady who was leading us told me, if you want to show a kid you care, get down in the dirt with him when he cries. (not the exact words but the essence of the lesson she was teaching). Isn't that exactly what God did with the arrival of Jesus? For thousands of years He had watched tenderly and listened to the cries of creation--sometimes even choosing to intercede with miracles. He understood the depths of their pain and, beyond the expectations of everyone, God "sat down in the dirt" with us so that He could feel what we felt. But He took that one step further. He showed us how to live life in this world as we anticipate the Rescue that will come.

If you don't believe that God cares, you don't understand what the arrival, the Emmanuel, is for mankind. If you doubt the depths of God's love, you haven't noticed the tears that frequently filled Jesus' eyes while He was here.

Here is something really cool that Philip Yancey (amazing author) points out in one of his latest books. When you read straight through the Bible, you notice an important difference between the Old Testament and the New. The Old Testament gives record of many expressions of doubt, anguish and fear. But there is little indication of this in the NT. Things hadn't changed. There were still troubles, pain, fear and persecution. The difference? The witnesses of the NT had seen the purest expression of love possible. While they write of troubles that existed and those still to come, their understanding was tempered because they had been with Jesus. And Jesus proves, once and for all, that God loves you and me deeply. Yes, He absolutely cares. Don't let this season pass without understanding the full impact of the statement made by those angels: "Christ is born! God is here!"

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It's good to be home.

It's good to be home. You'll be glad to know that the Enchanted Kingdom of Mickey Mouse is alive and well. In fact, you'd never know there was a recession going on by looking at the thousands of people pouring in and out of central Florida. They were gobbling up $8 hot dogs and $4 drinks by the handful. And, of course, it was all a ton of fun with my family. I think I discovered this year that the fantasy and imagination behind all of Disney is more appreciated the older you get. I caught myself thinking several times, "Is there any way that Walt Disney could have imagined all of this when he first flew over that marshy area of Florida 30 plus years ago?" That was usually right after my thought of "who in the heck has to change all of these stinking light bulbs?" Nevertheless, the dream has evolved and it has become so much more than just a theme park.

I was floored at the people from Germany, Russia, China, places in Africa and, of course, all over North America who had made the sacrifices necessary to make their way to Orlando. The park was loaded with people from all races, all backgrounds. They were so many different shapes and sizes and languages. It truly is a Magic Kingdom.

I, of course, couldn't help but wonder about another far more worthy of that truly will become the ultimate that far exceeds any dream or fantasy you or I could have. Some day...