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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas

In case you haven't heard or don't have children to constantly remind you, there's only two days till Christmas. Another year has passed and we arrive again at the threshold of the celebration of Christ's birth. It is, for most of us, the most joyous occasion of the year as we remember God's arrival on the scene of humanity.

For most of us...

As I sat and thought about my writing this morning, there were many others who came to mind who might not find this Christmas so joyous. I think about my friend who is about to lose his wife after a brief marriage. Another friend has just found out that her father has cancer though they don't know to what extent. One young mother will spend yet another Christmas alone watching her kids celebrate. She feels all alone in the world because of the hand that life has dealt her. Many families this Christmas will have a vastly different Christmas than in years past as the economy has taken their ability to celebrate in the traditional ways. And who can forget the millions of men and women serving our country overseas this time of year? Their sacrifices are great...not the least of which is being away from their families as we do Christmas in the comfort and security of our homes.

But Christmas will be merry nonetheless. Because Jesus came for these very reasons. He came for the lost, the hopeless, the frail and the sick. He came to bring peace and joy and love. He "made himself nothing" and "took the nature of a servant" so that we can have joy in spite of the circumstances of our life.

For each of you who are struggling this Christmas because of death or sickness or insecurity or loss, please know that the Barrons, as part of their holiday celebration, will be lifting you up to God. Though your pain is real and heart felt, God knows your heart and has promised to never leave of you. For those of you who don't find yourself at this place, I invite you to reach out to others this Christmas. Instead of wishing them a Merry Christmas, how about doing what you can to make it one for them?

This may be my last blog for 2010 unless I try to slip one in next week. Instead of sending Christmas cards this year, our family decided to use the money that we would have spent to bless some families that are in need this season (more, it seems, than in years past). So, I didn't want my friends and family to think they had been left out or forgotten. We just decided that God would probably desire this more than one more picture of the Barron family hanging on your door. So, in place of our card, here is our prayer for you...

May the joy and meaning of the first Christmas season surprise you this holiday season. May the stockings and gifts and dinners and decorations fade in comparison to the glory of that first Christmas night. Behold, a Savior has been born!! And it is no small deal that this Child shall save you...yes, you...from your sins if you will only bow to Him as shepherds and Magi did.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The Barrons.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knowing When

The ride to work started simply enough this morning but took an unexpected twist. I had to run Harrison by the school for a basketball clinic that the team is doing today. Our conversation turned to his upcoming birthday. In just twenty days, he will be turning 16. (I can't imagine where all the time has gone but that is a blog for another day.) We've talked about this subject off and on for the last several months as he has been practicing his driving with me. He expressed a little frustration with me (just as Morgan did when she turned 16).

You see, in the Barron household, turning 16 doesn't mean you are ready to drive just like walking into a garage doesn't make you a car. I don't believe, just because a person goes to bed one age and wakes up the next morning a different one, that it means that he is ready for the responsibility of driving a several thousand pound vehicle. Harrison is mostly very responsible. He keeps his room very clean. He has continued to keep his grades high (though daddy believes they could be higher) while being in Honors classes. He has managed his schedule with his other responsibilities. And he has completed 10 months of learner's driving with only two scares and, more importantly, no accidents. He is, in my mind, a very good kid.

But what I was trying to share with him this morning was the importance of good choices all the time. As I told him, all it takes is a few seconds of distraction or one time when your friends convince you to try something stupid. It can ruin your life or worse...end it.

We had arrived at school by this point and it was time for him to get out. As I looked at him, his head was hanging and he was looking a little defeated--not the way I wanted to leave him. I told him I loved him as he got out of the truck but his demeanor let me know he was still a little down. Here's where the unexpected turn came. As I drove away, I texted him. I told him how much I loved him and how proud I was of him. I told him that I just didn't want him behind the wheel of a vehicle until he was ready to take complete control. Then...I told him I had already buried one son, I was in no hurry to bury another. Unexpectedly, tears filled my eyes most of the way to work.

Knowing when to let go of this kid, as well as the other three, has been tough. He will gain instant freedoms he never had the day he gets that license and the truck he has been saving money for. And I know it's not fair to make him pay for the accident that wrecked our lives 6 years ago. But its hard not to be afraid sometimes. When I look at Harrison, I see me. I see this kid with all the potential and promise in the world. I have spent many hours praying and loving and arguing and hugging and wrestling....you get the picture. I want him to be a man...but only when he is ready. I just pray I'll know when.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Meals and an Unhappy Mom

I couldn't resist the urge to comment on this news from yesterday. Apparently, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has convinced a lady in San Francisco to file suit against McDonald's and their Happy Meals. It seems that McDonald's has a sinister, evil plan to (gasp) sell fast food burgers to children. The 41 year old state employee has reportedly said, "We have to say no to our kids so many times and McDonald's makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald's is getting into my kids' heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat."

Are you kidding me? Re-read what this mom just said (with a straight face I might add). Of course you have to say "no" to your kids, lady. It comes with the job description of a parent. If I had a dollar for every time I have said no to my four kids I'd own McDonald's (although that may not be a good idea right now). Your job is to raise your kids responsibly, not be their best friend.

Then she says it makes it "so much harder to do." Really? Poor little baby. Can't stand up to your children. I feel like the guy in the Geico commercial now..."maybe we should stroll on over to namby-pamby land" and get you some guts for parenting. News alert to our friend from San Francisco (which should have been our first clue that there was something wrong), parenting is hard. It is not for the weak of heart nor is it for those who want to avoid difficult situations.

Lastly, she adds that they get inside the kids head with their advertising. Excuse me, isn't that what advertising is supposed to do? If she wins this lawsuit, I'm suing Ford for making me want a new truck, M&Ms for making me give in to my chocolate addiction and P90X for making me believe I could have that stupid beach body thing they talk about. While we're at it, let's just sue all the advertisers who reach out to our kids and remove all responsibility from our shoulders.

Here's a great idea for this lady (and anyone else who cares to listen). Don't take your kids to McDonald's. Even better, turn off the TV and make your kids go outside and play. This way, you take care of the healthy stuff and the "awful advertising plot" with one wide stroke of genius (or should I say, responsible parenting). Leave the Happy Meals alone and let McDonald's sell what they choose. If you and I start parenting like we should and stop buying the crap inside the box, McDonald's will get the hint and start serving asparagus burgers or whatever else is good for us. But don't sue the guys for selling their product. It's not their fault that Junior has gotten soft around the middle...or that you have gotten soft between the ears.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Obsession

I've been known to enjoy a little chocolate from time-to-time. Not any of that dark junk that tastes like it's been sprayed with a household cleaner before they wrapped it. No. Just the really good stuff you find in chocolate chip cookies, wrapped around raisins or--my favorite this time of year--in the best of homemade fudges. (Personally, I don't know how any one could ever taste a really good homemade fudge and ever question whether or not God loves you and has a purpose for your life).

But I also know there is this nasty little inconvenience that the chocolate I eat may have something to do with the extra weight I carry around. At this point, it's just a rumor, but I have to act with the information I am given. So, I'm doing my best to cut down on the chocolate. There was a time when I could sit and eat a half pound bag of M&Ms without thinking about it. Now, just the thought of M&Ms causes my waistline to grow and my blood pressure to climb. Those nasty little inconveniences.

Seriously, I know I can't have everything I want. Every choice I make has repercussions. Chocolate covered pretzels or fruit? Chocolate donut for breakfast or oatmeal and raisins? I know what my heart says but I also know what my scales are telling me. I'm just not able to have it all. If I choose to eat turtle cheesecake for supper tonight, I should expect to regret the results when I step on the scales tomorrow. If I skip, it'll be much easier to live with the results.

But it's no different than any other choice we make. Chocolate, in and of itself, is not bad. It's the volume of chocolate I'd like to consume. Alcohol in the massive quantities Americans drink, is the reason for many of the crimes we face today. TV, video games, food, email...all of these things are good things that become terribly bad when we choose to ignore the news that we have had too much.

I was reminded over lunch today with a great friend of mine there is one obsession that trumps them all. Its the one thing that, with time, can literally kill us. The ripple effects from too much of this good thing can bring down a family, destroy an empire, ruin a relationship or send nations to war.

It's an obsession with...self. That's right. You and I become too consumed with ME. And when we do, we lost our perspective. We start to demand our rights. We start to ignore the needs of others. We become "me-aholics." The greatest damage being our relationship with God is ruined. Let me remind you today--this season--get your focus off of you and back on God. I promise you you'll find it easier to live with the results if you do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

The first Christmas without Sarah and Josh was surreal. Even eight months after the accident, I would catch myself thinking that the door would swing open and the two of them would walk back in, ending the horrible nightmare.

The kids and I had moved back to Franklin to start Ridgeview Church. Since our arrival, we had busied ourselves with the business of starting new schools, planting our church, and reconnecting with old friends. But as those last few days before Christmas began to wind down, I found myself missing them more and more. Pulling out the decorations was a bittersweet moment as I re-lived the memories behind many of the decorations. I thought back to the Christmas before--just four months before the accident--how insulated we were from the pain that was going to follow. It was an amazing Christmas in 2003...far different than what we would feel in 2004.

But we made it. And after it was all said and done, I remember thinking how it had not been as bad as I had prepared myself for. There were new traditions to be started, a new house that provided opportunities for new decorating ideas. Don't get me wrong. There were moments that gave our hearts pause, to be sure. But the overwhelming thought of that Christmas was this--God was still God. His plans for my life had never changed. And the trials that He had brought me to, He was more than capable enough to lead me through them. In God there is always the hope and promise of what He has planned.

There is power in that word "new." When you find yourself working through difficult times or severe trials, remember that God is in the business of new. Lamentations says that every day "His mercies are new." In Revelation, God says Himself that He makes all things new. And in "newness" there is hope and confidence and life.

That's why a new baby in Bethlehem brought new hope that first Christmas. And that message of good news has given hope to everyone since that day. And the new choices that lay before me and my family that first Christmas helped me to see beyond my present pain to a world of possibilities, all because of a God who specializes in "new."

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Parentheses

Have you ever thought about how much comfort is found in the first four words of the Bible? In the beginning, God...

Think about what that means, the power of that statement. Before anything and everything, there was God. There was this loving Creator with an awesome plan for you and for me. Beyond the intentionality of His creation, there is the comfort of knowing that nothing (despite what philosophers and modern scientists might say) is left to chance. God has gone before us.

Now, as if that wasn't enough, check out what the next-to-the-last verse of the Bible has to say. Yes, I am coming soon. Not only did God start this whole thing up, He Himself will bring it to its conclusion. He is the before and the after, the Alpha and Omega. The great Parentheses of life.

And in between is every thought, feeling, word and action that you and I will ever experience. There is nothing that escapes Him nor is there anything about our lives that surprises Him. My trials don't upset Him. My failures don't dethrone Him. When I wake up tomorrow, He will be there. If I don't wake up tomorrow, He will still be there. What comfort is gained from knowing that the One who was, is and always will be is looking out for me in every instance, every situation. I simply have to trust that He is at work, orchestrating the symphony of my life to make it a beautiful tune to bring Him glory. The only question that remains: will I trust Him enough to led Him lead me?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Your Cause

I'm a very blessed man. I know that full well. Regardless of what my past has held for me or what future path my journey may take, I cannot deny that I have experienced the blessings of God. I have become more acutely aware of that over the years--partly due to maturity, partly due to the experience that years of ministry have brought me.

I guess that's why, this year, Lisa and I were confronted with a decision that God put right in our face. His Word is clear that to whom much is given, much is required. So I've been asking myself, "What is it that God would require of me?" I'm not entirely clear on that answer or all that it my entail. But I do know this (actually Lisa and I both do). God was telling us to trash our Christmas lists for each other and do something worthwhile with the money. Rather than adding another sweater to my shelf or some gadget that I may use twice a year, God said to both of us..."bring Me glory."

Now, hear me. I'm not writing this to make you feel guilty about what you have bought for your family or what you have put on your own list. I'm simply writing to tell you that God is asking me for more. And for the first time in my life...maybe, I'm listening.

My job? To find a worthy cause, a strong organization or some place in need of a little bit of financial help. Then, I'm going to take the money I would have spent on Lisa and bless someone else (after all, we've got each other and we don't need much more).The problem isn't finding a cause that's worth supporting or a need that is great. It's in narrowing it down to just one. So, I thought I'd ask you to consider the same. Together, we can all take $10 or $20 (some of us can do much more) to bless some organization that is answering the call of Christ. If you need help finding one that meets your passion, just send me an email. I'll be glad to help. One by one we can all rearrange our priorities to answer the command of Christ.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Matthew 25:35-36 NIV


Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. James 1:27 NIV


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Teaching...and learning

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

Holidays bring with them a multitude of emotions. I thought about that as I rode to work this morning. Another Christmas is upon us. Decorations are up and gifts have been purchased ahead of time at the Barron household. The ride into work reveals church after church offering their version of a Christmas program.

I thought back to the last Christmas we had together as a family before the accident. It was Josh's second. Just four short months before his life would end he was busily scurrying from present to present in our den floor. First his brother, then his sister--from person to person he would race to help rip off the paper and see what was inside. His favorite toy that year was a riding one, one of those with the long handle on the back that would enable mom and dad to push him around the neighborhood as we walked. That morning, as the gift was opened, he plopped himself onto the toy...and just sat. That's it. He didn't know exactly what to do but that was okay for him. He just liked sitting. And when Abby or Harrison would go to give him a push, he would look with skepticism as the toy began to move. Sitting was just fine for him.

Both siblings worked hard that day to teach Josh how to move his leg and propel the toy himself. It was pretty comical but I worked with him for a little while to learn how to sit up, push with his legs and hang onto the steering wheel. I loved teaching him things. I always did with all my kids.

In fact, the night before our accident, I had spent the evening at the hotel swimming pool teaching Josh how to hold his breath, duck his head under the water and act like a motor boat. He was a pretty quick learner.

Those thoughts continued to swim through my head as I remembered teaching Josh how to throw a ball and to blow bubbles with his wand. Then this question came to mind. Call it crazy or whatever. Do you think Josh is looking forward to a day when he will get to teach me? I mean, by the time I make it to heaven, he is going to have many years experience on his old man. I can just see him running up, grabbing my hand and saying, "Dad, you won't believe this place? It's better than anything you could have imagined. I can't wait to show you around."

Is it crazy to think such thoughts...to have such high hopes for the day that I'll get to see he and Sarah and my dad and my niece and my grandmother and all those others who have gone before me? I believe with all my heart that he's there, that they all are. And I believe he is waiting anxiously to show me the whole place...but one place in particular. I imagine he can't wait--and I can't wait to join him--to show me into the presence of the One who gave us life and, then, gave us new life. In my mind I see Josh pulling me by my sleeve into the presence of Jesus. But for now, I can only imagine...

Monday, December 06, 2010

With us

I'm meditating on one word this morning, one very powerful word. It's been a part of my reading the last couple of days and it, probably more than any other word, signifies what this season of the year is all about.

Emmanuel...which means "God is with us."

The fact that God pays any attention to us at all is significant. Unlike the people of Israel, we have lost reverence for the person of God. His character seldom inspires us to great things. His name is no longer sacred. The idea that He is watching over us brings little fear to our hearts. So, just the reality that He cares at all about what we are or what we become is worth every ounce of thanks we can squeeze from our being.

But God was not content enough to be "God over us" or "God for us" or "God who made us." No. God's passion for us drove Him to the decision that nothing less than "God with us" would do.

Think about the implications. Paul sure did in in Philippians 2:
...(Jesus) being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!

What Paul was saying and what I'm trying to put my mind around this morning is this: the Supreme Being of the universe--the One whose breath gave us meaning and life and purpose--took our flesh upon Himself, along with our sin, so that we could have relationship with Him. Let that sink in for a second. Let it soak down to the very core of your bones--the ones He gave you. And then, ask yourself if you would have done the same if you were Him?

Tiny infant of Bethlehem. Milky soft skin. Fragile nature, meek and mild. Powerless to do anything at all...but save the world!

That's the power of Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Calling

Lately, the question of calling has come up more than usual in conversations I have had. I've had people ask me about what it means to be called and how you can know about that calling. I believe it gets back to a question that all humans deal with...the question of purpose.

Simply put, the "call" is God's invitation. Nothing more. Nothing less. I personally believe that every person experiences two kinds of calling in their life.

The first is the general call. This is the invitation from God to join Him in a relationship. Man's relationship with God was broken by the original sin of Adam and Eve. Every person ever since that day has been born with a sinful nature that rejects God and misses His purpose for their life. And, every person since that day has been offered an invitation to re-join God in this relationship that He desires to have. How we respond to that invitation or call is up to us. It is the free will that God gave us and it is the difference between becoming a Christ follower and living a life completely separate from God.

The second call is the specific call. I believe this has been the concern of my recent conversations...how do I know if God is calling me to do something specific? Let me assure you that He is. If you have responded positively to the general call God has given you, then your next step is to find his specific call or purpose. Some are called to ministry full-time. Most are not. And answering your specific call is not dependent on what you do but the attitude of worship with which you do it. In other words, you don't have to be a pastor or missionary to have a call. God calls some to be teachers, lawyers, firemen, housewives, financial planners or trash collectors. Your obedience in serving out God's call is determined by the heart with which you serve.

I tell my RCC family frequently that we were created for two purposes in our life: to enjoy His grace (general call) and to extend His glory (specific call). God smiles when people choose to receive His grace. He also dances with delight when you and I turn to extend His glory so that others may know. If you've never answered either of these calls in your life, I encourage you to pray, talk with a minister/counselor/friend and determine to rearrange your life around these two purposes. You'll find you spend less time chasing meaningless things. You'll also find greater satisfaction with who you are in Christ when you understand that you were created to be uniquely you...all for His glory.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lights on

From the time I was kid, one of my favorite things about Christmas has been the lights. I love riding through some of the large neighborhoods that really jazz up their decorations or cruising slowly by a house where they have gone all out with the lighting (I must, however, admit that I can't imagine living next door to one of those for the entire holiday season). Lights are so much a part of the holiday season as they symbolize the arrival of Jesus, the One who was described as the true Light of the World.

The Bible says that Christ followers are also to be lights. It is our responsibility to shine brightly in the darkness, to reflect the character of Christ. When a Christ follower does that--really shines brightly through their words and deeds--the world takes notice. They also notice when we don't.

I was reminded of that a few months ago when one of my staff got into a conversation with a member of our community at a ballgame. They began to talk about careers and mutual friends in the community when the name of one of our church attenders came up. The pastor said, "Yes, I know him well. He attends our church." At which point the gentleman said, "Really? I didn't even know he was a Christian."

Ouch!!

Sounds like a place where a bulb has dimmed or gone out completely. Nothing can be more frustrating than to get a whole strand of lights in place on your tree and find out that one bulb has stopped working. And, because it's not doing its job, the whole strand is effected.

The same is true when we choose not to live as lights. Compromises in our actions, our thoughts, our attitudes and our words can leave the rest of the lights looking a little dim themselves.

Jesus said:
“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:14-16 NIV

This holiday season, let your light shine brightly for the world to see. It's just another way that you and I can live out our purpose and extend God's glory.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Talking about "what-ifs"

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

A part of our story that many people don't know is the months leading up to our accident in April. I had lived a fairly charmed life until November of 2003. The only deaths I had experienced in my life had been older grandparents who I was very close to but also knew that they were approaching the end of their life. In high school, I had a close friend die from a horrendous car accident. This death shook me because of the senseless nature of it but by the time I reached that November, it had become a carefully placed memory in the back of my mind.

November changed that. We got word one day that Sarah's niece, an eleven year old who lived outside of Birmingham, had gotten severely ill. She was in the hospital and not doing well. Sarah and I placed our kids with family and raced the five hours to Birmingham to see her. Within a few hours of our arrival, Taylor would be gone, dead from a perforated appendix that doctors were unable to diagnose in time. The trip home was long and hard that week. As we rode, Sarah and I talked about death and funerals and God's will for our lives. It was a great talk but slightly uncomfortable. All the way home I kept thinking that I was preparing my wife for the "what-ifs." It was a conversation that I hoped would never have to come up again.

It did...just three months later. My 74 year old father passed away in February of 2004 after a long bout with complications from strokes, diabetes and congestive heart problems. We had been at his bedside most of the morning. My sisters and I decided to leave for a few minutes to take my mom home and let her rest and clean up. Sarah was standing by his bed when he died. The ride home the night of his funeral was equally long, equally unnerving. I remember talking with Sarah about insurance, funeral services, getting married again--all the important things that no one likes to talk about but are so necessary. While I thought I was preparing her for my death, God was preparing me for what would happen just eight weeks later.

The interesting thing, as I look back, is how much those talks prepared me for the "big things" but not for day-to-day life. I knew what Sarah's wishes were for her funeral. I didn't know where she kept the sugar. I knew what she desired for her kids. I didn't know how to put a bow in Abby's hair or how to get the stains out of Harrison's blue jeans. We managed. God and friends and family pulled us through. But the transition would have been better if I had known what the kids liked in their lunch or how I was supposed to be involved in their classes at school.

I don't know why I felt the need to write this today other than to say...talk. Talk with your spouse about these things. Talk with your family about the possibilities, the big dreams, the big things that make moving on easier and the little things that make the day-to-day possible. It's not a conversation that anyone looks forward to but I have thanked God many times that He forced us to have them...before my world was shattered.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Generations

In the summer of 1994, when Sarah first announced to me that we were expecting a child, I was through the roof with excitement. We were not planning to get pregnant at that point and she was a little apprehensive about telling me, not sure how I would respond. I came in from the office and found a shoe box wrapped in gift paper. She watched anxiously as I unwrapped the "gift" and found a baby doll inside the box. I was confused, at first, not sure what to make of it. Then, I lifted my face to see her eyes and I instantly knew. Wow! What a feeling it was...and was again...and again with each new child.

But that first child was something unique, especially when we discovered it would be a boy. There was, for me, a certain pride in carrying on the family name and being blessed with this child. I could not wait.

There was one thing I had to ponder as I waited. His name. You see, I am Ridley Barron III (actually the fourth in my family with the name but that's a story for another day). I had pretty much decided that I wasn't going to name my son the IV. That is, until the day my dad experienced his first stroke. As I stood by his bedside and realized that my "superman" of a dad was as human as anyone else, I was struck by the "expectation" of many generations--that I would carry on the name and heritage of our family. So, Harrison (our middle name) was born and became the IV.

This all came to mind again as I read the first chapter of Matthew yesterday. I am reading back through the Christmas story in anticipation of the holidays, praying that God will help me to capture it anew.

Can you imagine the story from Joseph's perspective? After the initial shock of being told he would have a child but he wouldn't be the father, Joseph must have thought back to the expectations of many generations. Why else would Matthew feel it necessary to list the family tree as he begins Jesus' story? Thousands of years of anticipation, generations of heritage and prophecy leading to this one child...his child. Think about the pressure he felt those nine months, waiting for the day he would be able to unwrap his gift. But not just his. A gift meant for the whole world...yet given to him and Mary. It's a huge responsibility. A task that no man could handle alone without the presence of God's Spirit. But, he did. And unto us a Savior was born. Joseph named him Jesus. And he would become the answer to generations of expectations--both before and after his birth.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Knowing

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

Psalm 139 has been one of my favorite passages in Scripture since I was in high school. I've always taken comfort and gained strength from the knowledge that God knows all about me, that He truly understands every thought I have and every action I take. And, as if I needed to be reminded of His greatness, it says that He knows all this before it ever happens.

That added a different perspective to my conversations with God in the months after the wreck. I believe God knew that this wreck would happen. I believe He knew that my wife's life would be cut short at 33 and that I would lose my precious son to a medical error. I also believe He could have stopped it.

But what I have had to wrestle with over and over again is this. With His foreknowledge of the accident and how life would go afterwards, what did He see that would make Him allow the event to take place? Is it some life that was changed because of the event (because many lives have been altered)? Was it some door that was opened to bring Him glory (because that has happened too)? Am I thinking too deeply and not trusting Him enough, believing that somehow knowing those answers would make this journey go differently?

Again, I go back to the comfort of knowing that He knows...that's got to be enough. For me to know any more would rattle my mind. For me to know any less, would cause me to doubt. So, in all areas of my life, I must hold unswervingly to the promise that the One who knows is also the One who leads. If you're having doubts today, I encourage you to pick up a Bible and re-read Psalm 139. For now, find comfort in this:

All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!...When I awake, I am still with you. Psalm 139:16-18NIV

Monday, November 22, 2010

On being rich

I guess I was in college the first time I was confronted with the "richness" of my lifestyle. I grew up in a middle income family that struggled to make ends meet, particularly in my high school years as my dad was in the midst of looking for new work at an older age. In fact, I would dare say that my family looked much like many of yours. Nice home, working cars, food on the table.

So, when my professor required us to read a book about how rich Christians in American were and how little we were doing with that wealth, I politely agreed and suggested someone do something to encourage those "rich" Christians to do more. It wasn't till later on in the book and our class discussion that I realized the rich Christians he referred to included me. I was astounded. He doesn't understand. There's no way I could be called rich. Yes, I had more than some but I also had far less than most.

That lesson on wealth has banged around inside my nearly hollow head for many years. From time-to-time, it would pop up, I would "acknowledge it" and then it would go away. I, in the mean time, would go back to my happy lifestyle.

Today, more than ever, I have been challenged by the reality that I am very blessed...and am not doing enough to make sure others are. I have been very blessed with many of the same things I had growing up--a nice house, running cars, healthy kids, a good job and plenty of food. The difference is that, today, I understand God did not bless me so that I could store it; He blessed me so that I could bless others.

As we roll into another Thanksgiving, I don't want it to be just "another" Thanksgiving. I am working hard to be more grateful than ever before. At the same time, I am praying that God would simplify my life so that my blessings may be used to bless others. Whether it's a single mom and her kids who live down the street from me or a family of eight in a one room hut around the other side of the world, I want to be able to make a difference. I'm praying God would open my eyes...and those of my kids...my wife...my friends...and my church family so that we may see all of those opportunities that God gives to us. I want to make a difference.

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward. Matthew 10:42 NIV

Thursday, November 18, 2010

School lunch

When I think back to my childhood, I am overcome with great feelings. They center around two parents who loved me, two sisters who spoiled me and a pretty normal childhood. Baseball games in the back yard, the tree fort down the street, school friends coming over to play and going to church with my family. I remember holidays, vacations, Saturdays at the ball field and being tucked in at night. I think the one consistent that flowed through all of those memories was that warm, secure feeling that came from knowing I was loved.

The reason I believe that is because of one horrible night I remember when my mom and dad had one of those moments that sneak into all marriages. It was an awful argument; most of it centered around the financial struggles that my family was facing. I remember some yelling and heavy discussion. I even remember my dad saying to my mom, "That's it! I want a divorce." My world sank. I was standing in the kitchen crying my eyes out as I watched my entire world come crumbling down. I was destroyed....but only briefly. The love that flowed through my mom and dad won out. It always did. When my dad died in 2004, he had been with my mom for almost 50 years. That secure feeling I had from watching them had grown every year they spent together.

I thought about that today as I visited the local school where I spend time mentoring each week. Sitting at the table, my heart was broken as I watched six young kids who were longing for attention, looking for that security that I had felt so strongly growing up. One young lady talked about her mom's new boyfriend, another revealed the lack of attention from her parents by the food pouring from her mouth as she stuffed bite after bite. Another young lady caught my attention as she pulled up next to me, hit me on the arm and said, "I've missed you." It's only the third time I've seen the girl. Apparently, she's adopted me. Or, maybe it's more appropriate to say, she's adopted the feeling that comes with knowing somebody cares for her.

You know, I don't really do anything special when I go to the school. I sit at the table with them and hang out and talk and act a little goofy. It doesn't take a lot of training nor does it require a ton of time. But I like to believe that those few stolen moments with those kids may someday make a difference in who they grow up to be.

Now, here's the reason I share this. You can make a difference too. In fact, the reason that God blesses you is so that you can be a blessing. You may be reading this a thousand miles from where I am...but you are only a few miles away from some kid who needs you, some life that needs to be touched. It will cost you a few minutes. But I'd rather lose a few minutes to save someone's life than to have someone I could have loved go without that touch. Consider what you have to offer...then offer it freely to God.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Hope

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, "The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!" Lamentations 3:23-24 NLT

I've kind of used this definition of hope in recent years:

Hope--the belief that tomorrow will be worth waking up for.

The verse above was written by the prophet Jeremiah during a very desperate time. Jerusalem was destroyed. The people of Babylon had taken most of its citizens into captivity. Others they had tortured or killed. And Jeremiah had been a witness to it all. In the midst of all this, Jeremiah's tears came easily and often. These were not tears from his own selfish desires. Rather, it was grief over the heart ache and destruction that lay all around Jeremiah. So, he wept and grieved for his people.

Then...he remembered this ray of hope. He remembered the presence of a God who never leaves. He remembered the comfort of a God who loves very deeply. Without God's mercy, Jeremiah understood that things would have been much worse and there would have been no hope for change.

In those desperate moments that roar into our lives, we must remember what Jeremiah recalled. Only God can deliver or heal or bring the change we seek. Without Him, there is no comfort, no peace or no hope for the future. And because of Christ's appearance almost 600 years later, you and I have a hope that is even more personal than Jeremiah's.

I don't know what has you frustrated or discouraged today. I don't know what serves as the source for your tears. But there is hope--real hope--that is found in this relationship with God. Don't let your circumstances keep you from seeing what God has for you. His mercies do, indeed, begin anew every day. Place your hope in that.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Foundations

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

One of the things that I wasn't really sure about after Sarah died was how I would be able to handle our surviving children (Harrison and Abby). Sarah had been a fabulous mom. We had been so blessed that she could stay at home with the kids while they were younger and greet them at the door once they began those school years. She was wonderful with balancing their schedules and meeting their needs. Now, with her death, I was faced with the task of carrying on my work as a pastor while continuing her great work of raising the kids, all while I was recovering from the accident myself.

I have to tell you that I was completely intimidated by it all. Even before I was freed from the crushed wreckage of our van, I was arguing with God--telling Him how incapable I was of doing this all alone. I never dreamed that I would be in that situation so I wasn't prepared at all to fill the role of mom and dad. Looking back, I am still amazed at the people who came alongside of me to help. My mom stayed with the three of us for four months while we began to heal. My sisters and their families were constant sources of support as they walked this journey with me (one of them even moved their entire family back to Middle Tennessee with us just to continue to support us). There were neighbors, friends, teachers and church members who helped with car pool, child care, housekeeping, meals--the list goes on and on.

But I think the greatest factor that has helped through all of this was the solid foundation of faith and community that we had raised our children with. From the day the three of us began our recovery, I have communicated to our kids over and over that God allowed questions, that He understood their pain and fear and doubts and anger. I allowed them to see me as I struggled with my own questions and they heard me say more than once, "I don't know." All along the journey, I told the two of them, "We may not know and we may not understand but that won't ever change who God is." I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that many thousands of prayers were prayed on their behalf...and mine as I tried to parent them.

I have to close with one of my favorite stories about my kids during those rough first months. Just a few weeks after the accident, I crawled into bed next to Abby to say prayers and tuck her in. She had a very serious look on her face. The conversation went like this:

"Daddy, are you going to find us a new mommy?"

"I don't know, baby. That really depends on God right now. But I think we'll probably have another one some day. "

"When are you going to start?" Nothing like a child to cut right to the heart of the matter.

"I don't know, baby. It's really not going to be that easy so it might be a while. You have to understand that guys like daddy aren't in high demand."

"Why?" She wouldn't let it go.

"Because daddy is 36 years old, a pastor and I have two kids already. There aren't very many ladies out there looking for that in a husband." Silence. But I could tell she was deep in thought.

Then finally, "I'd marry you, daddy. I think you're pretty."

"Thanks, baby. I love you." I had to rush out of the room because I was caught between tears from this sweet moment and laughter at her simple understanding of love and relationships. Perhaps she had more faith than me. I don't know. But her prayers were answered when I met Lisa. I like to believe the faith of a six year old moved the heart of God so I wouldn't have to parent all alone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Forgetting Scripture

Yesterday, I preached from the most familiar passage in all of Scripture--John 3:16. It was a message I felt strongly compelled to share. I am so thankful for the two people who made decisions at the end of the service as well as the multiple conversations I've had since then.

In preparing for that message, I faced one of those challenges that many pastors face...many people who have been Christ followers for a long time face the same thing. It's the problem that comes with confronting Scripture that has become too familiar.

Have you ever just wished that you could forget everything you've learned about Scripture to this point so you could pick it up for the "first time" and read it? Can you imagine how blown away you might be at reading these words for the very first time with no prior knowledge...for God so love the world He gave...

As I shared yesterday, God had been waiting since the creation of mankind to utter those words to us. He had longed so desperately to reveal His plan and to rescue this relationship that was broken by our mistakes. Can you imagine how the words had rolled around inside of Jesus till that night when Nicodemus came and questioned Him?

"What does it take for a man to get to heaven?"

The answer comes from God...literally. But we've become too familiar with its words--this Grand Plan--too familiar with what it teaches us about God and Jesus and salvation. I wish we all could just forget what we "know" and hear for the very first time the great depths that God will go to to have us for Himself. Here it is in a less familiar translation of the passage. Read it again...for the first time... and thank God for all that He gave.

This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Contentment

You hear a lot of preachers talk about contentment. I wonder if we really get what that means. When we hear the word our first thoughts turn to money and material things, as it rightfully should. But this morning, as I was reading Paul's passage on the subject, other thoughts popped into my head.

Do you realize how different marriages in our country would look if we learned to be content with the blessing we already had? Or how about this thought...don't you imagine that our economy would be stronger if people learned to be content with what they had and didn't run up credit card/mortgage debt to pursue things? I imagine the word "commitment" would carry a different meaning as well.

I think contentment begins with the understanding that the world wasn't built for us...it's just ours to use. When it becomes less about me and more about God, I start to see even the smallest things in my life as a blessing.

Another key is the recognition that everything we have comes from the hand of a benevolent God. That new job you just got? You didn't get it; God provided it for you. The things you've earned from the hard work of your hands are more accurately God's blessings because he loves you. Your health...His work. Your wisdom...from Him. Your friends...an added blessing.

This change in perspective enables even the smallest things to become great sources of contentment. And, as Scripture promises, "godliness with contentment leads to great gain." (1 Timothy 6:6)

This would be a great lesson to learn as the holiday season begins. The best formula to stay away from post-shopping regret is to celebrate Thanksgiving with all your heart and let Christmas be a time of reflection on His great love.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

In a moment...

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

When I was a kid in Columbus, I had this favorite shirt. You know the kind where you take it off and throw it in the wash right away so it will be ready to wear the next day. The shirt was a simple design. It was white with a picture of two high-top sneakers on it. Out of the sneakers were coming little puffs of smoke. Under the sneakers was written, "...in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." The shirt was a reference to 1 Corinthians 15:52 where Paul writes about that last day when all of this earth will come to an end and we'll make our transition to the new heaven and new earth.

I remember the first time I saw that shirt. I remember the thoughts it stirred in my imagination as I read the verse listed under those sneakers. In that moment. In that split second when everything is changed and everything that has burdened us here exists no more. That point where every tie to this planet is severed with a finality that relieves us of every thought but where we are headed.

I can only imagine what that moment must be like. I can tell you that I look forward to it. With an ever growing sense of expectancy, I long for that moment when I'll see Jesus face-to-face. I know with all my heart that there will be such peace, such joy.

I guess that's why I have told people for the last 6 years that I really don't mourn so much for Sarah and Josh. Do I miss them? Of course! Incredibly. Josh's birthday was just two weeks ago. He would have been 8 years old. If he were here, I would be well on my way to coaching yet another baseball team (selfish dreaming I know. Indulge me.) But I don't mourn the fact that Josh and Sarah have experienced what I long for. I mourn for me, for days that I don't want to get out of bed. I mourn for bills and politics and broken relationships and constant bad news on the TV. Is it any wonder that the longer we live here, the more I desire to be home?

I've said numerous times that I envy them both. Josh never had to wear braces, eat his spinach, take out the trash or ask a girl on a date. Sarah's wardrobe never gets dirty so there's no need for a wash day. Instead, they are understanding the eternal joy that comes from living in perfect relationship with God. And that, my friend, is never bad.

I don't recall ever having done what I'm about to do in this blog. I'm sorry I never really have. But I feel a need to do it now. I have lots of readers who check in on this blog from all over the country. You come from all walks of life. Some of you are family. Others come from the health care industry where I travel and speak. Many are new friends from churches where I have spoken. Still others are old friends from churches where I have served.

If you don't know about what it means to have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I'd love to share more with you about that. There's far more to this life than what you experience every day. In fact, this life, however long it may be, is just preparation for what's to come. The question is not is there life after death, the question is where will you spend it? And the answer is not found in what you know but Who you know. Email me. Respond to this blog. I'd love to talk with you more, answer your questions and lead you to find some of those answers you may be seeking. There truly is more to this life than just living and dying.

I often get asked about the peace I found after Sarah and Josh died. I didn't find it then. It was a peace I have known since I started my relationship with Jesus at age 8. It simply was the peace that carried me through one of the worst times I've ever had to endure. And I thank God daily that I had that peace when life came crashing in. You can have it too. I hope you'll reach out to find it.


Monday, November 08, 2010

Secret Church

Last Friday night, Ridgeview hosted its first "Secret Church" event. Twenty of us gathered in a barn in subfreezing temperatures to pray for the persecuted church around the world, worship and fellowship together and enjoy six hours of intense Bible study. Let me assure you it won't be the last time we do this. It was amazing!

As we huddled in the close quarters of that barn and shared stories of persecuted Christians all over the world, I was humbled at the opportunity I have been given to meet when and where I choose in the name of Christ. I am humbled that I have the freedom to study the Bible as I choose without fear of prison or death or injury.

At the same time, I am ashamed that I have to be reminded that others do not share that luxury. I am embarrassed that I take such freedoms for granted. The Bible is the most precious book. It's words have power to change my life, to give me hope and promise. It has been preserved for me so that I may have direction for life and wisdom for the choices I have to make. How can I allow such a treasure to ever lay unopened on my desk? How can I presume to think I ever know enough of what God has given me in this book? Yes, it was a powerful night as we dug into the Word. I hope you'll join us next time as we gather.

The night wasn't without it's fun either. The pastor fell into a drainage ditch walking in the dark. No injuries and no one was there to laugh. Then, about halfway through the evening, we were joined by several of God's smaller creatures. Mice began to run back and forth on the beams behind where I was teaching. It was pretty comical to watch the eyes of the ladies as the mouse would poke his head out, see us still there and retreat for cover.

For those of you who joined us and braved the temps, more power to you. I hope to see you and a friend at our next event.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Laughter

It seems like the whole world is filled with rage these days. Maybe that's an exaggeration but it sure feels that way. Watching the elections was a showcase in rage. The evening news is awash with story after story where someone has taken their rage out on someone else. It shows up as you're driving down the road. I even watched several parents get into a shouting match yesterday at my twelve year old daughter's soccer game. Whatever the cause, it is all around us.

Maybe that's one of the reasons why I miss my dad so much. My dad was a very warm, very funny man. He had a great sense of humor and a delightful personality. He had the ability to make anyone, even perfect strangers feel at ease with his humor. His laughter was infectious as were his silly songs he sang frequently around our household.

Maybe it's why I love watching my kids laugh. Driving home from the soccer game yesterday, I listened as Abby and her friend got downright silly. They got tickled because Abby used a big fancy word incorrectly. It went downhill (or should I say uphill) from there. They were laughing at animal noises, at stupid things they had said, even funny friends they liked on their soccer team. Most Wednesday nights, we have a van load of neighborhood kids coming home from church. It's hilarious to listen to them as they try to come up with the best Chuck Norris joke (or some other absolutely stupid...but delightful...joke).

Maybe that's why I love laughing on days off with Lisa. It doesn't really matter what it is, I just like to laugh with her. Maybe it's trying some new, healthy food at the grocery store. Or it might be watching an episode of some funny show we enjoy. More often than not, it starts with just a silly comment.

I don't know. Maybe I don't take life seriously enough. But it appears to me that the rest of the world is doing plenty of that in my place. I'd rather laugh. I'd rather think about those special moments and those special memories that have been created by laughter. I'll think about Landon's funny giggle or some goofy moment shared with Harrison and it reminds me, in the course of eternity, most of what I worry about won't really make a difference. Thirty years from now, I'll still have those moments of laughter that fill my head--just like with my dad.

Don't let life fill you with rage. Laughter is the greatest cure for that. One website gave these suggestions to get you started. Learn to smile. Count your blessings. When you hear laughter, move toward it. Find funny friends and spend time with them. Whatever you do, learn to laugh.

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person's strength. Proverbs 17:22 NLT

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Enslaved no more

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. It changed the scope of America by granting freedom to slaves and ending the institution of slavery in America. But a closer look at history reveals that, while the proclamation had been made, slavery did not end for many slaves. In fact, some accounts tell that slaves in parts of Texas didn't find out the news until over two years later. For two years, while they had been given the power to walk away free, they lived as slaves--all because they didn't know.

Sounds much like many people I know. The good news of history is that a proclamation was issued for us over two thousand years ago. God said He loved the whole world so much that He Himself would send the sacrifice that would make them free. The Cross would be the exclamation point that made this dream a reality.

But two thousand years later, most of the world still lives in slavery because they just don't know they can be free. They are enslaved by an enemy who wants them dead. They are enslaved by dirty pasts, bondage to sin and the fear of death that looms all around. But the Cross ended that for all who would believe. It ended our enslavement. This is why it is so imperative that we take seriously our call to go to all the world with the message of hope.

We exist for two reasons: to experience the good news for ourselves (enjoying God's grace) and to enlighten a world about this news that there is freedom (extending God's glory). Today, you are either enslaved or not. And, if you are free, you have an obligation to share this news with others so their bondage can end and God may be glorified.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of his world ...But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ... Ephesians 2:1-2, 4 NIV

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Investments

I'm taking a break from the normal Tuesday thing, mainly because I've been re-telling our story all weekend long in Nebraska and Virginia. I'll pick it back up next week after I've gotten back into my routine and let the dust settle. I had a great time with the people of the Nebraska Hospital Association on Friday of last week and with my friends over at NAFA in Virginia yesterday. I am so thankful for the opportunities to share and to talk with the people at these different venues.

I can't tell you how good it is to be home. Being back in Thompson's Station, running my kids all over town, getting back to the office--all of those things kind of get me back into my routine. I also can't tell you how much I appreciate the staff of guys (and one incredible ministry assistant) that I work with. Knowing that I can be gone on a Sunday and that Ridgeview doesn't miss a beat is a wonderful thing. I don't often do it. I can't stand being away. But when I am, I know that RCC is in good hands with this team.

As I was walking out of the ballroom where I spoke Monday morning, a young lady handed me a piece of paper with this quote on it. I don't know who said it (it was on the paper but I'm working from a tired memory bank here). But it was a pretty powerful statement. Here it goes. Hope I remember it correctly:

"I'd rather lose one minute to save a life than to lose a life in just one minute."

The implications for people in health care are obvious. The time that is spent in doing things right, in offering your very best to care for your patients, pays off in more ways than you can imagine. It's quality of care and it's the difference between life and death.

But think about the implications for those of you who call yourself a Christ follower. Discipling is about investing and investing is about time. Lives--spiritually and physically--can be won or lost in a matter of minutes. What matters is...everything! Every choice you make about how you live and how you invest your time. Every single half second could carry a ripple half way around the world to places you don't know and people you've never met. But it comes back down to how you spend this next minute. Will you invest it in someone else, in something that truly matters and could make a difference? Or, do you still naively believe that this world is all about you? I'm afraid too many of us--in health care and in the church--choose option two.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mr. McCance

WARNING: What follows may be the most controversial thing I've ever written on this blog. I felt compelled to write nonetheless. I hope you'll understand better why after you've read.

As I settled into my bed at the Cornhusker Marriott in Lincoln last night, I flipped on the TV to watch the Thursday night football game. As I was working my way up the menu to find ESPN, I came across CNN. The story they were covering caught my attention. I honestly had not heard of Clint McCance before last night. Clint (for those of you who were like me) is an Arkansas school board member who posted comments on his Facebook page that were tasteless and intensely hateful regarding homosexuals. He used derogatory terms to describe them and even went so far as to say he wished for their demise. Please read what I am about to say carefully...I absolutely do not agree with Mr. McCance's stance or share his sentiments regarding homosexuality. Not at all.

I listened as Anderson Cooper went through the interview. His questions were rightfully pointed and tainted with disdain for Mr. McCance's behavior, especially as someone who works with children through education. One question, in particular, caught my attention. He asked something like, "Sir, do you understand how your words could have hurt any homosexual who might have read them and lead them to feel endangered or threatened?" It got me thinking.

Where are the protectors of the Christians? For decades we watched as a nation was taught how to look at each other as equals despite the color of their skin. I thank God that my kids are able to go to school with people of different skin colors, different backgrounds and different languages. Now, I watch with sadness as young people feel like the only choice they have is to take their life as they are belittled for a lifestyle choice they have made (no matter how much I disagree with that choice, any death is a sad one). But where is Anderson Cooper when hundreds of Christian kids are made fun of on a daily basis for praying at their flagpoles, bringing Bibles to school or telling their friends about church? Why hasn't the national press rushed to the aid of kids who are belittled for their faith?

I can tell you that, even in what used to be the Bible belt, all four of my kids have at some time been mocked for being a virgin, not drinking, being a pastor's kid, attending church regularly or choosing something differently because of their faith. What does it take for the national media to have a concern for their well-being?

Maybe it's because my kids haven't chosen to take their life because of it. I'll tell you why I think that is. Because, at the end of the day, my kids go to bed knowing they stood for a powerful, loving God who has not diminished...who has not failed...who will not go away...who will be there tomorrow morning when they wake up. On the other hand, I believe that the young people who have made the news recently were overwhelmed by the knowledge that they were mocked for a lifestyle that most Americans do not feel comfortable with. It's a lifestyle that has been rammed down our throats for the last two decades. It's been forced on our children in the public schools. It's been paraded literally, down our streets and in front of our children by half-dressed or lewdly dressed men and women. And...it stands in contradiction to what is the natural way of doing life, the one prescribed by God. (Before you argue that one man-one woman marriage has been rammed down our throats, note that it was not rammed. It was accepted for centuries because that's the way God established it in Genesis, the beginning).

I truly sympathize with the families of those who have lost children. As I said, I neither agree with Mr. McCance's words nor do I wish the death of any child. I just simply wonder why the national press is so quick to defend the children who are products of homosexuality (rightfully so) and not defend the child who is belittled for being a Christian. Or, for that matter, a Jew or having only one leg or talking with a lisp or being mentally challenged or...

Let the responses come. I'd love to hear your thoughts. I believe most Americans, though they don't feel comfortable about the way homosexuality is presented in America, stay quiet because they are afraid they will be mocked. Dare I say...bullied? And before you waste time, energy and keystrokes trying to change my mind on the matter. Don't bother. It's not my mind that matters. It's God's.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The real thing

Like many of you, I remember the "New Coke" experiment. In 1985, Coca-Cola decided to change the taste of the tried and true soda. What resulted was a marketing nightmare. Most Coke consumers tasted the new stuff and immediately began asking, "Where's the real deal? What happened with the original?" Coke regretted this multi-million dollar mistake. No matter how much they promoted it, pushed it or tried to make it successful, there was no way around it. The real Coca-Cola was what people desired.

I thought back to 1985 as I was reflecting on the things God is teaching me about myself. Warning: what I'm about to share is neither nice nor fluffy. It's hard for me to swallow and may be for you.

I'm afraid that the reason that my faith as it is being lived out lacks very much power. Certainly it doesn't compare to what Scripture promised that believers would experience. After a lot of searching through the Bible and my own heart, here's what I've come up with. In the lives of most Americans, we worship a modified Jesus--a new Jesus, if you will. Like the makers of new Coke, we have changed the formula that has worked for so many years. Then we scratch our heads when our imitation of faith comes up far short of the "real thing."

For most of us, Jesus isn't the powerful Savior of the world. He is a good luck charm that we place on our shelves to protect us from the bad things. His teachings? We take them as good recommendations...like a friend who recommends a good restaurant. Jesus didn't give us that option. He didn't say you could pick and choose what to listen to or what to obey. Universalism isn't in His language and half-heartedness does not impress Him.

Dying to self? It's a command.
Praying for our enemies? It's a command.
Loving our brothers? Ditto.
Losing our life so that we can find it? Hard, but still, not an option.

Like you, I have wondered why the Church can't find the power it held in the book of Acts. Like you, I wonder why we believe in God, worship His greatness and then live like He is dead.

The answer. I think it resembles the story of new Coke. We're trying some other option. We've gotten away from the formula that has worked since the dawn of Creation--God and God alone will satisfy.

Here's my formula for fixing the weak, anemic thing that we Christians refer to as "faith." It begins with this prayer. Maybe you'll join me in praying it...and then live like we want to be different.

God, forgive me for making you something you never claimed to be and for being something you never desired for me to be. Starting today...and every day...I'm asking you to be the one, true God in my life. I want to live boldly, radically for you. Sacrifice and holiness are what you have asked for. Let me give you nothing else. No more room for compromise. No more room for modified faith. I'm asking you to come roaring out of the box that I have tried to keep you in. I'm asking you to be the God who spoke the Universe into being, the God who is completely capable of doing and being and providing all that I really need. I want the real thing.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Forgiveness

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several months, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

I've mentioned before the opportunity I had to speak at the hospital in Savannah where Josh died. It was just 8 months after the accident. There were a lot of "God-type" events that happened that day. Some key relationships were begun. I got to know some significant people who were there the five days that Josh was in the hospital. It opened the door to one of the ministries that I carry on now through Ridley Barron Ministries. Maybe the most memorable moment came at the end, though.

I was making my way up the left side of the auditorium and taking the time to greet some of the people who had attended. As I looked up the stairs, there was a young lady in a pharmacist's jacket making her way towards me. Her eyes were red and watery. She offered her hand to me and I remember thinking, "Is this the woman whose error cost Josh his life?" She began by introducing herself and, as if she were reading my mind, she said, "I'm not the pharmacist who made the error." I think I made an audible sigh.

She continued. "But I am a very good friend of hers." She went on to explain that her friend wanted to be there that morning but she had responsibilities with her daughter. She finished by saying, "I know she would love to hear that you forgive her."

My heart sank. One of the first things I had asked to be communicated to the lady after Josh's death was that I forgave her. Now I was hearing that, eight months later, she had never received that message. I asked the young lady standing before me to get a copy of the presentation and make sure she saw it. She agreed.

Two weeks later, I was standing in my kitchen in Franklin, TN. I was preparing dinner for the kids as the phone rang. I picked up the phone and from the other end of the line I heard a quiet voice say, "Mr. Barron. My name is _________. I'm the pharmacist from Savannah." She began to cry.

I cried with her.

We talked for just a little while. She had called to say that she had seen the DVD and she had heard my offer of forgiveness. I apologized that my message had not reached her sooner, that her forgiveness had been so long in coming. I even encouraged her to live the rest of her life knowing that I held no ill will towards her, no bitterness for what had been an honest mistake.

I don't know if this is possible over a phone line but I heard a weight get lifted from her shoulders. The tone of her voice changed from that of a burdened heart to someone who had been set free.

That's the power of forgiveness. That's the power that you and I have to offer each other. I had seen it before with other incidents in my life but never to this degree. Some people thrive on bitterness. They love to believe that, by wielding its power, they can control the life of someone who has wronged them. Nothing is further from the truth. Bitterness is not controlled...it is controlling. And the freedom that comes from offering grace to someone else is not just for the one who made the error. It is for the one who has been wronged as well.

Search your heart. Every corner. Look for those places where you have held so tightly to your pain and anger that you've become blind to what it does to you. It's a poison. It kills you slowly. And the only cure is the one that God gave to us:

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. Ephesians 4:32 NLT


Monday, October 25, 2010

Risky

It's been one of those days where God is obviously trying to tell me something. Being the hard-head that I am, He sometimes has to put the message before me in about ten different forms or bring it from about five different messengers. Today, it's been a quiet time with Lisa, my personal quiet time at work, a study I'm doing, a message I heard preached on the Internet and a conversation with my staff. How's that for getting the message across to me?

God has been talking with me about radical life changes, about trusting Him more, about living recklessly in the arms of a powerful God--all of it very exciting and scary stuff. He's been challenging my heart on letting go of safety nets. He's been speaking to me of courage. He's been sending resounding messages of living out on the edge of faith and daring to do more. More than anything, this is what I have taken away from it all...if I am to live out my life to fulfill God's calling for me, I have to stop fearing failure and start fearing the fact that I may not risk enough.

Lisa and I talk a good deal in our house about making it a place of grace. I want our home to be a place where failure is not punished, rather, it is seen as a mentor to teach us about life. I get it wrong. Shocking, I know. I mess up. But I'd rather mess up royally in the attempt to live a faith-filled life than to sum up my life's existence by being "safe." I think that's what God is saying to me.

How about you?

You see, God is always talking to you. Are you listening? I admit I'm not real good at this. Too often my prayers are monologues rather than dialogues which leaves me sitting on a log doing nothing (Did you like that? I just made that one up. But it's true). I get paralyzed in my faith because I fall out of the habit of listening for His voice. Hope that doesn't describe you today. But if it does, take the time to pull away, to get back into the habit of listening. You'll find that God has promised to lead you and to go with you as you attempt to live out His plan for your life.

NOTE TO MY RCC READERS: Don't forget the secret church, coming up November 5. If you haven't cleared your schedule for that special night, you'll want to do that. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nutrias

So we're sitting on the couch watching Billy the Exterminator last night. If you've never seen Billy, you need to give it a shot. You owe it to yourself. This is absolutely the most intense and passionate pest control man I've ever seen. Only Billy can build drama around sucking cockroaches out of the walls. Imagine Gothic world meets Redneck village.

Anyway, Billy is building up the drama about nutrias. Apparently, these are over-sized rodents were brought to Louisiana from South America in an attempt to breed the animals for their fur. Anything to make a dime, right?

Well, according to Billy (it sounds funny just referencing the guy but he seems to be pretty knowledgeable about things like overgrown rodents) there were only about 20 or so nutrias brought to America in the 1930s. Today, there are over 1 million of the critters. And they are destroying property and crops wherever they move in.

Seems like, when it comes to rodents, to give in just a little opens the door to a whole lot of problems.

The same is true with compromise. Let's be honest. The race to be "holy as God is holy" is not an easy one. It's long. It's hard. It's frustrating. But it's a daily battle for holiness that we are called to fight. And what I am learning from my life and watching others--including Billy--is this...compromise can lead to catastrophe. Whether you're talking about mice or morality, pests or purity--opening the door to one bad choice can lead you down a path of self-destruction. Maybe that's why Paul encouraged us so intensely to fight the good fight and run the race without stopping. One minute you let down your guard and the next your life is filled with bad choices and their consequences.

The call from Scripture to those who choose to follow Christ is this...don't open the door to sin. Satan desires to have you and one small foothold is all he needs to ruin your life.

There is a lesson to be found in these nutrias. We can't open the door to sin, not even for just one moment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Voice mail

DISCLAIMER: Over the last several weeks, I have been encouraged to write regularly about the accident from 2004. I am working my way through writing a book about the incident. So, every Tuesday, I've taken the opportunity to write, remember and share snapshots of that tragic event.

Last night, Lisa and I got the kids off to bed and decided to watch a movie. The movie follows the life of a young lady whose husband dies as the result of a brain tumor. It chronicles her life as she works to pick up the pieces of her world and learn to live again.

In one scene, the woman rushes into her apartment, picks up her cell phone and calls her husband's old number just to hear his voice on the mailbox greeting. I remembered the times that I used to do the same thing.

Sarah's phone was destroyed in the accident (I assume this because I don't remember ever seeing it afterwards). It wasn't until weeks later that a friend of ours confessed to me that she had been calling Sarah's old number just to hear her voice. I remember getting in the truck after that conversation and immediately grabbing my phone so I could do the same. It would be one of hundreds of times where I would do that. There were times when I just needed to hear her voice again. Sometimes, I would tuck the kids in bed at night and pull out my phone. Frustrated that her greeting wasn't longer, I'd play it over and over again--hitting the redial button.

Then came that fateful day when the voice went away. It was gone. The phone company finally gave the number away to someone else, some other voice. It was just another place of letting go that had to come for me.

It's like the first time I let Harrison swim alone in the pool. He was clinging so tightly to me. As long as he held me, he was fine. But as I lowered him into the water--swimmies and all--he dug in with his fingers, refusing to let go. Little did he understand the wonderful experience that awaited him if only he would let go. I had to pry his hands loose.

Sarah's voice was my attempt to hang on. Forget that God had other wonderful experiences for me. I simply wanted to hold onto the one that was comfortable, the one that brought me such great joy. Just like Harrison's holding on to me in the pool, it wasn't wrong or bad. It just was time to let go. It was time to move on to the next thing God had for me. At that time, it was being a single dad, embracing my chance to love on my kids and love on my church. I couldn't do what I had to for them as long as I continued to cling to Sarah. God knew that. He just needed to convince me.

I hope you're thinking through those things for yourself. I run into a lot of people who are still in the clinging stage. And I'm not just talking about losing someone you love to death. Maybe it's a marriage. Maybe it's a child that's grown and gone. Maybe you're clinging to an old career that gave you self-worth or a dream that refuses to die though you know you need to bury it. Learn to let go. Trust God. His plans can often be scary or intimidating. But they shouldn't be. He has a perfect plan, a wonderful plan that He has designed for you. A plan that is waiting to be discovered and embraced.

It begins with letting go.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Home

My heart is heavy this afternoon. Despite the fact that it is a beautiful fall day outside and things are going very well for the Barron family, my heart is burdened by tragic news. I got an email this morning from a lady in South Georgia. She was writing to share the news involving a pastor's family in Cairo, GA. Last Friday, October 8th, they were involved in an awful accident similar to the one that my family experienced in 2004. Their daughter, 4 year old Makiah, was killed instantly and her funeral service was this past Monday. I ask you to be in prayer for the King family.

It was just another reminder that this world is filled with hurt and pain. Every week I get emails and phone calls from people who have lost a loved one or been through a hurtful experience. Every week, my spirit hurts for people who have walked through hell and faced death. And every time I find myself "weighted down" by the emotions that come with living in this world.

That's why you and I can't live for "this world." It's not our home. It's not what we were meant to have. God desires to bring Himself glory by bringing us to a place that is far better than this. Far better. Unfortunately, few people get this so they labor in vain to build their kingdom here. Reality tells us that it's a worthless attempt to make this world something it can't be.

My grandmother got that. She walked this earth for 80 plus years loving her family, serving others, praying often and never losing sight of her final home. That's why, under the worst of situations, I think she stood tall. She knew Jesus was taking her some place better. When she died in 1995, just a few short weeks after Harrison was born, I was struck by the irony of one life entering the world as another precious one exited. So, at her funeral, I quoted the words to this old familiar hymn.

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When my way grows drear
Precious Lord linger near
When my life is almost gone
Hear my cry, hear my call
Hold my hand lest I fall
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

When the darkness appears
And the night draws near
And the day is past and gone
At the river I stand
Guide my feet, hold my hand
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home

Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I'm tired, I'm weak, I'm alone
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home


As my granny would say, "Thank the Lord this world is not my home. I'm just a passing through." With that in mind, I encourage you to make sure you are living your life in light of where you are headed...not where you are now.