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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Step 1

When Lisa and I met 3 years ago, I thought I was in okay shape for a 39 year old. I mean, I couldn't run a marathon or anything but I wasn't exceeding any weight limits for travel either. Then came Lisa...and a doctor with a blood pressure cuff. Between the two of them, I was forced to understand that chocolate covered raisins do not cover two of the basic food groups (fruit and dairy). I had a problem because I was headed down the same path, physically, as millions of other Americans. I believed I was exempt from "their" issues. The doctor reminded me that long, healthy lives are not built on good intentions and chocolate chip cookies. I had to admit there was a problem before I ever put in the first P90X disc or ate the first forkful of salad.

A couple of things have happened this week--first, an article on Noah's ark, then, a Facebook conversation with a friend about abortion--that have reminded me of an important principle for life: denying there is a problem doesn't make the problem go away.

My health problems wouldn't just go away on their own. And, despite what ads will tell you, there are no magic cures other than eating right, sleeping well and exercising.

I've come to the conclusion this week that this is the problem our culture has. We don't want to admit our need for a God or a Savior. We'd rather explain Him away or deny our need than to come face-to-face with the problem. But it doesn't make it go away. The Bible is clear...we all have the same problem (Romans 3:23) and the only solution is to admit our need and to embrace Christ.

Yesterday, I had the privilege of praying with a lady from our church to do that very thing. There is no sweeter feeling in the world. She is a very good lady--a great mom and loving wife. She works hard, goes to church regularly and even gives to the church. But just like the Acai berry is no miracle cure for my health problems, none of those things will take care of our sin issue. There is only one solution.

Alcoholics Anonymous begins there twelve step program with this simple statement: "We admitted we were powerless over..." You fill in the blank. That's not a good feeling to admit you are powerless. That's why the anti-life movement flies in the face of faith. (I can't bring myself to call them their preferred name "pro-choice". The baby and the dad don't get a choice. If they really want a choice, then don't have sex without birth control in the first place. But I digress) That movement, along with so many others like it, stake a claim to your rights, your power, your control over your life. That, as Adam and Eve discovered, is sin. In order to get your life settled and to experience fulfillment, you have to admit that life in your hands is no good. Life in God's hands is much better.

I am a healthier man today because I admitted I had a need. That admission has led to a few less pounds, fewer inches on the waistline and lower points on the blood pressure. Your admission may mean eternity. Hope you get this "choice" right.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Overcoming paralysis

There is a story told of a man who was quite impressed by his friend, particularly his strong faith in God. One day he said to the friend, "I believe that if God were to say to you, jump through this brick wall, you would immediately jump without asking questions."

The friend replied, "If God told me to jump through this brick wall, it would be my business to jump and it would be His business to make the hole."

Did you ever wonder if we've become so "intelligent" as human beings that we have "outgrown" God? Think about the miracles that are recorded in the Bible: waters parted, donkeys talking, fires that don't burn, lions with mouths shut, blind people seeing and the dead being raised. How come we don't see those kinds of things in the church today?

Because we just can't see how we could make them work. There's no way that furnace shouldn't consume us. We can't explain how a man lame from birth is suddenly--not just walking--but leaping with joy.

That's just it. We've removed God from the formula, written Him out of our plans. As a result, you and I and most other Christ followers miss out on the grandest parts of life because we believe it is in our hands to make it happen. Nothing could be further from the truth. If God leads you to it, He will give you what it takes to get it done. HE will give you what it takes.

Whatever God is leading you to do today: make a phone call, give more of yourself, offer forgiveness to someone, start that brave new plan in your life or...jump through a brick wall, remember, it is your job to move, it is His job to make it happen.

Look at the nations and watch---and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Rebuking the Ark

I was really interested in this story my executive pastor sent to me this morning. It seems evangelical explorers (I didn't know they divided them on theological stance these days) have discovered what appears to be Noah's Ark on Mount Ararat in present day Turkey. It's an interesting story but it's not the first time that the "ark" has been discovered on that mountain so I'm restrained in my jubilation until there is more information to come out.

Let me make this clear. I am a firm believer that the story of Noah was real. In my thinking, there was a real big boat with all the animals and a real world-wide flood that God brought on the earth. I don't have a problem with any of that.

The problem for me began when I started to read the comments that followed the article. They were bitter, abusive, hate-filled and just nasty. They called people who believed in the story of Noah names like "ignorant", "buffoons", "immature" and "moronic." Even the milder ones were making comments like "how could anyone in their right mind believe in such a story?"

Why is it that such a thing as this would bring such backlash? Why, in a world that screams tolerance and openness, does everyone have room for everything but a belief in a real God with a really reliable Bible?

Some of the comments would have made you believe that the writer of the story had just revealed that the reader's mom was a three-headed alien from Mars or something. It was ridiculous the level of response that came from the commenters.

After giving it some thought, here is what I think is the source of their reaction--fear. Fear that the presence of an ark might mean the story is real. And, if the story is real, then despite their best efforts to prove otherwise, so is the Bible. If the Bible is real, then so is God. This takes away their ability to deny Him, to live life on their terms and to belittle those who believe otherwise.

Whether this is the ark or not--whether they ever find the boat that carried Noah and the animals at all--they will find out some day that their fears were justified. God is real. The story of Noah is just as real. And I pray the "enlightened ones" who filled that comment page today learn this truth before they are shown the price for true ignorance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What we really believe

I love the Church (that's capital "C" as in the whole body of Christ). I love my church too. I'm very fortunate to shepherd one of the greatest groups of people I know. I've been around God's people from the day I was born. I say all that in order to say this: God's people can really aggravate the fire out of me sometimes. Let me assure you, I aggravate myself with some of what I am about to say.

We talk boldly about loving the world but we see God's call to go into the world and teach them about His love as an inconvenience. God said, "You can't say you love me if you don't love your brothers...all of them."

We are called to be more like Christ but we are usually more concerned about how much we can look like the world and "get away with it." Purity is not about how much junk we allow in and still pass the test; it's about how much we fully follow after the heart of God.

We spend a lifetime building a lifestyle that can be gone with the next recession and then fret when our church invites us to spend a weekend investing in some one's eternity. It is far better to fail at something that will ultimately be successful than to succeed at something that will ultimately fail.

We claim to be people of the Word but use the Bible as a good luck charm rather than a guide for our life. Understand this...the Bible is not important because we choose to own it or to read it; the Bible is important only when we choose to live it.

I praise God for believers who live as if their whole life depended on God (it does) and give as if the whole world depended on us (it does). I praise God for Christ followers who want to be so much like Christ that they will turn their back on everything else. I praise God for Christians who get "it"--who truly understand what God desires for us. They are the ones who will make a difference. They are the ones who will "inherit the earth...be blessed...be comforted." They are the ones who will hear God say..."well done." If you are one of the former, get it together. The Kingdom of God is worth it. (And before you get too defensive, remember, I include myself in this first group quite often). If you are one of the latter, stay the course. God delights in kids' like you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thanks for all the prayers this week while I was in Orlando. It was a great conference and the people at FMGMA were wonderful to work with. It was kind of funny. From the moment I got there, I got various apologies for the presence of palm readers and tarot card readers from people, especially after I talked about it in my presentation on Wednesday. I even had people coming up and assuring me that they didn't really believe in all that stuff. Funny...but there was a line at the tarot card readers tables on Tuesday night HA.

I don't often do this but I had to repost a blog by fellow pastor and leader Perry Nobles over in South Carolina. I read his blog pretty regular and, this morning, he nailed it with something that has been on my heart this week. In fact, I just had this conversation with people in my LIFE group last Sunday. This is true for every church, every where. There is a reason that people are turning to other places besides the church to find their hope. Read on and you'll see what I mean...

Yes, as a matter of fact I am excited/pumped/stoked out of my mind…

About the NEXT sermon…

About the NEXT Sunday…

About the NEXT series…

I really don’t believe our church has achieved a fraction of all that God wants us to achieve…

AND that has me excited!

I talk about my excitement a lot…which seems to confuse some pastors. They ask, “why are you always talking about how pumped you are?”

The answer is simple…I AM PUMPED!

Hey pastor…if you want there to be excitement in the seats it has got to begin with some excitement in YOU!

You can’t expect the people you lead to be somewhere that you haven’t already been!

AND…let me be clear about this, the “excitement” can’t be fake…it can’t be manufactured…it’s got to be real, it’s got to come from a WHITE HOT vision from God that absolutely sets your soul on fire!

The way I see it we all have a choice…we can be excited about what God USED to do in our church…OR we can be excited about what we feel like He is ABOUT to do!

And while we should be THANKFUL for all He has done in the past we should not live there!

My advice in regards to how to create excitement…

#1 – Get alone with God

#2 – Ask Him to reveal Himself to you in ways you’ve never seen/experienced before

#3 – Read the book of Acts over and over

#4 – Read the Gospels over and over

#5 – Hang out with people who are on fire (NOT the ones who have fire extinguishers)

#6 – DO NOT APOLOGIZE for your passion…EVER!!! (I would MUCH rather be accused of being too passionate than being apathetic!!!)

The first step to an ON FIRE CHURCH is an ON FIRE LEADER…and with ALL of the power and resources of the Holy Spirit, God’s Word…AND the amazing technology He has given us in today’s world…there is NO EXCUSE why we should not be PUMPED UP about the potential of HIS CHURCH accomplishing SO MUCH MORE than we could EVER imagine!

I know he addresses pastors and leaders here but I really believe this is equally true for every member of every church. If you focus on what God is doing and instead of on what man is NOT doing for you, you'll find your optimism increase and your excitement go through the roof. And that is what draws the world in to hear. Why in the world would you or anyone else want to go to your church if all you ever hear is the whining and bellyaching? Let's focus on what God is up to and raise our expectations as He prepares to do even greater things in His Church. That's worth getting pumped about!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Requesting prayer

Sure would appreciate your prayers as I head to the airport today. I will be speaking tomorrow (Wednesday) at a Florida medical meeting...the day after the tarot card readers and the palm readers. That's no joke! I'm not exactly sure how all this will play out...palm readers followed by a Baptist minister. I'm just stupid enough to say something. So, start the prayers and I will update you on my trip when I get back. Thanks in advance.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What is victory for you?

It seems that I'm having more conversations these days with Christ followers who seem to be down or frustrated or overwhelmed or depressed. Maybe it is the economy. Maybe it is their personal situation. Maybe it is the hectic pace of their lives or the tattered nature of their relationships or the fragile state of their health. Whatever the cause..it seems like it happens more frequently.

Just a few minutes ago, a news report I was reading led me to this verse in 2 Corinthians:

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ... (v. 14)

For the first time, I think I understand the imagery there. The military man, triumphant in battle and fresh from the victory, marching proudly through the streets. His leader (Christ) leads him in this parade. He has battered, bruised, tired and dirty...souvenirs of the battle. But he is triumphant. It had me pondering two questions: what does victory look like for a believer and why do we have such a hard time seeing the victories that Christ gives us? I believe most of us have a kind of warped sense of overcoming. Because of that, we fail to celebrate what Christ is doing in us and through us. We are so busy looking at the trials of life (yes, even Christians have these) and the scars that come with the battles, we take our eyes off of the victory that is guaranteed for those who are in Christ.

Don't let the enemy sidetrack you from your own personal celebrations of what God is doing in your life. It may not come with a different job, a different spouse, a larger paycheck or an easier road, but God guarantees that He is working in your life for one purpose--to bring Him glory by transforming you into the image of Christ. Celebrate those victories and know that no scar goes unnoticed...nor does it come without its rewards. No plan of God's can be thwarted.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Later

"Later" is such a dangerous word. It is filled with delays, broken promises, lack of discipline and missed opportunities. Sure, like any other word, it has its positives. It can teach us much about the need for patience or delayed gratification. In some instances, it allows time for seasoning and maturity. But, taken to its extreme, "later" turns into apathy, ignorance, disdain, racism, bigotry...you get the idea. And later, at its worst, becomes "never." Never taking the time to give a hug. Never taking the time to say "I'm sorry." Never getting that relationship started...or mended. Never saying "thank you," "I love you", or "I miss you."

I've had my share of those. I am thankful that they are few. That's because early on in life, someone dear to me taught me the importance of seizing the moment in front of you.

Today, "Coach" died. (To read more about Coach, see this blog entry) I was floored. He had just had open-heart surgery last week and was in good recovery. Friends and family of mine said they had seen him and he looked well. This morning, his time on this earth ended. They found him laying in his yard (my prayers are with all of his family today). And I am more thankful than ever that, when God gave me the chance to say "I love you and thanks" in February, I didn't say, "I'll get to it later."

Whatever it is, no matter how intimidating or overwhelming it may be, you have to be careful about the "laters." The dread of missed chances makes for many sleepless nights. Ask yourself, "If I never get to later, will I be okay with whatever is left undone?" I think you'll find that "now" is a much better time to live in.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

"Grown up" problems

Like many of you, I've often thought about what it would be like to be a kid again. That thought would be especially tantalizing if I could go back to those days and still retain all that I have learned from life to this point. Maybe I'd take more chances, worry less about little things and laugh more at my friends' stupid jokes. I'm quite sure that every piece of my grandmother's thirteen layer chocolate cake would be enjoyed just a little bit more knowing what it would take to work it off of me now.

Maybe you feel a little like Lisa did yesterday. We were in another heavy conversation about too many bills at the end of the month and mortgages (yes, that's very plural--we are stuck with four) that never seem to go away. In her frustration, she looked at me with the big blue eyes and said, "I'm so tired of grown up problems. I wish I could be little again." Can I tell you, at that moment, I would have given many things if I could have made it come true for her?

Wouldn't it be sweet to worry about whether or not you were going to catch the ice cream truck again? Life would be so much easier if the biggest concerns were the rip in my new blue jeans or getting to stay up late to watch the end of the Braves game. But I'm a "big boy" now, I've got "big boy" worries and concerns. So do you. And we can't run from them or ignore them. So, isn't it interesting that Jesus encouraged us to face our "grown up" lives with the faith of a...child?

He was really on to something there. You see, the reason I didn't worry about big things like bills and health insurance when I was a kid was because I had a dad to do those things. I was ignorant to most of it. Honestly, life's no different now. Yes, I have to hold down a job and write the checks but I still have a Father who wants me to trust that He will take care of the big stuff. In that promise can be found the substance of child-like, no-holds-barred, less stress faith. Easier said than done. I know. But definitely worth shooting for. Oh...to be a child again.

Anyone up for chasing the ice cream truck with me today?

NOTE: I posted this over on Facebook recently and thought I would mention it here. The new website for Ridley Barron Ministries is up and running. I'd love for you to check it out and give me your thoughts. It's www.ridleybarron.com if you get a chance to look at it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The light bulb is taunting me

It's there every time I go into our bathroom, hanging between my sink and Lisa's. It only went out last week but it's been a constant reminder of things left undone. So, every time I brush my teeth or take my vitamins or wash my hands, there is this bulb...I swear it's staring at me.

I guess the reason it bothers me so much is that it speaks to me of that never-ending "to do" list in my life. This list goes way beyond weeds that need to be pulled or oil changes for the truck or new filters for the A/C. It's about books that I haven't finished reading...or writing. It's about phone calls I need to make and relationships that I need to invest in. Every time I've seen that bulb this week, I've seen that list. Deep down inside, I recognize that the list will always exist. There will always be something left to do, someone else to speak with, another bill to pay, another balance due. Then God, in His own funny way, encouraged me with this verse last night. There will be a day when the list is DONE.

The city does not need the sun or the moon (or anything else from my "to do" list) to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp (so much for my light bulb). Revelations 21:23 NIV

Our fulfillment--and ultimately the fulfillment of every list--is found in the glory of heaven and the presence of God. I'm discovering that having God at the head of that list keeps all of life--even blown light bulbs--in proper perspective.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Can it be six years?

I'm looking out my office window this morning. It's a gorgeous spring day--the kind that makes you wish you didn't have a job and that you could sit outside and enjoy the warm air and incredible sights that come with a day like today. For me, it brought back a lot of memories. It was a day much like this one (six years ago this past Friday) when my life was changed so dramatically by the accident that took my wife and son. In fact, six years ago today, we had just completed Sarah's memorial service at our church in Douglas and were preparing for her funeral in Franklin.

A lot has changed in those six years. I don't even think I can comprehend how much that week changed my life. Burying a wife and son leaves scars that don't go away. As I have told many people over the years, that kind of loss is much like losing an arm--you never forget that it's gone, you simply learn to live your life without it.

But God has been so good. He has carried me, encouraged me and sustained me. He has given me friends beyond number and a platform on which to bring good from my son's death. He has opened doors of influence that I would have never had. He has loved on Harrison and Abby and kept their lives as normal as possible as they continued to cope with the death of their mom and brother. Most important, he has restored my family by giving me a beautiful wife and two amazing daughters (isn't that just like a giving God? Where there was once one child He has given two.)

It is, indeed, hard to believe it's been six years. With each year that passes, it seems more and more like the cruelest of bad dreams. But it's not. And God knows best. I trust that and live my life under the shelter of that promise. I don't know what emotions may play out as I approach the anniversary of Josh's death this Wednesday (or the rest of my life for that matter). I simply rest in the arms of an unfailing God who loves me better than I can understand. I pray that you know that promise for yourself today.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Easter reflections

I'm laid up in the bed today with a major sinus infection that I was fighting all day yesterday. So I thought I'd take a minute or two to reflect on yesterday's Easter services.
  • Thanks to all the amazing people who served yesterday and enabled us to pull off two worship services and a brunch. Thank you to our worship band, our audio and visual teams, the drama group, the family that handles our signage each week, the greeters at the door, those who worked our resource table, the ones who showed up Saturday to make sure everything was in place, and to the ladies who assisted Pam with our brunch time (and any of you guys who might have helped as well). Finally, thanks to all the smiling faces that make Ridgeview such a warm place for our guests when they come.
  • Thank you for inviting your friends to be a part of yesterday's service. I'm not sure yet but it looks like we may have had a record (or near record) number of first time guests in our services. Please remember our task is not done. For every friend you invited yesterday, there are dozens more who need to know Jesus.
  • Thank you for your prayers. Because of your willingness to pray for your church and for your pastor, seeds were planted in the hearts of many unbelievers and one young man came forward after the service to give his life to Christ and ask for baptism.
  • Thanks for what you are going to do in the weeks ahead by following up with your friends--both the ones who came and the ones who didn't--and continuing to pray about how God can use you in all of their lives.
Last, and most important, thank you for the privilege of shepherding this group of believers. It is always an honor to worship with you and serve alongside of you. I'll see you next Sunday with a friend by your side.

Friday, April 02, 2010

It's good Friday...

...so what are you prepared to do about it? I mean, the Bible is clear about two things. First, that "while we were still sinners (enemies of God) Christ died for us." That's what today is all about. He went to the extreme and made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could have this amazing relationship with God. He's done everything necessary for the world to have peace and forgiveness before God...

...that's where number two comes in. He didn't do that just for you--though He absolutely would have. He did it for the whole world. That's your family. That's your co-worker. That's your neighbor next door and the one down the street that gets on your last nerve. That's the black (or Asian or Hispanic or White or Indian) family down the street that doesn't look or act like you. So, while you and I are, rightfully, remembering the most incredible weekend of the year beginning with Good Friday, I want to submit something to you. Our remembrance is incomplete, in fact, it's second-rate, if we don't go the extra mile to make sure someone else is part of this weekend with us. Someone who has never heard this amazing statement--"He is alive and all who receive Him are forgiven." This Easter gift is for the whole world.

So...what are you prepared to do about it?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Thursday

I'll be honest. It's been a frustrating day, kind of tough. It started out well enough. Beautiful day outside. Feeling really great. Spent a couple of hours with my staff weeding flower beds outside the office (we are a multi-talented staff). We had to get that done before they kicked us out of downtown Franklin.

Then, I got a little frustrating news. Then, I got a little frustrating news. Then...I got a little frustrating news. No. I'm not stuck or losing my mind. That's the way the news started coming. It wasn't bad news or awful news...just frustrating.

So, I rolled into the house this afternoon with a lot of heavy stuff on my mind. That is until I looked at my Bible laying on the table. And I remembered it was Thursday. Not just any Thursday but the Thursday before Easter. And I asked myself, does my news compare in any way to what Jesus must have been going through that Thursday so long ago? Is there any way my news can compare to what Jesus knew was coming that weekend--a last dinner with his disciples, long hours of trials and beatings, mockery and denial from some of those who knew him best and, finally, death? The obvious answer...no. Not just no but heck no.

So, I got over it. I'm sure you will too. Whatever it is your facing...you can be sure He faced something greater.

Easter is coming! I pray you have invited someone to be a part of your church this Sunday, wherever you attend. Or, that you have chosen to attend yourself. You will not regret it.