Follow by Email

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Crucible

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.

I have mentioned before the recliner that I was forced to sleep in after the accident. I have told others many times that this recliner became a crucible for my faith. The lengthy discussions between God and I were brutally honest. I went back to everything I had ever been taught, questioned every belief that I had ever held. I cried so much at night that I remember joking with a friend that my recliner was getting a little "sloshy" from the tears.

The funny thing about the questions were the ways God chose to answer them. When I challenged God about His goodness, He never showed me a special verse, He just sent a friend to spend the day with me. When I questioned the reality of Heaven, I wasn't given some special revelation. I just knew in my heart that Sarah and Josh were at peace. When I questioned how fair God was, He didn't answer me with a booming voice. He simply reminded me of the Cross that Jesus bore for me. When I wondered if He had completely forgotten me and my family, inevitably there was a knock on the door from one of the dozens of families in our community who provided meals for us (for four months my family never had to cook one supper).

Looking back, I believe God was all around me, patiently waiting to show me what He was up to and where He would show up next. He had a plan all along. Don't get me wrong. I don't believe God caused that accident. But I do believe that, when an all-knowing God saw what was about to happen to my family, He immediately put another plan into place to bring good from evil (Romans 8:28) and make sure His ultimate plans would succeed.

Fast forward three months after the accident. It's a summer night in South Georgia. I'm sitting in my recliner, looking out the window onto the field behind my house. The full moon is so brilliant it seems like dawn outside. God and I are in the midst of a deep conversation about His goodness and His plan. I have debated. I have cried. I have protested. In the midst of it all, I felt the clearest evidence of God's presence. And I heard Him say--not in an audible voice but one that was clear enough to me--"I have never left you, Ridley. I'm still right here."

It was there that I made this promise to God..."I'll go anywhere and do anything you ask me to do as long as you promise to go with me." Be careful what you promise God.

Monday, August 30, 2010

But does it matter?

I had lots of things to write about stirring in my head last night. Last week came to a very busy end: moving Morgan to Samford, rushing home to serve hundreds of hot dogs at a Sweet Tea Festival, an incredible day of worship at Ridgeview followed by a great meeting with our LIFE group leaders last night.

Then, this morning came...

I went to the room of a lady at Vanderbilt Hospital who was literally minutes away from death. She had been brought in for a heart transplant only to discover that her body was too weak. She couldn't handle the transplant. Her daughter, the lone family member there at the time, was waiting for the rest of the family to arrive before they slowly began to remove the tubes that gave her life. There it was again. Death--that nasty reminder that this life is not all there is. Seems like the last six years of my life have seen it more frequently and more up close than I care to. But it always makes me ask the question, does it really matter?

Thankfully, that lesson has not been lost on me. Last night, I had a hard discussion with my son about what was important in life. It was an attempt to teach him that the right choices are not always easy, that tough questions have to be asked in light of the question, "What really matters?"

I told him, "From the day your mother and I knew she was pregnant, we began praying for you. Never once in fifteen years of praying did I ask God to make you stronger or more athletic. Never once did I say help him to succeed at catching a pass or throwing a strike. I have simply prayed that He would make you more like Jesus so that you could play your part in changing the world."

I want my kids to succeed. But I want them to succeed in light of eternity. I want them to know that their time here on this planet really mattered--but not the way the world measures it. In the course of eternity, what difference did they make? That should serve as our "north star", our guiding factor as we plot the course of our lives and lay the future for that of our kids. Today, someone died. Lots of "someones." And once again, I was reminded that this short life we've been given is just practice for eternity--we better make it count for something that will stand the test of ALL time.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mike

In March, 1994, my wife and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee to join the staff of Forest Hills Baptist Church. It was my second full-time position after seminary and would be the place where I would serve for the next six and a half years. Because we were a young couple serving in a very affluent county, we knew when we arrived that the search for a new home would be a difficult one, despite the best efforts of our new church family to help us find something. So, the leadership of FHBC graciously allowed us to live next door to the church in a house they owned and used for their youth.

So, that Spring, Sarah and I found ourselves living in a "mother-in-law" apartment on the end of the "Youth House." Ninety percent of our stuff was stored in boxes in the garage of that place while we carried out the search for our home.

It was not unusual for youth to come roaming into the house on Wednesdays or Sundays and wake us up or, worse yet, catch us walking across to the laundry room with minimal clothing. After being there for about a week, Dr. Winfield (Jerry) stopped me as I was leaving the office to walk across the parking lot to go home. He said, "Hey, I know this situation isn't ideal for you guys but we're going to work on some more privacy for you. I've contacted Martha to come over and do some blinds for you on the windows." (to this point, they had been uncovered).

It was the next day that I met Mike and Martha Hight, a sweet couple from the church who owned a window treatment business. They hung our blinds and just a few weeks later, Sarah announced to me that we were pregnant with Harrison. (You make the connection). I promptly found Martha and Mike that next week and told them they were primarily responsible for this amazing news. Their blinds were wonderful!!

Mike and Martha adopted us that day. We were far away from family and on the verge of our first child. It was the Hights who kept Harrison on his first night away from us while we were on a youth trip. It was the Hights who kept he and Abby while we were away on many date nights and student trips. It was the Hights that Harrison named Meme and Andaddy. They have been huge blessings to my family ever since. Meme, to this day, calls me "Three"--a reference to the fact that I am Ridley Harrison Barron III--and her "surrogate son." They are a constant reminder of the way that God provided for us at a special time in our life.

Mike died last night after weeks of battling his health. I like to believe that he and Sarah are catching up and planning for the arrival of their loved ones who will follow. But for my sweet "mother", life as she has known it for the last 43 years, has changed. The one she has shared so much of life with for so long is gone. Today, she begins a new, very different life. So it is with anyone who has walked the strange reality of losing a loved one.

And after 16 years, life has come full circle. I get my chance to be there for her.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Finding Peace

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.

The accident happened late on Friday afternoon. By Saturday morning, my world was upside down. I awoke to find most of my family at the foot of my bed. The whole scene was like a nightmare. I would have asked them as much but the hospital room and the wires attached to my body confirmed what I already feared--my wife was gone. The accident was real.

There's something really scary about waking from the deep sleep that medicines bring. You awake wondering what part of your life you have missed and what's been going on while you were out of it. I've had those chemically induced sleeps before. This one was different. While I slept, little had changed. My wife was dead. My youngest child was in a hospital three hours away. And my other two children were away from me--the last thing I desired. So, as my mind cleared from the medicines, I began to work feverishly to ascertain the events of the last 24 hours.

Someone sent for Harrison. Like me, he had been kept overnight at the hospital for observation. I prepared to tell him the news that his mother was gone. How do you do that? How do you look your nine year old in the eye and tell him the most important person in his life will never be by his side again...ever? Then, this thought struck me as I waited. Every plan he ever had--let's face it, every plan any of us had--was changed irrevocably. Sarah would never see Abby graduate from First Grade. Harrison would never hear his mom pray for him as he was tucked in at night. I wouldn't get to grow old with this woman that I loved so deeply. I think there, in that hospital room, was the first time that I had this thought--my plans were just that...my plans. However grand they seemed, however wonderful they were in my eyes, God's plan was somehow different.

The next few months--scratch that--the next several years of my life would be a radical transformation of understanding what that meant. It would become a moment-by-moment, month-by-month course in the realization that this life is not about me nor my dreams.

Here is a lesson I am continuing to learn, to work through, to process. Peace isn't about having all your dreams come true. It's about realizing that all your dreams have already come true in Christ Jesus, you just didn't have the right dreams in mind. And when you learn to claim the mind of Christ as your own, that's when you learn to be at peace with every single thing life brings you.

"My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you can imagine." Isaiah 55:8 NLT

Monday, August 23, 2010

Addictions

I have been in ministry since I was 19 years old and was doing a youth ministry internship in Macon, Georgia. So, for the last 24 years, I've been exposed to the ins and outs, ups and downs of people. After all, that's what ministry is about--taking people from where they are to where they need to be in a relationship with God. While I've seen a lot of things, I think one of the most frustrating to deal with is an addiction. Any kind of addiction. It is amazing to me the power that things can have over us and our free will. Addictions come in all shapes and sizes--pornography, sexual, alcohol, drugs, power and prestige. These poisonous "love affairs" dig their claws into our hearts and are unrelenting in their desire to master us. But they can be broken.

This morning, it struck me that the root of all of our problems comes down to one very powerful addiction. The one we have for ourselves. It makes us think of ourselves too much and too highly. It places our rights above everyone else and causes the whole universe to revolve around our feelings (at least in our minds). It can make us do crazy things, forget the ones we love and, worst of all, turn our back on God.

I was drawn to two stories this morning that reminded me of this truth. In one, Jesus has to rebuke James and John for desiring to sit on his right and left in heaven. He reminds them that those who want to be great must become the least; they must be willing to serve others. In the second, Jesus is questioned about the greatest law by a teacher. Jesus wisely answers that the greatest law is to love God with everything we are...the second is to love others more than we love ourselves.

In short, Jesus said, "Get over yourself. This life is not about you." I know our culture teaches us (especially men) that we should be able to handle life alone, be tough and stand on our own two feet. Jesus said, "Lean on me. Trust me. Believe in me." I don't know about you but I've tried the "doing it on my own thing." I need something bigger than me. I need something that causes me to stand in awe, something that comforts me when I feel overwhelmed. Call me weak or spineless, but I need to know that God is enough for my life. I've tried the other addiction and it's not all it's cracked up to be.

Maybe today--maybe for the first time ever or in a long time--you need to pray, "God, help me to get over myself. Help me to move beyond my addiction to me. Help me to desire more of you and to think more of others."

The world would be a better place if we weren't so consumed with "number one."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Do we really get it?

The writer of a particular ad I saw today might want to go back and try it again. I was scanning the local newspaper in my office when I came across one of those ads for an auction. Interestingly enough, this one was for an island in a river just east of Nashville. The ad read:

"Features a 21.28 acre island in the Caney Fork River. Easy access to the river."

Really? Is there an island that doesn't have access to the river? Does the ad-writer get the concept of what an island is?

I laughed for a while with my staff at the funny appearance that the sentence gave. It set my mind to pondering a question...do we really get it? There are a lot of things in life that God tries to talk with us about. He uses His Word, of course. But he also uses friends, devotionals or the messages we hear from our pastors. So it's always funny when someone comes to me and says, "That was a great message. It is absolutely true what you said." The whole time I'm thinking, so do you get it? Do you understand that this word or principle from the Bible applies to you too.

You see, it's real easy to sit around and look at others lives and see how they need adjusting. How about when it comes to you and I though?

I had a conversation with a guy this week who has talked to me before about how much he loves his church...a church he is getting ready to walk away from. His reasoning, by his own admission, was that he was looking for more "bells and whistles" for his kids. I said to him, "You know, you and I have talked about this before. We've talked about how consumerism is killing the American church. I can load you in a car right now and take you to a church just up the road that's got all kinds of bells and whistles for your kids. I can take you into Nashville to a church that does it a little bit better. We can fly to Chicago to one of the largest churches in America where they are creating new bells and whistles all the time. Or, better yet, I can fly your family all down to Disney World where they are the kings of bells and whistles. But your kids aren't going to find Jesus there."

He got my point. Here it is in plain English for you. Guys, Jesus plainly said in Scripture that the ones who followed Him would have to take up their cross, not their comforter. When you and I fall into the trap of believing that faith and following God is easy, we don't have to look any further than the cross to know that's not the case. Somehow, we hear that and we even talk about it, but do we really get it? Do we understand that the working out of our faith is just that--it's work? Jesus even went so far as to say that this "following" thing would get harder and harder, that the persecution would get greater and greater, as the world turned further and further from God. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to say that neat programs can't translate into good teaching for our families. It just can't be what our focus is. "Neat" doesn't equal "meat."

I kind of felt like the writer in the ad was forgetting what the definition of an island was. Maybe it's time we stopped to check our definition of what it means to surrender, to follow, to submit and obey. Once we rediscover these, we will learn what it means to walk away from "easy believism" and embrace the true meaning of being a bond servant for Christ.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Proper Perspective

I was re-reading the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. God used it to provide a great reminder for me in the middle of a very hectic Tuesday. So, I thought I'd share it with you today.

In Mark 4, we see that Jesus has asked his disciples to go over to the other side of the Sea. Jesus decides to take advantage of the opportunity and lies down in the stern for a little rest. A storm breaks out. Now, keep in mind, these guys lived in and around the Sea of Galilee. Several of them worked on the water for a living and had seen these storms before. So, for them to be this afraid means that this must have been one heck of a storm. Jesus rests.

Finally, in desperation (sound familiar?) the disciples turn to Jesus. He calmly rebukes the wind, calms the storm and then questions the faith of his friends. "Come on, guys. We've been together long enough. You should know better than this. What's a little storm among friends?"

Here's the part that caught my attention yesterday. In verse 41 it says that the disciples were in awe...of Jesus. And this changed their perspective. They stopped fearing the waves and started fearing the One who can tame the waves. Immediately the outlook of their journey--the threat of the storm--was changed.

My question--the one God asked me on Tuesday and the one I'm asking you today--what are you living in awe of? What gains your attention? The storms? The circumstances? The events of your life? Take note of what the disciples learned. Living in awe of Christ will put every circumstance in perspective and give you strength to finish your journey. Don't allow life to take the respect that only Christ deserves.

Now, to figure out how Jesus manages to nap in the storm...that's my next objective.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

An Unfair God

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.

I can't tell you how many times I told God that He wasn't fair in those first months after the accident. Because of a broken shoulder, I was forced to sleep in a recliner at night by my doctors. Most nights, even with sleep aids, I could not sleep. So He and I would have these lengthy discussions about the accident. I told Him I didn't like Him, that I didn't understand Him. I yelled at Him, pleaded with Him and even cried myself to sleep some nights wishing God would speak to me so I could hear Him. Ultimately, every discussion I had came back to this one thought that was swirling in my mind...God just was not fair. How in the world could a God who loves me take away two of the most precious things I had in my life?

One day, I was repeating that familiar refrain, "God is not fair." I was directed (I believe by God's spirit) to read something. I can't honestly tell you what it was but the power of that passage did not escape me. My perspective was changed. Here is my paraphrase of that message.

God is not fair.

He absolutely is not. You see, if He were fair, I would have never had the privilege of marrying Sarah Trimble or of fathering Joshua Blake Barron. I would have never known her beautiful smile or that deep blue gaze of her eyes. I would have never heard the laughter of my toddler or heard him call out "daddy" as he wrapped his little arms around my neck. Here's why. Because the Bible tells us that the cost of our sin--the poor choices we make--is death (Romans 6:23) So, if God were fair He would have made me pay the price for every single one of those sins. I would have died before I made it out of third grade. Because God is not fair, He sent His perfect Son to die for me so that the price would be paid and I could have a second chance (and a third and a fourth...but you get the point).

No, God is not fair...but He is just. Because He is just, He couldn't just turn and look the other way when I sinned. No, instead of looking the other way, He looked at the Cross and saw that my sins were paid for.

Did this make my pain and sorrow go away? No. Not even close. But it did remind me that I wouldn't spend the balance of my life in the company of an unfair God--just one that loved me intensely. That realization led to a turning point conversation where I told God that I was willing to be used by Him. Our agreement...as long as He promised to never leave, I'd promise to do everything I could to use Sarah and Josh's death for His glory. That's what led to the memorial scholarship fund set up at the seminary I attended. That's why I speak at medical conferences I have no business being at. That's why I blog and write and talk and journal. I want people to know that God is absolutely unfair...and I am so thankful to know He cares for me that much.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections on Sunday

Holy cow, it was a great day at Ridgeview yesterday! I just have to start there. I loved our "NO Volunteer" Sunday. I hope those of you who were there learned two things: 1) that we absolutely love our volunteers at Ridgeview. You guys are off the charts and you serve with amazing hearts! 2) there is no stinking way we could have our normal Sunday on a regular basis without all of you. Yeah, we had great worship yesterday. Yeah, the Word of God got taught and people were changed. That's going to happen any time people come together in God's name. But did you hear the squeaking chairs and see the wiggly bodies? And that was just the adults. Think about what an impact every volunteer in our church makes on any given Sunday. Then, go and thank someone who runs the sound, brews your coffee, turns on the lights or teaches your kids.

But I walked away with one dominating question that has been a part of more than half a dozen conversations since lunch time yesterday. Where are the male leaders in our church? Where are the men who are willing to lock arms and storm hell on behalf of our families? Where are the guys who are going to pray for their pastor, hold each other accountable and be the model for the generations that are watching them?

Here's my answer. They are right here, right in the middle of our RCC family. And it's time for them to step up and LOUDLY start leading our body. Here is how that will happen. First, as their pastor, I'm going to challenge them more, invest in them more, encourage them more. I need them. This church needs them. The Kingdom of God needs them.

Secondly, as their friends, spouses, kids and co-followers of Christ, you are going to encourage them. Let them know you are counting on them. Applaud them when they lead. Pray for them as they do. And, wives, don't you dare expect your husband to lead at church if you aren't willing to follow his spiritual leadership at home. I've got guys who have amazing skills, character and talent but they are afraid to lead because every time they do at home, the rug gets ripped right out from under them.

Lastly, you are going to take responsibility for yourselves, men. You are the one who must choose to lead. You are the one who must live in submission to Christ. You are the one who must swallow your pride. You are the one who must pray and serve and give and live like all of Heaven is counting on you.

Man, great things are happening in our church. As we watch our men step into the God-given roles they are called to occupy, this church will continue to rise and become the force of influence God wants it to be. Come on, men!! Lead the charge as we take back ground for Christ.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Approval

I have to tell you that one of the hardest parts about being a pastor is knowing that not everyone will agree with you at the end of the day. Actually, that's true in any position of leadership. You can't please people all of the time and leaders are often faced with unpopular decisions.

But let's be honest. Don't we all face the challenge of having tough choices to make and being afraid of the feelings that will be hurt in the process? As a dad, I don't always like the choices I have to make. I make them any way. With your finances, you know there are times you'd love to spend the money for your family to do something but the right choice isn't necessarily the popular one. Feelings get hurt in the process. Words are often said.

I've come to learn as a pastor that the guy who said "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" was either deaf, stupid or in denial. Of course words hurt. Often they leave indelible marks that take years to diminish in pain. But the right choice is the right choice regardless of public opinion.

Think about this, if public opinion were most important, Noah would have never finished the ark, David would have never slayed the giant, Gideon would have never faced his enemies, Nehemiah would have never finished the wall around Jerusalem and Jesus might never have been born. But history shows that their decisions were far more important than the opinions that were offered after the fact.

I love this thought. Commit it to memory for the next time you are faced with one of life's tough choices.

"Becoming obsessed with the way others think about me is the quickest way to forget what God thinks about me." (Craig Groeschel) And, at the end of the day, His thoughts are what matter most.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

One nation

If you're like me, I've gotten just a little overwhelmed lately with the news coming out of our nation's capital. More accurately, I'm probably a little confused as to how I am best able to respond. Quite frankly, I'm not sure who is manning the wheel of the ship any more.

We have a Congress that no longer listens to its constituents, a judiciary who makes rulings based on their opinions rather than the guidelines of our Constitution and a President who has declared himself to be "king." I'm quite certain that--while we are definitely facing shortages of money and jobs and other such important items--our biggest problem is a lack of what I deem to be common sense.

Let me help you see my perspective. If I lie in a court of law, I'm charged with a felony. Yet most of the leaders we have in Washington make it a regular practice to lie to us in the name of politics. If a homosexual activist wants to parade down a street with no clothes on in front of children to make his point, he is said to be practicing his 1st Amendment right. If a Christian wants to stand on the sidewalk at that parade and talk about Jesus, he's considered a bigot and silenced because he is disturbing the peace. We'll send thousands of American troops and millions of dollars to keep North Koreans from streaming across the 38th parallel but we won't deploy American troops to our own borders to slow the stream of people crossing into our country illegally.

We spend billions of dollars a year in the name of defending ourselves from enemies foreign and domestic but we spend hours scolding Israel for doing the same when they are attacked on a weekly basis by people who hate them. We talk about budget deficits and increasing debt but continue to increase spending to newer heights believing that the next guy can clean up the mess. Since cave men walked the earth, men have hunted and fished for their livelihood and for sport. Now, there is a movement to remove the right of anybody to hunt at all because of the animals. Yet, you can abort a baby for convenience?

We've left behind morals, principles and values that made us a great nation and then scratch our heads when we look at the chaos going on around us. We reward people for not working, for not living pure lives, for not doing their part (they usually get a TV show or, at the very least, a tell all book)--all while taxing the stuffing out of people who are trying to live decent and upright lives. Then, we wonder why the numbers of unemployed continue to rise.

I could go on and on. You get my drift. We have simply failed to use common sense. The definition of insanity is to continue to do the same thing the same way and expect different results. By that definition, we've got nothing but crazies steering this ship. And, yes, the Bible has something to say about this as well:

For lack of guidance a nation falls... Proverbs 11:14

That swooshing sound you hear is 225 plus years of history falling flat on its face. The way I see it, that's just a matter of common sense.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Continuing

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.

Over the last 6 years, I've been asked a lot of questions about what happened to our family. I hope that re-telling the story gives me a chance to answer many of them for you. I'd love the chance to do that, especially if something I have learned could help you navigate some situation in your life. So, feel free to contact me with questions (private or public) that you think I can be helpful with.

One question I was asked a lot in the early days was, "Did you want to quit?" As much as it was asked, I know there were probably others who wanted to ask and didn't. It seems like such a dark question. Is it possible that I (a pastor and father) wanted to leave my faith, withdraw from life or, even worse, end it altogether? The short answer is "yes." Those thoughts and many others crossed my mind. Some were fleeting thoughts that never lingered for long. Others were dark images that would haunt me over and over.

There were many reasons that I never gave in to that kind of thinking. One factor (and some of you might understand this) was my years of involvement in sports. It had always been ingrained in me--first by my dad and then by various coaches--that you just can't quit when life gets tough. You have to have a mental toughness about you that pushes you to keep moving along, even if it's at a slower pace. (some would call my "mental toughness" stubbornness. Call it what you will, it works).

Secondly, there was another lesson I learned early on from my parents that, no matter what you are facing, there is always someone else who has it tougher than you. About the same time that our accident occurred, I had a family member who was going through a divorce. His wife had walked out on him and his kids. I remember talking to him that week and telling him how sorry I was. In my mind, it was easier to face the fact that my wife had been taken from me than to know that she would ever choose to leave me.

More than anything else, there was the knowledge that God allows no suffering to pass that He can't bring good. We simply must trust Him. I had to trust Him. I had sung the songs. I had taught those lessons. I had prayed those prayers. But, now, in the midst of the darkest moment of my life, I was faced with the question of whether my faith was real. Do not misunderstand me...it was not an easy choice. But God's spirit guided me back to the right answer, the right attitude.

So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good. 1 Peter 4:19

For whatever reason, God chose to allow the suffering that came that day. It was His choice. My choice was whether or not I would continue to commit myself to a God who had always been faithful and good. Your choice, whatever your situation, is the same. Choose wisely.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Touchdown

Most of you know I love football. Every year, about this time, I start to get that craving for a little bit of SEC and, in particular, University of Georgia football (about now, some of you are already preparing some "dig" at UGA. Forget it. Not changing my heart.) Anyway, thinking of football and counting the days till kick off got me thinking about, of all things, the message we heard at Ridgeview yesterday.

In football, regardless of what level of play you are watching, everyone loves to see the breakaway run or the long bomb for a touchdown. They are exciting and can change the course of a game in an instant. However, most of the scores that come in an average game are done in a much different way. They are the result of "scoring drives"--series of plays that aren't quite as flashy and tend to eat lots of time off of the clock. Games can swing on the momentum of one flashy play, but championship teams are typically the ones who can "control the clock" and drive the ball on a regular basis.

The same is true with much of what happens in our faith. We tend to be drawn to the flashy. That's why we hear testimonies of "instant life-changing" events or dramatic miracles or people coming to Christ after hearing the story of Jesus just one time.

But most events in our faith are the result of long "drives"--hours of prayer, days of discussion, and months of investment. You've heard me say it at RCC before...your job may not be to move someone over the goal line, it may be that you are just there to move them closer.

Spoken in more spiritual terms, it is our call to inch people closer to the Cross by what we say and do. Not everyone is called to be an "evangelist" but every one of us is called to do evangelism--moving people closer and closer to the cross and the day that they find Jesus. This happens through relationships. There's really no other way to do it. And, while it may not be the glamorous "long bomb" we like to see, it is a most effective way to guide people to the love of God. I'm praying for your relationships today and those opportunities God gives you to move people closer to Him.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Politics

There are some who say you should never talk about politics or religion. Others say that the two should never be mixed. I've never understood how a real person of faith can keep it out of his politics. Besides, if you know me, you know I've never been one to listen too much to what "they" say. So here it goes.

It's primary time in Tennessee today. I hope you have taken the time to vote your conscience. If not, I hope you have made plans to visit your local hardware store, buy a roll of duct tape and insure that your mouth stays closed until the next election. You see, if you don't practice your right to vote, I believe you lose your right to complain. That being said, here are my unsolicited thoughts (they are the best kind because they are free).

Our country is rapidly declining on ALL fronts: politically, culturally, economically and, of course, spiritually. We have allowed immorality, tolerance, apathy, professional politics, the god of multi-culturalism and greed to pull our nation apart by the seams. So, where do we turn to try and right the ship?

You turn to the one place your voice can still make a difference--the voting booth. I am a big proponent of ditching the whole Washington, D.C. mob (and I do mean that term literally) and starting over. If you go back to the earliest days of our nation and, therefore, the closest to our founding principals, you'll find two very important things have been lost.

The idea that our leaders should be normal people like you and me--farmers, teachers, doctors, businessmen--who served for patriot's reasons, not for an income and retirement benefits.

Secondly (this is the part you knew would come), we lost the foundational understanding that ALL we have was endowed by our Creator (God). Our Founding Fathers were absolutely passionate that America should be a nation that guaranteed freedom OF religion not freedom FROM religion. Here is the million dollar challenge. I'm serious. I will personally right a check for $10,000 to the person who can show me in the Constitution where the phrase "separation of church and state" actually exists. You won't find it. It's not there, people. Not only did the first Americans not believe in it, they didn't even practice it. Why in the world do you think every session of Congress in the history of our nation has opened with prayer? Why do you think Presidents are sworn in holding a Bible? They were counting on our moral principles to make the American system work. Without it....well, we have what we see today.

America was established as a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. The great American experiment will continue to die as long as the people remain silent. Go vote, people!!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Adopted

I had the pleasure of welcoming home my friends, Paul and Chrissy, last night at the Nashville airport. Believe me, they were more than ready to be back. They have been in Ethiopia for the last ten days welcoming three new members to their family. Their kids were beautiful--two very pretty young ladies and one very tired little fellow. I am thankful for your prayers for them as they begin the task of mixing these three lives into a home that's already very active with four other kids.

As I watched Paul and Chrissy exit the terminal where their plane landed, I was caught up in the significance of that moment for those kids. Here they were, three very small fragile lives. They have little to "offer" Paul and Chrissy. There are no guarantees that this act of love will ever be "repaid." Paul and Chrissy have given themselves to three individuals with all the potential in the world but no promises. As I stood in the waiting area, watching the celebration of their return, my mind was struck by this passage of Scripture:

Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn't, and doesn't, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn't been so weak, we wouldn't have known what to do anyway. Romans 5:8 Message

This is such an incredible thought. God reached out in love towards me knowing that I had nothing to offer Him that He couldn't secure for Himself. No matter how hard we try, no matter how "good" we want to be, our best course of action is to rest in the knowledge that God pursues us. He stepped across the oceans of time and space and came to rest on our "turf." He opened His arms and His heart and welcomed us as His own...and there was nothing we could do to make ourselves ready. He just loved us--loves us still--that much.

Chrissy walked through the security checkpoint with her new baby boy crashed in her arms. He slept through every hug, every handshake and the loud excitement of his new siblings. He had no clue where he was or where he was headed, just that his mother's arms were a very safe place. May you and I find the peace to rest in our new adoption. Our father loves us with an "everlasting love." There is no safer place to be.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

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.

"It's surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time." Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

I don't think I could have comprehended the full meaning of that quote before the accident. Like many people, I assumed memories were built around huge events or life-changing moments. While they leave their own impression on our lives, I have been taken aback by how the little moments that were shared with Josh and Sarah have come back to me as clear as if they had happened yesterday.

It was March, just a few weeks before we took the trip to Hilton Head. It was a mild spring Saturday and there was a gentle breeze blowing through our house. Sarah and I were working on some projects inside while the kids played outside for most of the morning. Abby decided to come in and get something to drink. After a few minutes, I turned to see Josh. He had his little round face pressed against the screen, eyes wide open and he was yelling at the top of his lungs, "Ab-by, Ab-by, Ab-by." Josh had just learned to say Abby's name--in his own distinct Joshua way. He was desperately seeking his sister.

To this day there are moments when someone will call out Abby's name in our house and my mind will flash back to Josh's little face and the sound of his voice. I'll feel myself pulled back to that South Georgia day and my mind will be caught up in his voice, that house and that seemingly normal Saturday. But it's etched in my mind forever.

The same is true with the begonias around our mailbox, the "horsey-rides" in our den, sweet phrases shared between Sarah and me...the list goes on. None of those moments were noted at the time as "memory-makers." But they are nonetheless. And, today, as I pass through another Tuesday in my life, I am reminded of the precious memories that are being made with Lisa and my four children.

They may go unnoticed in this moment but some of them will serve as the foundation for memories that will last forever. The funny thing is that some of you who knew Sarah and Josh have memories of your own--quiet moments, raucous laughter, simple words. Or maybe it's someone special to you--a loved one who has passed away, a child off at school, a friendship shared over long distance. They are your memories. Re-live them over and over. And never underestimate the power of those "uneventful" days. You may find one day that they are all you have left to hold onto.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Finding truth

My heart was elated. We were in the Fitness Center at Samford University where Morgan will begin school in the fall. There it was in black and white on a bulletin board for all to see..."Truths and myths about nutrition." Item number two said as plain as day: "It is a myth that eating food late at night is bad for you."

Here is why that was so important. I love my small smackerels. (Those of you who are Winnie the Pooh fans will understand that term). So, quite frequently, after the kids are in bed and Lisa and I are winding down for the evening, I have been known to look at my wife and say, "You want a small smackerel?" This bulletin board gave me freedom. It told me what I wanted to hear.

Then came the article last week. I had seen the information before in numerous places. You know...the articles we all hate to read? It said that late night snacking tends to pack on the pounds and can be very bad for digestion and your heart.

Confounded scientists. What do they know? Surely they were mistaken. Surely all their crazy tests and statements on my health were no match for Winnie the Pooh and the bulletin board at Samford University. I know what you're thinking. How in the world could he believe Pooh Bear over an MD? Wouldn't a doctor know better?

You know, I ask myself the same thing time and time again as I preach God's truth. We--all of us-- have a tendency to listen for, even long for, the other voices out there that tell us what we are doing is okay. They want to excuse away our reasoning and give reasons for our excuses. But God knows best. He understands what works for you and me. He, after all, did create us.

So, if you're looking for answers to life and trying to sort through the chaos to the truth, let me tell you where to begin your search. God's word has the answers. Fall in love with it. Read it regularly. Pray for understanding. And, for crying out loud, quit reading all the bulletin boards. They'll just tell you what you want to hear any way.

For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 2 Timothy 4:3 NIV