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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.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Survival

Like many of you, my family has gotten interested in a couple of those survivor type shows that come on TV. I think it started with "Man v. Wild." It was fascinating watching Bear Grylls as he ran from glacier to desert, jungle to deserted island. Honestly though, I had little concern for Bear and the situations he faced. No...I was more worried about the poor camera guy who was facing all the same challenges with a camera saddled on his shoulder.

Next came the two guys who face challenges on "Dual Survival." Same challenges only with the added dimension of two very different personalities facing them side-by-side. I couldn't decide on that show if I was more fascinated by the challenges or the fights between the two guys with their differing survival philosophies.

Our new favorite is "Man, Woman, Wild"--partially because of the added twist of a husband/wife team, partially because the title reminded me of life with our kids at the Barron household. Just kidding.

I got to thinking about the different scenarios on the shows. Stranded on an island. Lost in the Amazon. Facing the wilderness of Russia. There are some really cool tips and tricks that you learn through these shows. Realistically, though, how many of us are going to become stranded on a desert island with a hunting knife, waterproof clothes and a backpack. Not likely.

What I'd really like to see is a real-world survivor show. Maybe a title like "Man, Woman, Wild Suburbia." Rather than looking for food in the desert it would teach you how to shop at Publix with two preschoolers in the cart and the cell phone ringing constantly. Instead of rationing your water, the hosts could teach you how to ration the paycheck that runs out too soon.

Seriously, what most of us need is not a rescue from a Latin American jungle. What we need is a rescue from real life America. We need help on how to save our marriage, raise our kids, survive a dead end relationship or make it through a downsizing at our company.

The rescue manual is here...found in God's word. It is truly a place for answers to the stuff of real life. If you don't know that--don't believe that--it's because you haven't looked closely enough at what it contains. It is the stuff of real life. Although it was completed 2000 years ago, it's never been more relevant than now. It's script is fascinating. It's content riveting. It's wisdom is ageless. And it's Author is unparalleled. No one could touch it. Sink your teeth and your time into God's Word to find the answers that will radically change who you are. You'll be amazed!!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sushi

For those of you who know me well, you know that I like to eat. For the most part, I'm not a picky eater. I've tried a lot of different dishes over the years. Between my staff and Lisa, I'm always being pushed to try something new (Indian food with my staff) or healthier (chicken tofu with Lisa). I have to admit that, in most cases, I've walked away saying, "That wasn't too bad. I could probably eat that again."

I said in most cases. The exception is sushi.

I just can't get a grasp on sushi. For one thing, a lot of it is raw. I don't do much of anything raw (except for chocolate chip cookie dough). If I'm going to pay to eat your food, can you at least introduce it to something resembling a flame? I'd feel much better about it.

Then there is the problem of seaweed--another staple in most sushi. There's a problem for me in eating something I pull out of my bathing suit at the beach. I can hear the conversation now, "Lisa, there's a hint of flavor on this sushi. Is that oil from the last Gulf Oil leak or Coppertone I'm tasting?"

So, the last time my staff said let's go get sushi, I declined. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. One of the guys said, "You know, you'd learn to like this stuff if you ate it more. You're just not hungry enough." Hungry enough? How hungry do I have to get? Why wait till I'm that hungry when I have to pass a perfectly good restaurant every 100 yards on the way to the raw fish place?

So...the key is being hungry enough. Maybe that's true with our spiritual growth. In ministry, I see many people who talk a wonderful religious talk. They know the things to say, the references to make and the books to list on their reading list. I know some who are fervent readers of all the latest Christian fare. My question...why aren't we reading the Bible more? I've heard lots of answers. Some are good; most are not. But maybe the reason we can't bring ourselves back to reading God's Word is because we just aren't hungry enough. We've filled our hearts and our heads with the latest good book. We know everything that Swindoll or Warren or Stanley or Hybels might have to say...but what is God trying to tell us?

Don't miss my point. I love reading books by these guys. They are strong. They are insightful. They are wise. They are Godly. But...

...they aren't God. My prayer is that we become hungry enough to go back to the one true source of all we need. Rather than listening to a man's opinion on what God said, pray that God will give you a hunger for nothing short of His words. Got to run. It's lunch time.


Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Jesus in Seattle

Lisa and I had a wonderful trip to speak to the people of Swedish Health Systems. What a great group of people! We really enjoyed it and agreed that our time to depart came far too soon. Thanks to all our new friends there in Seattle. Hope we'll get to join you again soon.

As we traveled the last two days, I watched an interesting phenomenon--actually two. The first came as Lisa and I took our "Southern ways" with us to Seattle. We greeted many of the people we met and tried to engage as many as we could in conversation. Lisa is especially good at this. It's fun watching her as she makes people feel so comfortable in conversation. We met gate agents from California, an elk-hunting grandmother from Washington, a taxi-driver from Northern India and a hotel clerk from Oregon. There were doctors from Brooklyn, nurses from Texas and a CFO from Dickson, TN. As we carried on these conversations, I learned two things. People are genuinely surprised when someone really engages them in conversation and...despite what we are told...most people like it. None of the people ran from us. None of them told us to bug off or to stop our chatter. They simply responded with sincere conversation and "friendship."

We've been taught "down here" that Southerners are friendly and the rest of the world isn't necessarily so. That may be a cultural reality for a lot of places but people--the real flesh-and-blood individuals--like to know that someone cares.

Here's the second phenomenon. After I spoke, I had numerous Christ followers who came up to me afterwards to thank me for coming, for sharing Josh's story and for talking about faith. There were comments like "thanks for talking about your faith" and "thanks for bringing God inside our organization." The funny thing is...He was already there. He was sprinkled all over that organization in salt and light. He was the face of a young man, an older administrator and a broken-hearted daughter who had watched her father die recently. He was there in the numerous individuals who pulled me aside and looked with hunger in their eyes as if to say, "Help me show God to my work place."

He's there. All over Seattle. He's in the Presbyterian Church that was doing street missions at Pike Street Market. He is there in the mother of four who wants her daughters to grow up making wise choices for their future. He is there in the Mars Hill school that occupies a downtown building. He's there in the senior adult who said, "Thanks for doing what no one else has done thus far...bring Jesus to our workplace." Oh, He is there, my friend. Long before I got up to speak yesterday morning, Jesus was walking the halls of those hospitals. He just needs to be sprinkled a little more generously and shone a little brighter by the ones who already occupy those spaces.