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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas

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

For most of us...

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. The Barrons.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Knowing When

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Happy Meals and an Unhappy Mom

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Obsession

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Parentheses

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Your Cause

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

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

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

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

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


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


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Teaching...and learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 06, 2010

With us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That's the power of Emmanuel!

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Calling

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Lights on

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

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

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

Ouch!!

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

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

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

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