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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wonder

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Romans 1:20 New Living Translation

With the warmer temperatures and the break in the spring storms, I've found myself outside a bit more the last few days. It started early yesterday as I took the dog for his morning romp in the wet grass. As he sniffed from one blade of grass to the next, something in the field behind the house caught my eye. Two small rabbits were caught up in what appeared to be a game of tag. In the early morning light, I could see them as they chased each other back and forth through the high grass. Overhead, two small birds were chasing a hawk who dared to venture too close to their nest. Their brave defense of their "home" against the much larger bird was comical to watch. All around me, the world was coming awake for another day. As the wonder inside me began to build, the verse above came to mind.

I am reminded that wonder leads to worship. Stated differently, that which captures our attention and enthralls our hearts is the very thing we worship. Observing the field behind my house pointed my heart towards a God who is the beginning of all life--the Creator of every thing that lives. It reminded me of His infinite power, His limitless creativity and His constant love for me.

However, misplaced wonder can lead to false worship. To be in awe of nature is one thing. To worship a tree or bird or bush is another. Here is where we fall into traps. I am amazed at the ability of an athlete in competition or a professor with great intellect. I may be amazed by them but to worship them is to fall short, to miss the One who is worthy of the worship. A neurosurgeon with great skill or a writer with mastery of words may draw accolades for their work, but only the Creator is worthy of our wonder and our worship.

The problem is a culture who is too easily impressed with ourselves. Our idols are talented, smart, popular, wealthy, beautiful...but they are finite, impotent, imperfect and frail. Their minds could never reach the scope of God's omniscience. Their power could not touch His omnipotence. At their very best, they would be but a shadow of the character of God.

If only we could find ourselves less in awe of the creation and more in awe of its Creator. I pray I can find less wonder for the irreverent behavior of man and more worship for the reverent existence of a holy God. May we--all of us--never lose our sense of wonder when it comes to God.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

How could we ever forget?

In many ways, it was just like any other Sunday. I woke up in my bed next to my beautiful wife. After getting ready for church, I walked into my driveway and grabbed the paper. There, I read of nations in turmoil, people in fear and many who live with no freedom. I drove in my car to my church where I led our Ridgeview family in worship. We prayed and sang and read God's word without one moment of fear. I took my family to lunch and then came home for a day of rest. I watched a ball game on TV and read a little on the Internet. Through it all, I have been constantly reminded of what this weekend is, what it stands for.

I have also been reminded why it is so important that I never forget the men and women who have served our country with their lives. They have stood on foreign shores. They have sacrificed their tomorrows so that my tomorrow would be bright. They gave up many freedoms so that ours would not have to be surrendered. What we have did not come easy, nor did it come cheap. It came through the blood, sweat and sacrifice of those who knew that freedom comes with a heavy price.

So, thank you, veterans. Thank you for going, giving, serving and dying. How could we ever forget the sacrifices you have made?

I don't care how you choose to remember...just remember. It's that important.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

That's your opinion

I sat on the patio of one of my favorite burger places for lunch today. I was by myself so it gave me a chance to participate in one of my favorite hobbies--people watching. Today is the last day of school here, so the downtown area was filled with teenagers who were eating lunch to celebrate their last day. Just more to watch for me.

After 15 years in student ministry, I still have a keen interest in watching the habits of teens--the goofiness, the showboating, the flirting....you get the picture. I watched with particular interest today as 5 young guys sat at a table about 20 feet away. You know teenage boys. There is always plenty to watch. Every now and then I would catch bits of their conversation. Through it all, what I observed was this constant "maneuvering" to win the approval of the other guys at the table. Maybe it was a joke someone made or some commentary on some girl at school. It was really quite enjoyable.

Then I started wondering what they were really thinking. All five seemed to be pretty confident boys, very social and sure of themselves. But I began to imagine what each of them might be thinking as they carried out their interactions. What were their fears? What were their real opinions of each other? Were they really that confident or did they, like most of us, harbor secret doubts about their "likeability"?

As adults, we are not so far removed (if at all) from those same worries. We play social games where we may think one thing and say another, just to meet the approval of those around us. We worry about other's thoughts and opinions. Makes you wonder how life would be different if we a) didn't worry so much about other's opinions and b) made the commitment to be honest with one another, even in uncomfortable situations.

With that in mind, I thought I'd end the blog on a lighter note. What if our greeting cards were as honest as we should be with one another? What might they say? (NOTE: the expressions of "love" below are not the opinions of this blogger and have been borrowed from a friend of mine. Enjoy)

I've always wanted to have someone to hold, someone to love.
After I met you, I changed my mind.

Looking back over the years that we've been together, I can't help but wonder...
...what the heck was I thinking?

Congratulations on your promotion.
Before you go though, would you like to take the knife out of my back? You may need it for another promotion.

When we were together, you always said you would die for me.
Now that we're apart, I expect you to keep your promise.

I must admit that our relationship has brought religion back into my life.
Before I met you, I never really believed in Hell

I hope it made you laugh a little and realize, there are only two opinions that matter. What Christ thinks of you and what you believe about yourself.


Monday, May 23, 2011

Still Here

Welcome to the first work day after the rapture. I must admit that I'm a little disappointed. My office looks the same and I was hoping that my "heavenly body" would be a little leaner. But, hey, at least we made it, right?

Enough with the sarcasm. Like many of you I watched the minutes tick by with interest on Saturday evening. Not because I believed that Mr. Camping was remotely correct (although he could have been) but because I wanted to see the world's reaction when 6:01 came and most of us were still here.

There were the typical skeptical remarks, the wisecracks and the outright condemnations. I, too, was upset by the fact that Mr. Camping's predictions put yet another black-eye on the Christian faith and those who profess to follow Jesus. I was far more upset to read that many millions of dollars have been bilked from Camping's followers to put up billboards and to promote his prophecy; millions that could have dug fresh wells in third-world countries, built orphanages in Eastern Europe or battled poverty all over the world. Millions of misplaced dollars were used for something that really didn't matter. Why? Because whether the world ends today or tomorrow or a 100 years from now, there are really only two things that you and I can do about it--get ready and get others ready.

I have to admit that my heart kind of went out to the 89 year old Camping though. I don't know the man. I have never listened to one minute of his teachings. I don't know his character. But he and I have one thing in common, we're looking forward to heaven. As they used to say in my grandmother's little church in South Georgia--the great homecoming. On this, Mr. Camping and I can most definitely agree..."when we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be." Hope you're ready...whenever it comes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Braces

I got braces on my teeth when I was 33 years old. Not quite a teenager. Till that point, I had resisted with everything in me. I just didn't have a desire to spend the time or energy that it would take...nor did I look forward to the inconvenience. Besides, I reasoned, I could chew my food just fine and talking was no problem. What else did I need? I was content.

Then came my friend, Dana. Dana and I had a pretty good friendship right from the beginning. There was one problem. Dana was an orthodontist. And not just any orthodontist. He was the kind that never saw a smile he couldn't make better. He didn't gently introduce the idea of braces to me. He pretty much told me when and where to show up to get those teeth fixed. So, I did, much to his amusement and my family's delight.

I remember the first meal. Just the feeling of soup sliding across my teeth hurt. It would set me on edge to hear someone crunching on an apple or a piece of ice. I didn't think it would ever end. Then the second hour came and it got worse. Dana had warned me. He had told me it would be that way. Then he offered me this hope, "The teeth will settle into their new place. When they do, the pain will subside and you'll like what you see."

I thought about that moment this morning as our staff was talking about transitions. For those of you who haven't heard, I recently stepped aside as pastor at Ridgeview Church to pursue Ridley Barron Ministries with a full-time focus. My family and I will continue to worship and serve alongside our faith family at RCC. But God had made it very clear that this was the next step for us. Lisa and I have a passion to continue using our stories to offer hope and encouragement to others. God is choosing to use it through this ministry.

Transitions are hard, no matter what they look like or when they occur. They take on many forms--children starting school, starting to drive, graduation, marriage, a new job, a new school or a new hometown. Each transition comes with its own set of challenges and concerns. I'm thankful that God has promised not to leave us through any of those times.

My family faces its own unsettled feelings as we make this move of faith. I'm not sure what God wants to do with this. I'm not sure how long it will last. I'm not sure where it will take us. I'm not sure....but God is. And, in those moments when fear starts to creep in and my flesh takes control, I hear him saying, "Hang on. You will settle into your new place if you just trust me. When you do, the pain will subside and I promise you will like what you see." So, just like with Dana (although he isn't quite God), I keep trusting. I keep looking in the mirror watching the changes. I keep holding onto the promise that He is a professional...He knows just what He is doing.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Wannabes

There was an interesting article that I came across this morning. Entitled "SEALS expose those who have faked service," the article talked about the number of people in our country who try to pass themselves off as former members of the elite team that carries out America's most dangerous military missions. It seems that true Navy SEAL veterans have their hands full trying to debunk the myths created by these "wannabes." One vet says he gets upwards of 4o inquiries a day from people wanting to verify the stories of their family members, co-workers, friends and--believe it or not--pastors. That number is only expected to rise after the fame that has risen from their latest mission--the capture/slaying of Osama bin Laden, international terrorist.

It seems that many Americans--men and women--want to be associated with the famous group. I can't imagine many of them would stick to their story if they were forced to go through even one day of what it takes to make the team. Brutal workouts. Days without sleeping or eating. Dangerous missions behind enemy lines. Discipline that would humble many professional athletes.

It got me thinking about a more relevant question for all of us. Do we treat Jesus the same way? Let's face it, you don't get more famous than Jesus. The name is known in almost every nation on the face of the earth. Today, he has over 2 billion people who call themselves "team members." But do they really know what it takes to follow this Man? Confronted with the reality of what it means to be a true Christ follower, I believe most would shrink away, unable to meet the "demands". The irony, though, is that all Christ demands of us is surrender. That's right. Give up, give in and give Him control. What a humbling thought to know that God's free gift scares us, intimidates us from following through on our claims to know Him.

One SEAL vet from the article said, "There were about 500 SEALs who operated in Vietnam and I've met all 20,000 of them." My prayer is that when we claim the name of Christ, we understand, first, what it really means to be "in Christ." The world wants to know the hope of those who follow the man from Nazareth. But they won't find it in those who brag about a relationship that they have no intention of living out.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Taking Chances

I have found over the years that there are many ways I get the gospel wrong. Really wrong. Probably one of the most commons errors I find in my thinking is that this gospel is about me, that its focus is me and my comfort. The closer I read the Bible and the more I think about these things, the more I come to this radical conclusion...God is not concerned with my comfort. He did not die on the Cross to make me feel better about myself or so that He could promise me a better way of life. Jesus died for God's glory, not mine.

When I clear my mind and learn to live in light of this reality (and it is no easy task) I learn that life is not about being safe and cautious. It's about living dangerously on behalf of God. Let me put it to you this way: if what we do in our lives has no possibility of failure, it has no basis in faith.

I recently had a conversation about this with a young man I know. This guy is a solid as you could find. He is dependable, mature, full of integrity. He has just come to the conclusion his life is too safe--that very little about who he is or what he does requires God's presence to get it done. Over the years I have had numerous conversations with older Christ followers who echoed His thoughts. They will tell you of their previous journey of faith--church attendance, honest living, dependable lifestyle--you know the spiel. Then their eyes begin to twinkle and there is a new sense of enthusiasm as they talk about living "recklessly" in the hands of God. Launching new careers, moving to new locales, walking away from everything in their life that gave them "security" and embracing full dependence on God.

I'm there again. I'm at that place where I don't want to get to the end of my life and finish safely. I don't want 50 people gathered at my grave site some day...way off in the future...looking at each other with tears in their eyes saying, "Ridley was safe. He caused few ripples, left few marks of his own." NO! I'd rather them stand in a worship center celebrating somewhere, laughing at some of the foolish things I attempted for the Kingdom. I want to know that I left the biggest dent in the world (even if the dent comes from running headlong into walls that the world said couldn't be moved). I think the greatest disaster for the Church today would be for Jesus to come and find that we spent more time worshipping our comfort than we did living out our faith.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Changes

Spotted on Facebook and shared with me by a friend:
You hear Osama is dead with no proof of a body and you celebrate. You hear Christ died and rose with no proof of a body and you speculate?

Man, has a lot happened since my last blog on Wednesday. Tornadoes have left a 375 mile track of destruction through the Southeast. Fires have burned much of Texas. Flood waters are ravaging towns up and down the Mississippi. The two decade long game of "hide-and-seek" with bin Laden has come to an end (USA-1, bin Laden-...never mind, game over). And as we are fast approaching summer, we are waking up to forty degree temperatures in Franklin...just a day after it was in the mid-eighties here.

Changes are all around us. My sister was digging through some old photos looking for something recently and came across some pictures of Josh. She forwarded them to me. Flashing from the screen were those amazing blue eyes and that precious grin. In one picture, my mom was holding him and I thought about how much had changed for all of us since that day. Her husband gone. My wife and son gone. Harrison and Abby much older and--in their mind--much wiser. Remarried, new children, new town, new job.

No matter what, changes come. To resist them is like standing waist deep in the ocean trying to keep the waves from hitting the beach. You may disrupt a few waves but the ocean still comes...and comes. Rather than resisting the waves--or the changes--it's usually easier and more fun to learn to ride whatever wave life brings you. I can tell you that you won't like every wave. Some will take you places you didn't want to go. Others will push you into uncomfortable positions. But many will give you the ride you desired. They will enable you to see things you never could and to feel things you once thought impossible.

Yes, change is inevitable. We very seldom want to embrace it. But in embracing change we are able to embrace all the possibilities of God.

We'll be out the rest of the week partnering with some new friends in Indianapolis at St. Vincent's Hospital. Please be in prayer for us as we go.