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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Pursuing a dream

My family has gotten caught up in this summer's version of the "America's Got Talent" TV show. If you have never seen the show, you should give it a try some time. I find that we watch just to see the crazy things people will do for their 15 seconds of fame. Believe me, some of the acts border on the line of true insanity. It's a hoot!!

Last night's episode was much of the same thing. Every thing from magic tricks to dance teams to attempts at singing filled the hour long show. But one of the first auditions of the night caught my attention because it was a little different.

The lady was a 42 year old singer. She had always dreamed of being a singer but her parents had basically told her "no" all of her life. Others came along and reinforced the message. When she took her first voice lesson in her late 20s, the instructor even told her that it was much too late for her (hope she got her money back). Everyone watching was prepared for the worst. Let's face it, when mom and dad tell you no, there is probably a good reason for it.

This lady silenced the place with her incredible voice. Even though I'm not a fan of opera, I was as floored as the crowd was at the event. While she sang, no one made a sound. Even the judges were blown away and joined the standing ovation as the final notes drifted to the floor. It was beautiful...and the emotions that spilled forth from that little lady as the applause thundered told a beautiful story.

It made me think of millions of others like her who never have the courage to chase their dream. They spend more time listening to the chorus of voices telling them they will never be good enough. Even the ones who should be on our side can turn against us and stand in our way as we pursue the dream. For many, that is where it ends. The dream fizzles. The passion fades. Our voices never sing one note of one chorus.

Now, I'm not advising you to ignore good wisdom. The counsel of wise friends has saved me from embarrassment more times than I can remember. But when God gives you the dream--when it is clearly His voice that issues the call--don't let anything keep you from pursuing it. This world would be a far different place if not for the men and women who refused to listen to the crowd and chose to follow His voice. At the end of the day--no, at the end of every day--we perform for an audience of One. I can assure you that no matter what the sound is that comes from your life, He stands over you and applauds you--not because of what you've done but because of His deep love for you.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Kingdom

I was eight years old the first time I got to visit the Magic Kingdom. I will never forget what that experience was like. Just like millions of other kids who have walked through those gates, I thought I had found the perfect place.

But the weeks leading up to that visit were like a young child's personal hell. I was convinced that someone had fooled with every clock and calendar around my house. There was no way it should be taking this long for the days to pass. With each day's end, I would mark one more day off, bursting in anticipation of what this World would be like. I had heard the stories from friends and family. I had seen the brochures and was a regular watcher of "Wonderful World of Disney" each week. Heck, I even knew the names of most of the Mouseketeers.

So, when the day came, I was sick to my stomach with excitement. You can imagine me standing on my tiptoes trying to see through the crowded monorail car, yearning for that first look at the Kingdom. It was stinking awesome!!

Now, would you think I was crazy if I told you that I got to the gate, after all that waiting and anticipation, and returned home without going in? You would think to yourself, "What!? Are you insane? You missed the best parts." And you'd be right.

I feel like many people today have that kind of experience with God. Most of us know "about" Him. We've heard the stories and the confessions of others who have experienced Him personally. But do we ever really enter the Kingdom? Do we ever go beyond this casual affirmation that He is there so that we can have a relationship with Him like He desires?

Look, if I hadn't gone deeper into the Kingdom, I would have never known what I missed. I would not have comprehended what it was like to ride Space Mountain. I would have never gotten my "real, authentic musket" from Pirates of the Caribbean (yes, there was a ride long before there was a movie). Most of all, I would have never known what all the Kingdom excitement was about. If you don't really know God or you can't say your relationship with Him is exciting, dangerous, or adventurous...I'd submit to you that you haven't gone deep enough. There is a whole big world awaiting you just inside the gates. You just have to be willing to enter in without hesitation.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

People

What we are doing (Lisa and I) through Ridley Barron Ministries is about people. That may seem like such an obvious statement. Maybe it is to everyone else but me. I was giving that some thought today.

Like most of you, I hate customer service calls. Why? Because no one wants to treat you like a person any more. It is about customer numbers and quotas and bottom lines. Racing through life gets lonely because we forget that the most important thing we share is not space nor oxygen nor natural resources...it is the "humanness" we hold in common.

So one of the things we are trying to do is put up this big flashing sign over everything we do that says, "After all, we are just human." The health care provider that makes a mistake leading to an adverse event? A human who needs healing and compassion. (Read this)

The couple who finds themselves at each other's throat and at the end of their rope? Humans who simply need encouragement in their journey.

The sick child, the overworked CEO, the confused teen and the out of work breadwinner? They...we...are all humans who need to feel the love and compassion of others in our own breed. God help us if we never get to the point where we can see each other as people again. People who have emotions, fears, dreams and families. People who simply want to be treated like people. It is in finding community again that we learn that "they" are no different than "we"--despite their position or their skin color or their status or language. When we understand this--live this--the world becomes a better place...for all people.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Hope

13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13 NLT

I have often defined the word "hope" as "the belief that tomorrow is worth getting up for." It is that perception that the next minute--the next breath of our lives--contains possibility. Love is essential to all that we are and do but, as one author has put it, it is the soil of hope that allows love to grow.

Between wanting something and having something there is the potential for a multitude of feelings. We can allow past disappointments to keep us from seeing the potential of the future. This leads to despair and discouragement. We can allow fear to creep in. Fear freezes us in our tracks and keeps us from living life to the fullest. That's why Scripture says that perfect love drives out fear. Perfect love frees us to live without the dark shadows of fear. Finally, there is hope. Hope is connected to faith. Without faith, we cannot find hope in the trying times. Lack of faith makes it awfully hard for us to see the "light at the end of the tunnel." But misplaced faith is as bad (or worse) than having no hope. Faith must be found in God.

Hope is what Ridley Barron Ministries is built on. That's why Lisa and I have chosen to do what we do. Our belief is that the soul that is given new hope can face life with greater purpose and reach the full abundance that Christ promised each of us (John 10:10). We want to bring hope to those who have experienced life changing tragedies or world-rocking challenges. Our hope is to bring others hope. In so doing, my prayer is that many will come to believe that there is great possibility in the next hour, their next relationship, their next opportunity. That hope is found in a changeless God who has given Lisa and I both the promise that tomorrow is worth living.

Hope. Healing. Forgiveness. Because tomorrow is worth living.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Take a deep breath

God's timing is always good. That doesn't mean we will always like it, but it is always good. Several months ago, two of our very good friends approached us at church one Sunday morning with a gift. He had won a get away for two in a golf tournament. After praying with his wife, the two of them felt led to give it to us as a gift. They insisted we take it and made us promise we would use it. (Just to prove how good God is, he played in the same tournament this year and won the same, exact getaway again. Just proves you can't out give God). So, Lisa brought home the certificate and scheduled our time away. It began yesterday, just a few days after my doctor told me to get away from my stress. Great timing!

I thought about that this morning as Lisa and I were hiking through the beautiful surroundings. It was raining but it mattered very little to either of us. The sound of the gentle drops as they sprinkled into the canopy of trees was relaxing. The hills weren't so much. But I loved every minute of it.

I got to the top of one of the rises and took a deep breath. The fresh air filling my lungs was amazing. I turned to Lisa and said, "You know, it's a cool feeling when you get to the top of one of these hills and take a deep breath. It's like saying, 'Hey, cool, I made it without stopping.'"

Lisa laughed and replied, "It's a lot like life isn't it?"

So true. It is like life. There is a unique feeling when you tackle that next hill and take a second to relax and catch your breath. That's what these three days are for us. A chance to catch our breath and thank God for what he has done and look with anticipation towards what is next.

The danger is when you forget to take a breath and you charge headlong into the next hill. That's our tendency as humans, especially those of the American variety. Don't stop, don't even slow down. Someone may take your place in line or get a half-step ahead of you. Here is the exciting news. We all finish at the same line. What matters is not how much you get done before you reach that line but Who you serve in getting there. God set the example for us in the beginning; Jesus followed suit in his time here on earth. There is a time for work (six days God worked in creation) and a time for climbing (Jesus ministering to thousands) but rest must be a part of who we are and what we do on a regular basis. When else will we take the time to celebrate the victories, the hills climbed and the blessings of God?

Pardon me if I don't answer my phone. I taking my next breath.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not me?!

What could make a grown man cry standing in the "Home" section of a Super Walmart? Strange things happen when someone is faced, once again, with their mortality. Let me explain.

Last week I was in Columbus, Georgia hanging out with my mom. I had taken our two youngest children, Abby and Landon, so they could see their grandmother and so I'd have a little company for the long ride. They had been patiently a part of the process all day Wednesday as we ran errands with mom and helped her take care of some necessary things. So, to reward them and me, we went to a movie at a discount show on Wednesday night--"Diary of a Wimpy Kid: part 2." (No, that's not the reason for my aforementioned tears). Somewhere about the 30 minute mark in the movie, I started having a chest pain. I chalked it up to a little too much gravy in my home cooked meal and continued to enjoy the movie. By the time the credits rolled, the pain was more intense and very consistent. I kept trying to shrug it off but I also knew my family's history with their heart.

We left the movie and went to Walmart. We were simply going to run in and grab a few things that I needed for mom's house (I usually do a little maintenance and upkeep on the place when I go down to visit). The pain intensified and so did my concern. By the time we reached the store, I was more than just a little afraid. Trying to find a place to call my sister for her help (she lives in Columbus) without alarming the girls, I asked them to sit in the car and let me just run in.

Standing between the air filters and the light bulbs, I had a very passionate prayer time with God. All I could think of was me having a heart attack in housewares while my daughters sat in the truck, oblivious to what was going on. I began to cry. I retreated further into the housewares department so I could talk with my sister and so the other customers wouldn't worry about the strange man in the paint aisle.

Long story short, Harriet (my sister) and I went to the ER with my nephew, Carter. EKGs were fine. Wait time was not. They immediately did the EKG and asked me to wait to see a doctor. Two and a half hours (yes, it was almost 1 a.m.) and four ambulance arrivals later I left, much to Lisa's disdain. My thinking was that they were obviously not too concerned so I guess I shouldn't be. Final prognosis with my personal physician was my ticker is great, I was just a little too stressed. Too many changes happening too fast and I needed to ramp up my coping mechanisms. You gotta love it when your doctor's prescription is, "You need to play a little more golf and spend a little more time at the pool."

I'm okay now. I guess, honestly, I was okay then. But the whole event puts things into perspective for me---again. Standing in that Walmart that night, I was faced with the reality of my own mortality in ways we don't like to be. In similar ways to April, 2004 when my wife and son were taken from me. When you're wondering what will happen to your wife and kids if something happens to you, the light bulbs suddenly don't matter as much. I'm thankful it was nothing serious this time, but as I have challenged you all before, don't take for granted the half-seconds of life that we have been given. One half of a second changed my world seven years ago when three guys ran a stop sign. One half of a second almost changed the world of my family Wednesday night. I hope you prayerfully consider how you spend every half second you are given. Once they are gone, they will never be recaptured.

Got to run now. Time for granola and vitamins and exercise. I've got a trillion half seconds ahead of me and I don't want to "miss" them because I didn't take care of myself.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Daddy

It's been another great Father's Day around the Barron household. Nothing crazy or extreme (which is how I like it since our family tends to be going 90 mph most of the time). We got up, went to church, had Po' Boy sandwiches (Lisa-style) for lunch, spent a little bit of time by the pool and then hung out at the house. I love my life. I love my kids. I love being a daddy.

The day started with an interesting question from Lisa. We had just finished our morning prayer time. We were laying in the bed chatting in those last few minutes before we had to get up and get going.

"Rid..."

When Lisa starts a sentence like that, I know something good is about to come out. Usually its some great thought or a thought-provoking question. This morning it was this question. "What are your three best memories of your dad...not counting him being the biggest fan at all your ballgames growing up?"

For those who are newer to my blog, my dad passed away in February, 2004--just two months before the accident that took my wife and son. He was, indeed, one of my biggest fans (along with my mom) from the moment I stepped onto my first playing field at age 7. Her question got my head to thinking. With just a few words, Lisa had opened a flood gate of feelings and emotions that I had not thought about in many months.

I didn't realize how much I missed my dad. I shared my first two thoughts (actually, I cheated and rattled off about 6 or 7), then I paused. The last one was one of my favorite and I had purposely saved it to bring up the rear.

I've always been an early riser, even as a kid. Many mornings, I would get up early and cross the hall at our house in Columbus, Georgia. Daddy would have already shaved and crawled back into bed next to mom. I would slip around to his side of the bed and crawl in underneath the sheets. There, in the last minutes before the sun would crash through his window, daddy and I would lay and listen to "Cousin Al." (Cousin Al was a local radio personality on the AM dial who played country music, talked about RC Colas and moon pies and spun his own brand of homespun humor.). But as I recounted the memory to Lisa, I was pushed back in my mind to those mornings long ago. The warmth of my daddy as he put his huge arm around my shoulders. The smell of his after-shave as it cascaded around the pillow and sheets. Mom laughing at the two of us as we cackled at Al's goofy sense of humor.

I was a very blessed kid. I guess I still am. Do you really ever outgrow the positive impact of the people who mean the most to you growing up--moms and dads, teachers and coaches, grandparents? I know that, even 7 years after he has gone, my daddy still holds a powerful place in my heart and mind.

My prayer of thanks goes out today for all of those men who today hold the "daddy" role for someone. Not all of you are "fathers" but many of you are "daddies" in the truest sense of the word. And my prayer also goes out to so many who never knew their dad or never had the positive influence of a loving daddy in their life. I pray you may come to know the love of the best Father, indeed, the only Father who can love you purely.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Hard

There are some days (much like this one today) where it seems like life is just a little harder than others. Things pile up. Schedules don't work out. Even the simplest of things turns out to be not so simple.

I've had two doctor's appointments, some news that hit me from the blind-side and some really poor customer service from a couple of places today. Needless to say, I've spent more time on the phone than I have on my work. The part that really aggravates me is that I always get off the phone from these conversations feeling like I am the reason there is a problem even when it's their product that didn't do what was promised. Funny how that happens, huh?

I caught myself day-dreaming. I was simply wondering what the best method of therapy is when you get in these situations. How do you talk yourself into being loving to the guy on the other end of the phone? How do you remain calm when you look at your agenda and the list has only gotten longer the harder you've worked?

Jesus answered such "demands" throughout his time here. But he always had a good solution for the pressures--he got away. He disconnected. He allowed himself the privilege of stepping away. Therein lies our problem. In this world where we are always "on" it's increasingly impossible to step away. Between the cell phones and the i-Pads, the e-mails and the Tweets, there has to be a place to unplug from the demands and power down for a little while. Jesus knew it and he modeled it for us.

Take a look at this example. Jesus' cousin, John the Baptist, has just been beheaded. John's followers have taken his body to be buried and have shared the awful news with Jesus. Jesus responds by getting away, retreating to a solitary place. Maybe it's time for you...and me..to do the same.

When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. Matthew 14:13

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Words Worth Sharing

I know my blogs have been infrequent lately. There are a couple of reasons why. First, our schedule has been completely out of whack. With the transition from my church office (after 7 years on staff) to home, there have been many hours of cleaning, organizing and "waste management" as I filtered through my files. This has been a hit-and-miss project between trips and family responsibilities.

The other reason is probably the larger one. I've just been at a loss for words (some of you might be shaking your head in disbelief right now). But it's not a loss in the sense that I don't have anything at all to say. Oh, I could definitely write something. But when I began this blog several years ago, I committed not to write just for the sake of writing. I wanted to be sure that the feelings and thoughts that are shared here are worth your reading them. At points, it's caused me to have long lulls in my blogging. At other points, it's caused me to question whether or not it was time to drop the blog all together. At the risk of writing just to be writing, I won't carry on about it. I just thought it was a good time to let you know where I've been blog-wise. God is teaching me some really cool things through my personal study and the activity at Ridley Barron Ministries with our traveling and speaking has been very encouraging. Now, I'll just have to find time to pause and reflect. Then maybe I'll find some words worth sharing.

Hope it will be worth the wait...

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The incredible choice to forgive

It is not unusual for me to start up my e-mail these days and find that I have a new friend, someone who is reaching out for comfort or encouragement after their own tragic circumstances. I love that God has given me those opportunities. I only pray that I am able to "handle" them with His wisdom and His compassion. Today, it happened again. A young lady was asking about her own personal pain after losing a family member. She asked about God's will and about her desire to question God. Let me share a brief part of what I shared with her. I think it's a good reminder of how big and strong God can be for us in even the most difficult situations.

Let me start by saying I am very sorry for your loss. I want to encourage you with a few things. First, you need to understand that God may or may not have chosen to cause this accident. More likely, He didn't and what caused it was simply excess water on the road. Could He have stopped this from occurring? Absolutely. But, with the foreknowledge He had, God saw the potential of good that could come from this accident. I know that's hard to comprehend when its our family member but it is true nonetheless. There is potential for great good to come from any tragic loss (Romans 8:28). What determines that is our willingness to join God in what He is up to and our ability to embrace and offer forgiveness and move on.

Secondly, scream at God all you choose. It will not bother Him. He understands the level of your hurt and disappointment. He knows the raw emotions you have. He is not afraid of your "ranting." If you read the Bible carefully, you will see that many people in the Bible asked God questions (David, Moses, Job). The point is, if you are going to question God, you better be ready to hear the answers He has for you.

Lastly, remember this very important lesson for all of your life. Forgiveness, like love, is not an emotion. It is a decision. It is something you will have to choose every day for the rest of your life and, with time, it will get easier if you do it every day. There are days you will wake up and not want to forgive because of the emotions that you feel. That's okay. Choose to do it any way. Don't let bitterness in. It is a poison that kills no one but you.

Understand this, God has very big, very incredible plans for you (Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 3:20) but you will NEVER know them until you choose to forgive and surrender every part of your life to what He is attempting to do in you and for you.

I can't tell you how much I love talking about forgiveness. There is such freedom when you and I can give and receive forgiveness. The receiving part is easier (notice I said easier. It's not always easy). Most of us love to be forgiven. But giving forgiveness to someone who has wronged us or has taken our loved ones life or has chosen poorly can be far more difficult. But I assure you, the rewards are equally--maybe even more--satisfying.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Blessed

Lisa and I returned last night from a quick trip out of town with our board of directors. It really doesn't seem right to call them a board. Pardon the pun but it seems a little too stiff (get it? board? stiff?) We had such an amazing time with this group as we prayed, planned, and dreamed about the future of where our ministry is taking us. I'm thankful for each of these people and what they mean to us--past, present and future.

We also had the privilege of worshipping with the Orchard Church down in Ellijay, Georgia. What a great group of people! Pastor Steve and his group there at the Orchard were a pleasure to be with Sunday morning. There hearts are hungry and, even in the brief time we were with Steve and his wife Sherry, it is easy to see that they are leading this group in an amazing way.

We came home to be greeted by four very tired teens. All of them have been at camp this week. I can't tell you how incredible it was to hear each of their stories as they shared what God was teaching them and what He had shown them this week. It's such an encouragement as a dad as you pray and teach and guide and direct them. There are days you want to scream because you don't think they'll ever get it. Those are the days that I am reminded that I have caused my share of screams in past years. (I know you are shocked to find that I've not always been an angel). I am also reminded of the patience of a loving God. Man, the things He has to put up with from me as He patiently waits for me to "get it." In many instances, He is still waiting.

I am thankful for the life God has blessed me with. The weekend as a whole reminded me how blessed I am: the company of friends at our retreat, the heart of like-minded followers of Christ as worshipped together, the love of family. I am also reminded that this life I'm given is not for my benefit or my fulfillment. If I ever try to find my purpose in "things" I'll only be disappointed. People and plans will disappoint me at some point, some more frequently than others. It's only by staying focused on what God has in store that I can know true contentment in all things.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Remarkable Story of Sidd Finch

In 1985, Sports Illustrated broke the story of a young man by the name of Hayden Sidd Finch. The 28-year old Mets rookie became an overnight sensation before he had ever thrown a single pitch. The focus of all the attention was Finch's eccentric lifestyle and his ability to top out his pitches at speeds of close to 170 miles an hour. Absolutely unheard of at that point. In fact, the fastest pitches on record before Finch's arrival were Nolan Ryan and Goose Gossage at 103 mph--a full 65 mph slower.

Upon the release of the story, the sports world was ablaze...as was my circle of "experts" in my hometown. Immediately the conversation began as to what the rest of the baseball world would do to keep up. My friends were talking about things like the human eye's ability to "catch up" to a ball thrown that fast and whether or not the standard wooden bat could withstand such an impact if they ever did. I even had friends wondering how much a ticket to Finch's first game would cost.

It was all useless conversation. Finch never pitched a single pitch in the major leagues for New York. In fact, he never threw a pitch at all. You see, Sidd was the product of a baseball writer's imagination. The article was released on April 1, 1985 as part of an April Fool's gag by the magazine. And we bought every bit of the lie. Oh, how we bought it!

Did you know that lies are the number one weapon of Satan? He used a lie to trick Adam and Even in the garden; he has been up to it ever since. Noah, Moses, Abraham, David and many other great heroes of the Bible were victims of the lies. We are too. We hear him when he tells us we aren't good enough. We buy the lie when he tells us that no one loves us. He convinces us with the twisting of truth and sways us into believing that our secrets will never hurt anyone else. Before long, he has us talking and worrying and debating the "facts" of something that was never true in the first place. The end result? Lives that are a mess. We live at a frantic pace to fulfill the lie when God says that the truth is what sets us free. Lies entangle and bind; Jesus alone sets us free to live life to the fullest.

Finch's life "story" created quite a response...one that was completely based on a lie. My hope is that our lives are always built on the truth. Truth that is found in God's great love for us as it is revealed in the Bible. Don't buy the lie. You'll just feel like a fool.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Tough assignments

At some point, we all have tough assignments. It's the nature of life. Maybe it's telling a friend something that might disappoint them. Or, you might be a boss who has to let an employee go or tell them they didn't get the job. I can tell you the first few times you have to break your child's bad habits by disciplining them, it is no easy task.

I was reading this afternoon the story of David and Nathan. Here's a little background for the less familiar. David is king of Israel. But he has committed an awful sin against God by sleeping with another man's wife and then having the man killed, trying to cover up his sin. Nathan is one of David's prophets and a trusted advisor. In 2 Samuel 12:1, we read this:

The Lord sent Nathan to David.

Can you imagine the butterflies in Nathan's stomach? After all, he is just a prophet and David is the king over all of Israel. With one word and no explanation, David could have Nathan executed and his family put in prison. Nathan has one of those extremely tough assignments. He must confront the king with his sin.

I thought back seven years to a phone call I received on an April morning. The nurse that day must have drawn the short straw. Can you imagine the conversations that took place that day in the hallways of that hospital? I'm sure when the bad news got out about my son's over medication, there was no rush of volunteers to pick up the phone and be the one to deliver the news. But it had to be done. Someone had to make the call.

One of the things that I'm learning in my travels is that no one relishes that assignment. Health care is no different than ministry; ministry is no different than friendship. No one wants to be the bearer of the difficult news. I guess that's why "total disclosure" has become such a hot topic among medical professionals. But it's not a new subject. Long ago, God gave us wisdom on how to handle these tough assignments. His words of wisdom go something like this:

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. Proverbs 27:6 NIV

The lesson Proverbs is trying to teach us is this. The successful delivery of "tough words" is not determined on the who or the how but on the strength of the relationship before the conversation takes place. Whether its ministry or parenting or health care, tough words are best delivered on the back of a relationship that has been invested in. When you and I keep short accounts with those we know--when we build trust and dependability in the long run--we will be better prepared for tough words to be said and heard the day bad news arrives.