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Monday, July 25, 2011

Here we come..

The final articles of clothing are being tucked away in the suitcases and we've double-checked our passports and our backpacks for the necessary items. There is a huge sense of excitement around the Barron household today as we get ready for our first--and I hope its the first of many--family mission trip. That's right. All six of the Barrons will be headed out with other team members from our church to Honduras. For the next several days we will be serving alongside each other in an orphanage and a small village of under-resourced families.

I'm telling you this for three reasons. First, we covet your prayers as our team loads up and heads south tomorrow morning. Pray for us as we serve this week and as we return at the end of the trip. We'll need strength and health and energy. Most of all, I want all of us to be a pure reflection of Jesus as we go. I want us to love the Honduran people as we minister to them and with them this week.

Secondly, I imagine you'l hear some about this trip when we get back. I'll have much to say so I'm giving you advanced warning about where we are going and what it is we are doing.

Third, I mentioned that I'd love for this to become a tradition for our family, even as our kids get older and have children of their own. Wouldn't that be a cool way to pass along the love of Christ to your family--to serve alongside them as you act out Christ's love for the world? So I mentioned it so you could pray about the idea as well. Maybe God would lead you to take your family, a group of your friends or some co-workers to serve some place where there is a need. It doesn't have to be around the world. It could be across town. I'm pretty confident that God would love your willing heart. I'm even more confident that, no matter where you live, there are abundant needs that you could help meet. Give it some thought. Better yet, give it some prayer.

Here's a bonus reason. If you're my neighbor, don't forget to keep an eye on my house while I'm gone. If there is a really crazy party going on, it's not me.

Friday, July 22, 2011

They get it

In the speaking that I do for healthcare professionals, I work to encourage and challenge them on the quality of care and the safety they provide to their patients. One of the things that has become very apparent to me is the importance of remembering one simple but significant fact--we are all people. We (neither the medical professional nor their patient) are not numbers or statistics or cases or events. We are people. When a tragedy strikes in a hospital, people from both sides of the bed are impacted. There are victims in all corners of the "room." I think coming back to this simple truth is a huge first-step in changing the way healthcare--and life in general--are done.

So, I love it when I see an organization or a wing of a hospital or a team of professionals or an average family that gets it. And I love to applaud them when they do. This week was just one example of a group of people understanding how important it is that we treat each other with compassion.

Lisa and I were with the associates of Christus Spohn Health System in Corpus Christi, Texas. They are a wonderful group of people who are, honestly, trying to bounce back from a rough period in their recent history. I think they are making incredible progress and, based on what I heard this week, will rebuild the trust and quality that they are desiring for an organization. In our time together, they shared "Mission Moments"--highlights of moments in their six hospitals that capture the heart of their mission. Let me share one with you that should remind ALL of us what it means to love others.

They had a patient who was to be terminally extubated--a fancy way of saying that the lady was approaching the end of life and the tube keeping her alive was to be removed. As fate would have it, her husband of 62 years was a patient on the second floor of the same hospital. One very in-tune nurse made the connection between the two and put a plan into motion. This hospital has one particular room with an amazing ocean view--the kind you would pay top dollar for in a local hotel. It actually was the room next to the gentleman's and was empty on this particular day. The nurse got with his team and made arrangements for the couple to be brought into the room for their last moments together. Their beds were arranged so that the two could look each other in the fac --one's head at the other's feet--as the last few minutes of their life together passed. Family was brought in. Pictures were taken. Memories were made. And, as one patient's life came to an end, another's was filled with some final memories that would have never happened if not for this nurse and his team.

Life is fragile. And it is filled with plenty of challenges and changes. We can't avoid them or ignore them. What we can do is empower each other to traverse these rough patches in our journey by bearing them--the pain, the sorrow, the loss and the grief--together.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Self-control (for men)

Peter and Paul both wrote about self-control a pretty good bit in the Bible. In their letters, they encouraged readers to pursue self-control and teach others to seek the same fruit for themselves. I've been thinking about that throughout today as I've contemplated the significance of that trait, especially for men.

In a world looking for role models that are worth following, self-control seems to be a disappearing trait. I think that's the reason why the sports page looks like a police report these days. It is why men struggle with secret sins or failed attempts at greatness. What can't be controlled cannot be used for good. And, for many men, the desires of self are the greatest obstacles we face as we strive to be what God created us to be.

It is our desire that drives us to bitterness, rage, lust and war. It is our desire that keeps us from realizing the dream of family, relationships, careers and commitment. Stephen Covey once wrote,

You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage--pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically--to say 'no' to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger 'yes' burning inside. The enemy of the 'best' is often the 'good.'

Self-control is the art of deciding what is most important for you and allowing nothing to keep you from fulfilling that dream in you. If I want to commit to my marriage and it is the most important thing for me, then other women, my career or my fantasies will not force me to become distracted. That means I am willing to take whatever steps, whatever measures necessary to avoid the traps of "good" when "best" awaits me.

Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life and have it to the full." (My translation: I've come to take your good and turn it into my best)

Guys, we've become distracted. Dare I say out of control? At a time when our families need us, our kids are looking for direction and our culture is eroding away, we've convinced ourselves that our self-worth (and, therefore, our purpose) is found in money, power, prestige, popularity and comfort. Nothing could be further from the truth. Guys, don't fall prey to the distractions of this world. Money disappears. Power is fleeting. Prestige only lasts as long as you have the attention of a world with A.D.D. Nothing will satisfy you more than the pursuit of God and His Kingdom. That pursuit cannot happen without self-control.

Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You're not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It's the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won't last forever. It won't be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. 1 Peter 5:8-11 The Message

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Good knees

It's that time of year again. Around the first of the summer, I dust off the glove and try to coax my body back into playing shape for softball. We're about three weeks into our season and I must tell you there are parts of my body that I didn't even know could hurt this bad. For as long as I have played sports, I've played with one style--get as dirty as you can. By the end of last week's games, I looked like the old "Pig Pen" character from Charlie Brown. I was covered head to toe with the dirt from dives and tumbles. Lisa even hosed me down on the back porch before she let me inside.

So, by Tuesday morning (and even still today) my body was screaming--"Hey, I'm almost 44 years old, you goofball. Take better care of me!!" Joints creak. Muscles are as tight as they can be. It takes me about 30 seconds to straighten my back every time I sit for longer than 15 minutes. I love it! Yeah, I'm tired of the aches and pains...but I'll be right back in the dirt of my shortstop position next Monday night. And there's a good chance I'll be sore by Tuesday morning.

Then I read this passage in the Bible this morning.

Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

I had a funny thought when I got to that bold-faced part. That includes me. It says every knee will bow. Every knee! And it doesn't say one thing about struggling to get back up...or creaks and groans...or pains associated with bending joints that are worn out! I'll bow. Just like every one else. Isn't that cool? This old body won't need dusting off any more. I'll get a new one. With it, I will worship alongside people from every nation and tribe and race...and I'll smile as I kneel on knees that are pain-free.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I told you so

Don't you just hate when someone says, "I told you so?" The implication is that they were right and you were wrong, that you somehow missed the mark with your information. Even worse, it shouts, "If you had only listened to me, I could have saved you a whole lot of heartache."

I've heard that phrase over the years in a ton of different settings. My older sisters used it on me at an early age as the sibling rivalry heated up around our home. Friends would use it at school as we would debate the important things of life--"Could Mark really down two chocolate milks in less than 30 seconds without puking in the lunchroom?" There were parents, coaches, teachers, professors--all who shared their knowledge with me and then reminded me how wise they truly were with the phrase. I've used it myself more times than I would probably care to admit. It can be annoying, especially if the end result of our ignorance is a costly embarrassment.

So, imagine my surprise this morning when I found someone else using it--someone I really wouldn't have expected. Jesus.

See, I have told you ahead of time. Matthew 24:25 NIV

Okay, he didn't use the exact phrase. And I'm quite sure that Jesus wasn't trying to boost His self-confidence by proving His point. He had just shared His description of future generations, specifically those that would be a part of end time events. Just before He warns us about others who would try to lead us astray with false claims, He tells His disciples, "See, I have told you..."

Let's be honest. This isn't the only thing that God has told us. His word is filled with encouragements, warnings, teachings and principles for living. The problem for us, for our world, is that we have simply chosen not to listen. The embarrassment is ours because we choose to ignore the wisdom. The truth is you and I can't really ever look at God and ask, "Why didn't I know this? Why didn't you tell us it would be this way?"

I think He will simply say, "I told you so."

Friday, July 08, 2011

Real men...

I just wrapped a great time with a friend of mine this morning. It was actually supposed to be a golf game but God had other things in mind. So, we chatted over a breakfast sandwich and bottle of water. This guy is a true friend and brother of mine and, as we are prone to do when we are together, our conversation turned to our personal faith journeys.

We started talking about the challenges of being a man in this culture. Let me be perfectly clear. Brian and I agree that being a pure man in this culture is stinking hard. Every where you turn, you are slammed with images of women who are half-dressed (if you're lucky). It's on TV, in magazines and papers, at the movies and...on the pew next to you at church.

I don't believe this is by accident. I was talking with a lady yesterday who was expressing how much she desired her husband to be a leader for her family, a spiritual leader. Any good enemy knows that the best way to destroy your foe is to take out the leader. That's exactly what happens when men compromise their purity by taking just one more look, a lingering gaze, a second trip through the website or justifying what they watch with "it's just part of the show." What happens--whether we want to admit it or not--is that guilt comes in. Guilt keeps us from leading and leaderless families exist in a state of chaos.

You can list a 1000 problems our country faces (most of which I would agree are problems). They include a sense of entitlement, poor work ethic, lack of respect, loss of integrity, drop in education, too much debt, too little income and not enough common sense. Strangely enough, I believe that the core of most of these problems can be traced back to homes where dad just isn't getting it done as a leader. Here is the thing that may shock some of you. I believe most of these dads want to provide for and protect their families. They want to lead. They want to do the right thing. They just don't feel competent.

The media has emasculated most dads by making them look like buffoons on sitcoms. The education system has become more about teaching to a test rather than teaching people how to be life-long learners. Technology and convenience have removed most men from the accountability and mentorship of wiser, older men. We are throwing young men to the dogs and then scratching our heads when they don't come back as 5-star fathers. Here is what you can do to stem the tide:
  • Pray for the men in your life. Soldiers die protecting their leaders. We should be willing to do the same for the men (husbands, fathers, brothers, Congressmen, Presidents) in our lives.
  • Encourage these men to seek the counsel and accountability of others. Do not let them isolate themselves from other men. We need that fellowship.
  • Help your men "purify" the culture in which they live. Throw out the bad influences. Eliminate the temptations. Applaud them when they do the same and encourage them when they are struggling.
  • Be good followers. Whether its your father (who deserves your respect no matter how old you are) or your husband (who longs to fulfill a role he has probably been ill prepared for) or your pastor, don't follow him without questions. Follow him with integrity. You'll learn the difference.
Men, here is my challenge to you. Demand purity...for yourself and all those who surround you. Sink yourself into the only handbook ever written for how to life life on this earth--the Bible. Trust yourself completely to the fellowship of other guys who long to do the same. Be courageous. Following Christ is not for the faint of heart. There is no room for sissies!!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The Art of Encouragement

I learned the fine art of a cut down early in life. I learned it from some of the best. Like many of you, I cut my teeth on sarcasm in elementary school--an occasional jab here, a nice slam there. All of us would play to the crowd. The more "oohs" we got, the more important it was that we come back with another good one.

Then there were the TV shows. One of my favorite was "Welcome Back, Kotter." It was a story of a young man who returns to his old neighborhood to become a teacher. The class room became a testing ground for some of the best "slams" ever heard to mankind at that point. "You're so ugly..." or "You're so short..." became standard fair in our playground chatter or our lunchroom battles.

The sad thing is, many of us never grew out of that mentality--cutting others down so we could feel better about ourselves. Sure, we've grown up to more "adult" phrases. Our "You're so short..." has progressed to "You'll never guess what they did." But it's a put down nonetheless and it's sole purpose is elevating ourselves at the expense of others. It's good for a few laughs and many people can take it without letting it get personal. But as I watch another generation of kids grow up with "Yo mama" jokes and similar slams, I wonder how far removed we can become from what God intended us to treat each other like.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up... 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

I love a good laugh just like anyone else. But I also remember the times I've been on the receiving end of hurtful jabs. Like most of you, I laugh it off and pretend to move on. But words can sting and wound the soul. How much better would our lives be if we could find the lost of art encouragement again--if we could rediscover that ability to lift others with our words and encourage them to face another day? There is enough in this life to put us down and keep us there. There is no challenge in joining the crowd when it comes to belittling others. Learning to use our words as gifts that bring healing is an art worth rediscovering and one that should be applauded in others when we see it taking place. I hope you hear the words of encouragement you need today.