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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Never Satisfied

It's like the potato chip. One is not enough. I've gotta have more. Right?

So it is with entering the life of another.

My wife, Melissa, and I have recently entered the lives of another family in our community. A family that has been through difficult times. A family searching for, support, love, authenticity. We met them a few weeks ago at the gym where we work out, and friendships began to blossom.

What I am about to tell you--well, I am hesitant. (I've restructured that last sentence 5 times.) I don't want to come across as anything other than one who strives to possess the heart of humility. Yet with my passion to inspire others to live above the common, I don't want to miss out on something that God can use.

My new friend told Melissa and me just last Sunday over lunch that he agreed to join us at church only because he saw how we lived. He said we were real and that our faith was evident in front of others.

He opened up to us with things about his life. They are trusting Jesus for salvation, but they desire to grow more in their relationship with Him. And they want to come back to our fellowship this Sunday.

Nothing satisfies me more than seeing God honored in public. And we have had the opportunity to do that many times during these last few months of trials (our daughter has cancer). It has opened up so many doors for people to see how pain affects a believer who desires to follow the Christ who set him free.

And yet, I'm not satisfied. I've got my sights set on another guy at the gym. I'm praying for an opportunity. Seeking and strategizing. Watching for God's creation of events that would lead up to a discussion, activity, mishap, or whatever would provide me the chance to share the grace and love of Christ with him.

May we never be satisfied with just one. May we all prayerfully strategize with our new relationships in public. On Sundays the Church gathers to worship. But during the week, watch out world, for the Body of Christ is in your presence! And our spirit burns with desire to live above the common in front of you!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

When to Leave Your Church, Part 2

God does lead some people away from their churches. Members become missionaries. Jobs move their employees. And when truth is left out of the pulpit, it's usually time to go.

Here's a unique perspective, though: I've got a best friend who has a fantastic stance on his church membership. He's there to serve. He's told me more than once when things got tough in the church that he desires to do whatever he can to make things better. Leaving has never been an option for his family. He's not there to gain--he's there to give. He's not a consumer. He's a contributor. That's his perspective.

And his great contribution has done so much for the church. His perspective has inspired me. It's made me think. Churches go through difficult times because of one reason: people exist. But when a member is burned in a church, then his perspective of leaving his church to go to another is just like jumping out of one hot, frying pan only to land in another sizzling skillet.

However, when a member has the perspective of being a giver--a contributor--then when he doesn't receive what he feels he needs, it's OK. His purpose is to give--to use his God-given gifts to edify the body, especially when it is sick.

Wow. If only more members would possess this perspective, just how healthy do you think the body would be?

You are gifted, if you've trusted Christ as your Savior. Your gift is supernatural. It's phenomenal! There is no limit to what you can do with your gift. So what are you contributing to your church? (Remember, the church is people, not the building.) What are you giving? Are you doing what it takes to make the body healthy?

Or are you a consumer who ends up making the body sick?

One could not pry my friend away from his church, because contributors live above the common.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

When to Leave Your Church, Part 1

Church life is tough, to say the least. The reason is simple: there's the possibility (probability, really) of backbiting, gossip, spreading dissension, conflicting personalities, differences of opinion, and so much more. Really, there's the probability of being hurt by someone else from within your church.

I like what Ken Sande of Peacemakers Ministries said at one of his great conferences I attended, "If two or more are gathered together, there will be conflict." Pretty funny, eh? And true.

Before I get into the depths of this topic, I wish to give a preface. I'll call this Part 1.

Over the years as a pastor, I've seen and heard of many people leave their churches for various reasons. And the reasons most leavers give, I've noticed, really aren't the real reasons.

"God is leading us away." That's too vague.
"We don't really like the music." Really? That's a reason to leave your church?

I know what some of you may be thinking, "Is it really everyone's business why one leaves a church?" And that's a very good question. Of course, I should not make an "across-the-board" statement. However, if you are thinking of leaving your church, then you are actually thinking of leaving your church.

You're not leaving your building. You're not leaving your programs. You're leaving your people. Please allow me to present a unique and often neglected perspective of your church. The Apostle Paul wrote a phrase numerous times in his epistles that may be taken lightly: "one another." Bear with one another, love one another, look out for the interests of one another, carry one another's burdens. I can go on and on. The idea is of familial intimacy. (Most churches miss out on this extravagant gift from our Lord.) When you decide to leave your church, you are leaving "one another."

So is it my business that you are leaving my church? Yes. It's my business because you are part of my "one another." Now, it's not my business to spread rumors of why you are leaving. And it's certainly not my business to hold a grudge against you for leaving. But if you leave my church, you are leaving me.

Interesting perspective I think this is. It's not a perspective we usually think about when we decide to leave our churches, because usually the reasons why we leave carry the negative and dangerous ingredients of anger and bitterness. Those are not "one another" emotions. Those are "me and no other" emotions.

Usually, when a church member decides it's time to go, he leaves as quietly as possible. Perhaps an email or letter is sent, but he doesn't face anyone (or very few) in his church telling them his plans.

We're quick to call our churches "families." But when one leaves, even because of conflict, there's very little course of reconciliation. I couldn't imagine if one of my kids just disappeared! That would be tragic! How unfortunate that we don't view one another this way.

Tragedy strikes many churches each week. Members leave because of something they don't like. And most of the things they don't like have nothing to do with essential doctrinal issues. Most of the time, the real reasons church members leave their church families are because of relationship issues with their church family members.

It's much easier to just run away than it is to obey. Confront with love and grace. Forgive. Ask for forgiveness. Be full of grace and truth. These things are difficult, but they are commands from our Master.

There's more to this topic coming in the near future, but for now--I know one good reason NOT to leave your church. Bitterness.

It keeps me from living above the common. Believe me. I've been there.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Come to Our Church! We Offer...

a Starbux-like coffee bar, amazing playground for the kids, most coolest youth room, hottest blazing band for worship, we offer...we offer...we'll give you...we'll give will feel will feel good...We are friendly people!

OK. Forgive the slight sarcasm. And I do like coffee. My kids like playgrounds, and youth rooms should be cool. (What? You think they should be boring?)

It makes me wonder, though. I've read many times that church members in the U.S. tend to be consumers. We like to shop around for a church in much the same way as we shop around for a good restaurant:

"The waiter didn't smile much."
"The food was a little cold."

Or, how about, "I didn't like the way the preacher said..."
Or, "The music was a little too traditional for me."
Or, "The carpet was old."

I was a pastor. For 15 years. And I got frustrated at comments such as these. But I wonder if the philosophy put forth by pastors and leaders of churches today is something that causes (or, at least lends toward) a consumer mentality among American Christians.

Have you ever read a church marque sign that stated: "Join our church! We'll put you to work!"

Or, has anyone ever invited you to their church because they "strive to suffer much for the sake of the gospel"?

"Join us! Join us! Join us this Sunday at 11am--YOU'LL LOVE IT!!"

That's much different wording than what the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy: "join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God." (2 Tim. 1:8)

Inspiration is missing in church. I'm talking about real inspiration to sacrifice for the most worthy cause. I'm talking about real motivation for the most worthy purpose!

"Join our church! It might hurt a little, but the rewards are out of this world!"

Churches in America need contributors, not consumers. CONTRIBUTORS: diehard believers who refuse to settle for complacency, but instead contribute their gifts/talents/skills toward following Christ even into the darkest places so His glory can shine through them.

We sing songs about this! "Shine, Jesus, Shine!" (But, of course, most of us don't like the style of the song. So we miss the whole meaning.)

So are you a contributor? Or a consumer? Are you a pastor or church leader who is producing consumerism in your church? Or are you challenging and inspiring God's people to sacrifice and suffer for the sake of the gospel?

One is surviving life. The other is living above the common. Can you tell which one?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fearless Determination

What would you do if you had no fear? Drive really fast? Skydive? Confront your ex? Or your mother-in-law? (just kidding, G-Momma!)

What is most important to you in this life? Seriously. Hobbies? Family? Job?

What was the most important thing in the lives of these men: Apostle Paul, Peter, John, James, Matthew, Jesus?

Does your important thing match theirs? Why or why not?

Most Christians do not share the gospel with others because of 2 simple reasons: we don't know what to say, and we are too afraid.

But what if you learned exactly what to say to anyone, any age, anywhere? What if you learned how to overcome your fear in sharing the gospel with people?

Would you do it? Would it become more important to you?

What if the world really will end soon? It will sometime. He's coming back sometime--this we do know for sure.

Wanna learn how to share the clear, simple gospel effectively to anyone, any age, anywhere?

Go to and click on Live Evangelism Training.

And live above the common.

Friday, June 10, 2011

What to Do When Days are Low

Whether it is stress, depression, marital issues, or bad pizza, everyone has those low days. Some are lower than others, and some people experience lower than "normal" days. Yes, these days for me can be difficult.

As someone who was severely depressed for a period of 2 years, I have learned quite a bit about what I should do on these days. I know these feelings well: the heaviness on the heart/chest, loneliness, sadness, unreasonable guilt/shame (you feel this but don't know why), despair, anxiety attacks, anger/bitterness, etc. The list goes on and on, and for some people this list can be so severe that medication and/or therapy might be required. (For those who disagree with medication for depression--I've heard your opinions. The scope of this blog is not for that.)

The best cure for those low days? Well, it's not found in a bottle. Sure, meds help, but it's not the cure. It's certainly not found in a glass bottle. Friends can be a good source of comfort, but they can also be a source of dragging you down--so choose wisely.

But the best cure for me (the only cure, actually), and for many others I have counseled with depression, is found in one word: TRUTH. And truth is found in God's Holy Word.

Now I'm not saying that all you have to do is recite a couple verses and then life is all yippy skippy. How dare we ever view the Word of God as a formula to follow, or a vending machine (just press the right button and out pops your order). Instead, God's Word is truth.

The truth is...we often tell ourselves lies. And these lies can, and invariably always do, lead to low moments/depression/guilt/shame, etc. For example, if my dad always told me that I was a good-for-nothin' boy, then I would grow up telling myself that because I would eventually believe it. But it wouldn't be the truth.

If I feel scared about something, it is tempting to say that, since I have no control, all Hell's about to break loose on me--that I might be destroyed. But that isn't the truth.

If I feel lonely, it would be easy for me to tell myself that no one really cares for me. But that really is far from the truth.

We often tell ourselves lies. What to do? Philippians 4 talks of our thoughts--that our thoughts lead to something. It commands me to think on certain things. Check it out by clicking here.

These thoughts, according to God's Word, lead to peace. "But," you may say, "I can't control my thoughts." And that's where you're wrong. (Another lie.) We may not be able to control our emotions, but we can control our thoughts. Read about it here.

It takes practice--like everything else. But, believe me, it works. (Amazing that the Bible works, isn't it?!) So, just to clarify, I don't just get rid of a wrong thought. I replace it with a truthful thought.

By the way, I've been having one of those days today. Sure am glad I blogged on this. Feelin' a lot better. Now I just need a cup of coffee, and I'm good.

Livin' above the common requires truth in the inwards parts. That's a truth statement.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Shepherd

PLEASE READ FIRST: The following is an excerpt from a book of short stories called Perspectives. At the bottom of this post, you will have the chance to purchase this entire short story for a small fee, as well as The Incarnation in its entirety. And just in case you're wondering, purchasing these short stories helps feed my kids!! LOL

© 2010. J. Chad Barrett, Sr. All Rights Reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without permission
in writing from the author, except in the case of brief quotations
embodied in critical articles or reviews.

It must have been the cool air that woke me up. It was the third watch of the night, and I was the only one awake. The sounds of the night echoed in my waking mind. The silence of sleeping sheep, the snoring of the other shepherds—all was well. All was calm. I loved moments like this. So peaceful—I felt like I could float on clouds with no worry of falling.

Lying on my pallet, I could feel the wind barely blowing, and I could see the tops of the field grass gently moving to its command. I could faintly hear the bristling of the nearby brook, and I became thirsty for its cool, refreshing water. Trying not to wake my friends, I carefully rose to my feet and made my way outside the circle toward the brook. My body felt tired and sleepy, but my mind wanted to stay alert. It was times like these when I would sneak off during the night, climb on top of a large rock, lie on my back, and look up into the big, black sky. I have done this many nights—letting my mind wander from star to star.

In my mind’s eye I could fly into the vast blackness, past constellations and shooting stars. I would close my eyes and dream of flying so fast and so far that I would finally approach heaven’s door—where dwelt the Dream Maker, Himself. I would dream of landing gently on His front step, and the great door would open. I would walk through a large golden corridor and into a magnificent arena of every color and blazing light and wonder. It appeared as if the walls of the arena were made of light and color. In the middle of it all was the throne. And on the throne sat He—Elohim, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

As my mind would wander, I would walk to the side of His throne, not feeling worthy enough to approach the front. He was too bright for my eyes to gaze upon, so I would cover my face with my hands, and I could see through them the color and light being thrown from the center of the arena. I could hear deep sounds, vibrating and ricocheting off the walls of color and light. I could faintly make out a figure like no other. His head was like fire, but His eyes were even brighter. As my dream always went, His head would turn toward me and His flaming eyes would begin to pierce right through me. I could feel my heart pounding with excitement and anticipation of something marvelous. Something celestial—something supernatural was about to occur. Through my hands, I could see all this. Then the Dream Maker would open His mouth as if to speak, but my dream would end.

It is times like these when my mind would wander so far, but not this night. In fact, I had not had this dream for the past week. Something was changing. Something was growing. I was sad that I couldn’t dream of this flight, but I was growing mysteriously anxious for something I knew not.

Drinking the cool water from the brook made the rest of my body wake up. My hands were cold from lapping the water to my mouth. I stood to my feet and looked back toward the circle of sheep surrounded by my fellow shepherds. It always amazed me how we shepherds can fall in such love with animals that smelled as bad as these. But we would give our very lives for these sheep. We had named each one.

My father used to tell me being a shepherd was the lowest job on earth, yet the most meaningful. No one could understand the overwhelming emotions had by a shepherd as he watched the birth of a lamb. The lamb’s mother cherished him, nurtured him, protected him, and caressed him. She helped him learn to walk until he could run on his own. And we, shepherds, would watch these little lambs grow to become fully grown sheep, providing for their own little lambs. And we were the ones to lead them to green grasses and gentle waters.

We nurtured the nurturers. We provided for the providers. We protected the protectors. They knew us and loved us, because we loved them.

As I walked back toward the circle, I pondered these things in my mind. I thought of the stories told of how Elohim led my ancestors out of Egypt and, eventually, to the green grasses and the still waters. I remembered the stories of King David as a young shepherd boy and heard his poems read at our gatherings. Oh, how he loved the Lord, Adonai. To think that he sat underneath these same stars, his mind’s wanderings making their way to the writings we cherish today, is thrilling to me. I laid back down on my pallet, closing my eyes, trying to fall back into my dreams.

Morning came quickly. The breakfast, the daily washing, and the first guard had been accomplished, but not by me. I overslept again. My best friend confronted me with a very familiar question.

“The dreamer finally awakes?” His smirk was sarcastic, but pleasing. The two of us grew up together, playing in these same fields and woods. “You were up during the night, again, weren’t you?” He said with one eyebrow raised.

Tying my rolled pallet together, I responded, “The tax farmers count. The sowers sow. But dreamers dream, my brother. I am what I am. Can’t change that.”

“You definitely are what you are! But you need your rest. Your eyes are like crimson.”

I finished tying my pallet closed, sat there for a moment, then shared my concern, “But something is not right. I can’t dream anymore. My heart is afraid.”

“Afraid of what? Are you talking about your dream of Adonai and His grand arena?”

“Yes. And I don’t know what I fear. I feel something is coming for me.”

“Something is coming?”

I can see concern on my friend’s face. He must think I have gone mad.

“My friend, you do really need your sleep.” At that, I rose to join the others in the daily duties of shepherding.

This day was not unlike any other day. The same chores done. The same games played. But something deep inside me—something unusual—kept nagging at me. I was anxious, and I didn’t know why. It was like something was coming, and I felt I needed to go hide. Something great and terrible and mighty was fast coming my way. I couldn’t eat during this day. The trouble I felt robbed me of my hunger. My fellow shepherds sought to comfort me, knowing that if a shepherd loses his health, he could easily lose his life. I continued, though, tending to our flock underneath the mid-afternoon’s blazing sun.

The long day was finally nearing its end. We had crossed over a lot of land, and our feet were sore and dirty—crusted with dried mud. One of my friends built a nice fire, and all of us simply stared at its glowing flames.

There’s something about a camp fire that makes a person settle. We were tired of talking, tired of walking, and just wanted to sit near the warmth of the fire. The cracking and popping were like rhythms that soothed and calmed our weary bodies. Staring at the fire brought me into a trance, forgetting about my surroundings. My heart beat slowed. My breathing deepened, and I closed my eyes and began to wander again. I prayed that I would see Him.

When I opened my eyes it seemed everything around me had vanished, yet I was still gazing at the flames. But these flames were different. These were His flames. His eyes were so powerful. They flashed and sparked and consumed me as He looked in my direction again. I was near asleep, sitting by the fire with my shepherd friends, but I was actually inside the heart of heaven—the deepest place in the universe—witnessing the greatness and wonder of the limitless color and blazing light that seemed to gush from the center of the arena. The center was the Dream Maker.

I grew sad knowing that as soon as He opened His mouth the dream would be over. And He did open His mouth, but something different happened. This time He spoke! I heard a voice coming from the throne. I tried, but couldn’t comprehend the words. It was a language I had never heard, but the beauty and majesty of that sound was breathtaking. My feet and legs trembled as my hands were over my face. The sound flowed through me and all around me like quilts swimming in the wind. My breathing was shallow—I felt as if my lungs were collapsing. And I saw His eyes which were piercing right at me grow more intense—brighter and brighter with each passing second. His face dimmed just enough to where I was able to recognize the features. It seemed as though He dimmed His own light just so I could see Him. And what I saw
sparked a transformation in me unlike anything I’ve experienced before. A flood, like a surge, overtook my heart as I saw a smile like a great canyon form across His face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing—Elohim was smiling at me! And I heard His voice again, like rushing waters. This time I understood clearly what He said.

It was my name.

Suddenly, the blaze from His flaming eyes consumed the entirety of His person. Radiant beams splashed out from His center and filled the arena. Smoke lashed and swirled all around, and the ground beneath my feet shook. Flashings of light ricocheted off the crystal walls, seemingly passing right through me. Each time it did the nagging, anxious anticipation I had in my heart intensified to the point that I thought my heart would burst.

The Dream Maker saw this happening to me and, now bursting with laughter, turned His head forward and shouted, “Now!”

Immediately the arena burst open with brilliant white flame. The crystal walls of light and color shattered into billions of sparkles revealing an innumerable host of beings on the other side. My eyes were blurred. I faintly saw one large being hover in front of the Dream Maker, then escape like a flash of lightning and was gone. I was striving to make out what happened next, but it appeared to be angels exiting the now-open arena. The roaring sound of the huge wings boomed, and I almost couldn’t bear the pain in my ears. The entire space was now turning and flowing and twisting with every color dancing and bouncing all around. All the while the Creator never left His throne.

In a flash, it ended. The angelic beings were gone. The arena was back to its original state. And the Dream Maker’s head bent downward.

I slowly opened my weary eyes and saw the glowing coals of the once flaming camp fire. My friends were asleep on their pallets, but I was still sitting near the smoldering coals. They must have given up on me and turned in for the night.

I rose to my feet, my heart beating fast. I was so exhilarated by the dream. I walked over to my pallet, knelt down, and began untying it when all of a sudden the sheep began to squirm. Something was waking them—something in the distance. A sound was coming toward our circle.
It is only the wind, I tried to tell myself, but I knew what was happening. I had felt this time coming. Suddenly, one of the shepherds woke and immediately rose to his feet. His breathing was fast and shallow. It seemed he woke from a nightmare. He looked at me, then in the direction of the approaching sound. The wind picked up fast, blowing wildly. We saw above the mountains in the distance a small flashing speck of light. The speck grew larger as the sound grew louder. Amazingly, it appeared to be an opening in the sky, and brightness and radiance were seeping through from the other side. Suddenly, the opening burst and magnificent lights of all colors danced all around us. The other shepherds jumped to their feet. We were ducking and dodging the moving lights afraid of what they might do to us. The glory grew in intensity, and we were blanketed with brilliant color and blazing lights.

The sheep were running in circles, bouncing into one another. We, shepherds, fell to our knees—our faces to the ground. We were petrified. Suddenly, I heard a word spoken. It was familiar to me. I looked up and saw a being walk through the lights, which were tremendously whipping all around us. It was glorious! The being was magnificent in size. His face was like chiseled stone, and stood with powerful demeanor.

The glory of it all!
Towering over us, he looked down at us. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! This wasn’t a dream! Or, was it? The being opened his mouth, and we heard glorious sounds rushing like a river out of his mouth. It was amazingly comprehendible.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. I didn’t think that command was possible for me. My stomach was wreaked with knots. My heart was in my throat.

He continued, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”

I adored what I heard! The voice, the words, the moment were all overwhelming my emotions. I wanted to kneel here forever and just keep listening. I was grateful when he kept speaking.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

My mind was blown. My nerves were nearing destruction. If I would have heard these words spoken by a mere man, I would have listened with great joy. But this was more than what my inner self could contain. The Savior! The Messiah! The shock of the reality of this moment was petrifying and exhilarating at the same time. For hundreds of years our people have been waiting for the Promised One. Now, He is here! He is really here! Could it really be?

As I was trying to breathe in enough air to speak to my fellow shepherds the night sky lit up with incredible brilliance! There was no sun, for it was the middle of the night. But the sky was brighter than it normally would be during the brightest part of the day. Suddenly, painted all across the sky were multitudes and multitudes of blazing beings, all looking right at us! It was like the whole earth was full of this most amazing, unimaginable light.

They looked directly into our eyes, opened their mouths, and white flames shot out as they spoke words like nothing I’ve heard before, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests!”

They didn’t sing it. It was more like shouting. It was obvious that what was occurring this night caused an explosion that heaven, itself, could not contain. An explosion of great joy burst out of the heart of heaven and flooded the earth. Then, just as the way they all came, they left.
The sky was black. We couldn’t see for several minutes as our eyes needed to adjust once again to the darkness of the night. It was again silent. The sheep were strangely asleep back in the circle. It was like they never even awoke. We looked around to see if the largest being was still here, but he was gone, as well. It was just us—lonely and lowly shepherds who were chosen by the Dream Maker to hear the first news of the birth of the Chosen One, the Messiah.

I finally caught my breath and spoke, “We have to go! Bethlehem awaits us!”

“Bethlehem?” One of the shepherds was a little slow to grasp the words of the blazing beings in the sky. The others just stared at him until he understood, “Oh! The town of David! OK, but what about the sheep?”

“Do you not realize what just happened?” I said. “Did you not just see with your eyes what took place here? And you are worried about the sheep? If our God can do what He just
did with all those lights and colors and blazing figures shouting in the night sky, don’t you think He can take care of these sheep?”

We ran—our cloaks tucked into our belts. Our staffs were left behind us and glory was ahead. I had not sprinted like I did that night in all my life. I felt empowered, and I was far ahead of the rest.


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