Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Glorious Fall!

I thank God for the artistry of the seasons, especially fall.

It wasn’t always that way. I used to hate the fall. That all changed, some years ago now, when one of the most difficult times of life for me began as August drew to a close. Summer had always been my favorite season. I guess that started back when summer heat signaled freedom: freedom from teachers, schedules, and routines. Summer meant swimming pools and baseball, driving late at night with the windows down and Van Halen playing too loudly on the old Kenwood. We’d play whiffle ball in the park behind the house and we’d all keep our home run stats and batting averages for the season. So from childhood on, fall symbolized sadness for me, an abrupt ending to the joy of rest and play.

So I distinctly remember when life fell apart at a time that coincided with summer’s end. I recall praying to God and telling him that I didn’t know if on top of all the pain I was feeling that I could handle grey skies and a depressing fall. Now I’m fully aware that God didn’t change the weather because of me, but I did experience the most wonderful and paradoxical joy that year: the most glorious fall I’d ever seen, juxtaposed against the darkest emotional despair of my life. The skies were so blue you could drink them. The trees were ablaze with color. I’ll never forget the golden-clad oak that towered in front of my apartment. I deliberately went out several times a day just to see that tree that stood like a masterpiece on the canvas of the Virginia sky. It was as if God were saying, “Even in the midst of the Great Darkness of your life, I will paint for all creation reminders of hope and the restoration of all things.” I heard the Gospel in the rustle of trees that year and I witnessed God reclaiming my soul in the autumn skies. And I’ve needed to hear that sacred song and see heaven’s display many times since.

I thank my God for the artistry of the seasons.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Covenant Prayer

I came across this great prayer of surrender recently by John Wesley. It fits so much the need for complete dependence on God in these uncertain times:

I am no longer my own but yours.

Your will, not mine, be done in all things,
wherever you may place me,
in all that I do and in all that I may endure;
when there is work for me and when there is none;
when I am troubled and when I am at peace.

Your will be done
when I am valued and when I am disregarded;
when I find fulfillment and when it is lacking;
when I have all things, and when I have nothing.

I willingly offer all I have and am to serve you,
as and where you choose.

Glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours,
may it be so for ever.

Let this covenant now made on earth be fulfilled in heaven.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tomato Seeds

In a moment of inspiration, my beloved bride, Melanie, wrote these thoughts last week. As always, she moved me, from simple imagery to profound meaning. I post this to honor my heart's companion and best friend. Thank you sweetheart!

I was able to visit my 88 year old Grandmother in Richmond recently. She gave me a gift. A half ripened tomato from her garden. I held it as if it were the greatest gift and told her I would "treasure it forever!" We laughed...

This single tomato made the trip from Virginia to Tennessee and it sat on my window sill for a week or so, ripening in the bright TN sun. I smiled each time I saw it as I remembered our visit. I hesitated to slice it and eat it, for then the gift would be gone. And that got me thinking...seeds! I would make this a true "heirloom tomato." I would save the seeds from this delicious tomato and use them to grow more of this delectable treat next summer and I would remember her sweet gift each time one was harvested from the garden. As I was scraping out the seeds from this lone tomato, another thought occurred to me...

"Wow, there are SO MANY!" I thought of God's creation and how amazing that from this one small tomato that THOUSANDS and THOUSANDS more could be produced. The exponential impact that this one small tomato could have boggles the mind. From one, comes many. This is not only true of tomatoes, but I thought of other fruits and vegetables produced by God. Watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers, oranges etc...We often view these seeds as a nuisance... an annoyance to our enjoyment of the sweetness that lies within...

What if instead of discarding these seeds into the trash, what if I treasured them as I should? What if I saw them for the potential that they are? LIFE! Especially in a world where starvation is rampant and apathy reigns...

I thought, "How simple!" Starvation around the world could be impacted to a great degree if we only saved the seeds that we simply discard as trash. You only need soil, seeds, water and sun. But then it hit me, you also need time. It is this element that is most vital...TIME...I don't take the TIME. The potential is there, I just don't make the effort. What a waste!! If only we saved the thousands of discarded seeds and used them to produce life what an impact we could have on our world locally and globally. Landfills are literally filled with rotting potential for life...

God somehow whispered a spiritual lesson to me in all of this as well. That is usually the point, but the noise of my world often deafens me.

Each of us, as small and seemingly insignificant as a tomato seed, can produce life and have a huge impact on our world both physically and spiritually. We can produce ripples through the lives of others like a pebble tossed into a pond on a cool Fall morning.

We just need to take the time...

-Melanie Barham

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lance Armstrong, Bono and World Redemption

Ok, I start by Googling “Tour de France” to see where Lance is in the standings. There’s a link to an article about Africa by one of my favorite modern “saints” and thirty mintues later this came out...

Lately I find myself craving tangible signs of redemption. As I say that, I’m only too well aware that Jesus warned “a wicked and adulterous generation” that no sign would be given them except “the sign of Jonah” (Mt. 16:4). I don’t think my longing is one of rebellious unbelief, though: I’m in this faith-thing for the long haul. I do choose to trust the God who already displayed his sign-language at the Red Sea, Cross and Empty Tomb. He doesn’t owe me anything and he certainly doesn’t need to prove anything after that. I’m with this God who raises the dead. But I must admit, it is so refreshing to see tangible expressions of God’s new life working in the dark places of our world. I long to see Jesus respond to us as he did to John’s disciples: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Lk. 7:22).

In his kindness, I must say, God has responded to this longing. Not as often, or as neatly, or as predictably as I would like. But I am so grateful for the places I have seen his fingerprints and have heard the whispers of his presence lately. I have seen the audacity of faith proclaimed by his people in the host of funerals our church has had to endure in recent days. I have seen and heard the miracle of life in the words of a friend and the smile of a baby that all of the doctors said would not be alive today. And then this afternoon, I came across the words of one of my favorite prophets, Bono, who testifies about redemption on a societal scale on the very continent which has witnessed unspeakable brutality and death (see the article “Rebranding Africa” at

No, these glimpses do not quench my soul’s thirst for this world to be different than it is. But at least today, I find these hints of grace awakening hope that the promise really is true: “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed” (Rom. 8:18).

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Simple. Practical. Real. I’ve been preparing recently for a series coming up in about a month that will help our church family rediscover the power and beauty of the classic spiritual practice of Scripture reading and reflection. For me, so many approaches to Bible reading I’ve heard over the years are either so boring or too complex to be an ongoing, meaningful practice. I’ve found what works best for me is always the simplest and most natural things.

That’s why I like the simple approach to Scripture reading that my friend and mentor, John Mark Hicks put me on to. He writes about it in his blog: Here’s the approach he suggests, taken from Stu Cameron, using the acronym S-O-A-P:

S-Scripture: prayerfully read and reflect on a section of scripture, with the expectation of one who wants to know God’s heart. You might even write out the text word for word in a journal, as a way of focusing your attention.

O-Observe: note any significant words, phrases, ideas, or images that connect with you. I like the questions Paul Watson gives here: what does this passage reveal about God and about humanity? I also like how he will write out a simple summary of the message in his own words, as if he’s sharing it with a friend over coffee.

A-Apply: ask God to reveal how this passage needs to impact our lives. What needs to change, what needs to begin, what needs to stop—what would it look like to live this truth?

P-Pray: simply respond to what God has revealed in his Word; it is a conversation after all. It could be thanks for a promise or grace given, a confession for falling short, a request for strength to endure or to change, or any number of things.

You can see Stu’s full explanation of this at I really like this approach. It’s refreshingly simple. I tried journaling using this model today in my reading of 2 Samuel 7:22-24, as I’m reading through the David story.

Scripture: “How great you are, Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears. And who is like your people Israel—the one nation on earth that God went out to redeem as a people for himself, and to make a name for himself…”

Observations: God’s uniqueness is one thing that makes him so astounding. Unlike all of the imposters in my life that contend for my devotion, this God is real. He actually delivers on the promises he makes (fulfillment, power, enduring joy). He offers so much more than the emptiness and shame that follows the momentary thrill of the idols of our age. His uniqueness also restores our own sense of worth. God has chosen to show up at the Cross, the Red Sea, and throughout history. When he does, it’s always to rescue and to relate to real, everyday people. And this gives people like you and me infinite worth.

Application & Prayer: I ask you, my God and King, to direct my full attention and devotion to you alone. By your grace, I will seek to practice this devotion by putting “my treasure” of time, focus, energy, and money where you want my heart to go. I also ask you to help me consciously define my worth by what you have already done, not by my performance at work or in any other superficial value system. Also, please enable me to see and treat others with this vision of worth as well, as they are priceless in your eyes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I was reminded this past weekend of the power of simple moments. Because of the all the busyness that unfortunately surrounded the days leading up to Easter, I figured I owed my children a serious block of uninterrupted time, doing the things that are special to them. So, it began leaving work a little early Friday afternoon and taking David biking in the dirt and “off the main path.” We climbed hills, scaled rocks, made skid marks in the dirt and raced around the track where David proudly declared “the Cowboys play, even in Tennessee” (the Franklin Cowboys, of course, but all he sees is the star). It was one of those Spring days when the air literally tastes good—which for me is a symbol in the lungs of what times like this do for my soul.

Later that evening, I took Christine on a daddy-daughter “date night” to see one of her favorite stories—The Miracle Worker performed at the Boiler Room in Franklin. We munched popcorn, met some new friends waiting in line, played games on my iPhone at intermission, and laughed over the silliest things. I caught myself fighting back nostalgia even before the moment was over because I realized as I watched one little girl on stage discover a new world of language and hope, I was watching the one next to me grow up before my eyes.

In the morning, it was Luke’s turn for one-on-one time and we discovered a trail near our house we’d never seen before. As we hiked through woods, “climbed trees,” and jumped over creek-water, a longing arose in me to see the world again through his eyes—to remember what it was like to be content with nothing more than a truck in one hand and dad’s palm in the other. To remember a time when going around the block was like Louis and Clark mapping new territory. And, just for a moment, I think I did.

Then as Luke settled down for a nap, there was still time left in the day for Christine, David and I to hike Radnor Lake—a proper finale to the best twenty-four hours I’ve spent in months.

I sat down later to reflect with my beautiful bride, sharing with her the images of these delightful excursions. We committed ourselves again to the wisdom we’ve known for years, but so often forget—life is made up of these priceless moments that exist only now, and soon will be gone. Or, as God himself said more beautifully in Scripture: “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for people to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives people wealth and possessions, [and time] and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their lives, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart" (Ecclesiasties 5:18-20). Thank you so very much, my God in Heaven, for the gift of these moments with my loved ones. Please enable us to treasure the gift of time we have while we have it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Easter Challenge

Well, once again this past Sunday, we members of the Jesus community got to vocalize the greatest announcement in history: “Christ the Lord is risen today!” Yes, the story has been told before—but it never gets old to me: we get to worship a man who wouldn’t stay dead! This is vividly personal for me as it means that whatever is dead in my life doesn’t have to remain lifeless and empty: the darkness in my heart; the failures in my past and present; my father’s grave; my friends’ marriage; our world’s future… The list of places that cry out for resurrection’s hope is endless.

But I thought I’d focus this week on the challenge a friend of mine, Jesse Baker, presented recently: can the reality of Easter actually make a difference, actually be made visible, in the gathering of the people of God? His challenge is much richer than that line actually, so I invite you to read it on his blog of April 5, titled “Easter”: The lines that continue to work on me are these: “I would argue that the congregation, not the preacher, bears the burden of stepping up to the plate on Easter Sunday. This is the time of year when the people on the ‘outside’ will come to us... the people who are disenfranchised by the machine that the church has become are walking through its doors, maybe for the only time this year, maybe for the only time in their lives. So what are we going to do? Leave the cheesy small-talk and your penny-loafers at home... be authentic. The church should look different on Easter Sunday... there should be a Joy and a thankfulness among the people that spills over the aisles from pew to pew, heart to heart.”

Now, these words resonate with me, not because it “lets me off the hook” as a preacher-type. Quite the opposite: it places the challenge on me (and the rest of us), simply by being members of a congregation of Christ-followers. So, it’s a simple question I will carry with me: will we proclaim the Easter message with our lives, in our gatherings, and in our going-about-in-the-world and not just with our mouths? That said, I certainly don’t want to diminish this simple but life-changing proclamation either. But for that, let me direct you again to Jesse’s blog entry “risen” on Monday, April 13.

Blessings in your life and journey this week!

“He is risen indeed!”

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Game On

I have always enjoyed sports, games and other avenues of friendly competition. I must admit, though, that these can be places that reveal just how far short from God’s character I still am. I can think of far too many times in the past when the “friendly” part of the competition all but disappeared and my attitude stole the joy of the game. I recently came across a section in Basil Pennington’s book Centering Prayer that reveals what is at the heart of this battle:

Most of us have to struggle with a very poor self-image—sometimes more, sometimes less. Negative attitudes toward ourselves have been programmed into us by negative feedback from parents, teachers, and others all along the course of our lives. In many cases, we have tried to hide this even from ourselves by the false self-image we have constructed—that fragile thing that calls for much defensive care. In other cases we let the negativity dominate much of our sense of self.

When we can realize that all such judgments are being made in the light of false norms, false evaluations of what truly constitutes our worth as human persons, we can let those negative judgments and feelings go. When we experience our true beauty and worth in God’s creative and adoptive love, the negativity we are tempted to feel about ourselves melts away and gives place to joy and freedom. Secure in our own true worth, we no longer need to be competitive or jealous or stand on the head of the other to bolster our slumping ego. We can stand in the crowed and not be lost, because we know we are uniquely the object of a divine Love (126-27).

This makes sense. In the barrage of our performance-driven culture, we grasp the most fragile foundations on which to ground some sense of self-worth. Pennington reveals a more secure footing—the immeasurable Love of the Father, Son and Spirit. So I long for this God to reveal himself in such a way that I increasingly find my worth simply in being the object of His delight. As he himself has said, “God’s pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the speed of a runner; but the Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love” (Psalm 147:10-11).