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Resolved: Three Confessions

Happy 2013 typewriter
I made a 2013 New Year’s Resolution. Every day, I am going to make 3 confessions. They aren’t all confessions of sin, but they are all confessions of truth. I am following Jesus’ words: “the truth shall set you free.”

So every morning, I will make these 3 confessions of truth:

1.    I Will Remember My Name.
2.    I Will Confess My Attitude.
3.    I Will Name The Day.

I want to be free. But I see that I am not. I’ve entangled myself in all sorts of half-truths and lies. I don’t say what I mean; I don’t mean what I say. I make commitments that I am not gifted to do. I respond to gain approval. I keep quiet to avoid rejection. I don’t admit when I’m unhealthy. I don’t rejoice when life surges through me. I am entangled; vines of self-inflicted lies wrap around my feet. I want to be free.

So every morning, I will cut at the vines and say the truth – 3 of them.

I Will Remember My Name.

I’m 56. I’ve learned a thing or two about who I am. So every morning I will recall my name. I will pray it. I will say it out loud. Some mornings this will take the form of naming my gift(s); I am Writer. Some mornings it will take the form of naming a role I have chosen: I am Husband to Jean. And sometimes it will take the form of calling myself the secret name known only to God and myself; I am ___________.

This is the confession that God has made me. And if He made me – then He loves me. I am trying to admit that I have a place in the world – given to me by God. I have been invited to the adventure. I have a role and a place – how do I know? Because I have been named.

I Will Confess My Attitude

Every morning I wake up with an attitude. Sometimes grumpy, ungrateful and complaining. Sometimes open and kind. But I rarely confess it. I rarely call it out. When I don’t call it out – I empower the darkness on the one hand and quench the Spirit on the other.

This is the confession of the gift of responsibility. When I wake each day I must own where I am and what I am. If I deny the darkness swirling in me (resentment, unforgiveness, greed) then I will drive it underground to breed. If I deny the light dawning in me (wonder, happiness, excitement) then I will starve them. Sin grows in the dark, goodness grows in the light. Naming my attitude brings light into my heart.

I Will Name the Day

This confession admits the gift of freedom: I choose the direction that I will take my Name and my Attitude. It isn’t merely that I ‘have’ to choose, though this is true. Rather, I ‘get’ to choose.

I often operate as a victim – believing that I am controlled by external forces. And it is true that these forces affect my life (choices of others, culture, biological limits). But the larger truth is that I am King over the larger realm – the internal realm where God lives in me. Genetics may decide the shape and size of my nose, but I decide where to point it.    Every morning, I am granted the privilege of deciding where I will point my name (who I am) and my attitude (my experience). This is an awesome and dizzying freedom.

New Year Resolutions
So every morning, I will name my day. Here are a few examples of names I used so far; Offering, Work Day, Day to Notice Light, Trapped Feeling, Willing Day…etc. If you were to do it – you would name yours differently – perhaps poetically, perhaps practically. But either way – naming the day exercises freedom. And by exercising freedom, perhaps it will grow strong in me.

 

 

 

Roger Edwards photo


Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life.  He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.

Fresh Starts

Palmer_Fresh Start 3

I like fresh starts.  New semesters, new classes, new projects, new teams, new years – they all hold promise.  They all have hope.  I like beginning again.

Maybe this time I can get it right… or righter at least.  Maybe I can learn from past mistakes.  Maybe I will be a little more certain about what I want.  Maybe I can get better, do more, find more happiness or success.  Maybe.  I live, we all live so aware of the places we do it wrong or the places where it hasn’t worked out.  We want to think we could do it better or smarter if we could only…  So maybe this year…

Sometimes, “maybe” feels pretty good.  Sometimes I get a fresh infusion of hope and purpose.  And sometimes it really works.

We get a “do over” on January 1st.  Whether you do New Year’s Resolutions (who wants to fail again?) or not, there is something that changes with the calendar.

Now my problems don’t go away – my illness or job status or relational difficulties or even my weight.  My failures that led me into my predicaments don’t go away with the dropping of the ball in Times Square.  But, I get to start afresh in my attempts to deal with them.

How do we start fresh?  How do we seize this external opportunity when we know our internal reality?  How do we begin anew with the same old me?  Let me give you three simple thoughts.

1. “Behold, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone; the new has come. (II Corinthians 5:17)  Somehow that verse feels difficult to grasp every day (even though it is true everyday).  But once or twice a year, I get it.  God has forgiven me.  He really has wiped the slate clean on my sin.  I am not marked by my failures (even though there are still after-effects).  They don’t define me.  Even though my circumstances haven’t changed, I am a new man.  The Spirit has come to live in me.  His power is at my disposal, and I get a chance to lean into Him again, as one of His own.

2. My world is really the same as it was last year.  My circumstances carry over.  My track record is the same.  I still face the consequences of my failures last year.  I still have the same strengths and weaknesses to face them.  I live in the same world with the same name – and yet I am new.  I have resources that I haven’t figured out how to use.  Someone far bigger than me lives inside of me.  I have access to more power than I have used.  There is hope that I can be different and there is hope that He is with me.  Dare I hope for change?

3. Will I ask for courage and wisdom?  Courage is a needed, steady dose to swallow in order to believe that He really can change me and my world.  Courage is what I will need to hope – in Him and in the “new” me that He has made.  And wisdom is what I will need to do life differently.  Does that mean spending more time with God?  Working out?  Asking for help?  Somehow I have to take steps, often different ones, and I need wisdom and courage to take action.

.Palmer_Fresh pic 1 cropped
Happy New Year!  Or should I say “Hopeful New Year”?  He is alive.  You are new.  And you get a “do over” as a new person.  Here’s wishing you a fresh start with a fresh Spirit, and the courage to begin again!

 

..

.Palmer Trice


.
Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.

A Shepherd with Shades

Roger_Shepherds in fieldIf I had been a shepherd – out in my field, keeping watch over my flocks by night – I think I would have been a different kind of shepherd. For example, I would have been wearing sunglasses. I would have been a certain cool shepherd.

That way, when the glory of The Lord shone around, I would have been prepared. The King James Version describes those shepherds as ‘sore afraid’. But not me, with my darkened eyes, I would have been, ‘sure of myself’.  Those other shepherds were caught off guard and filled with fear. But not me, I live ‘on guard’. That way I don’t feel my fear.

So when the angel of the Lord exclaimed, “Fear Not!” I wouldn’t have been relieved. I would have, behind my lens, acted like I wasn’t afraid in the first place.

“Behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ The Lord.”

Well, first of all, if you are cool, guarded and committed to not feeling your fear, then you don’t respond with great joy to anything. It would totally compromise your stance. And secondly, if you have already saved yourself with a posture of nonchalance and detachment, then you don’t need a Savior. Instead, you respond to the idea of God’s Visitation in human form by thinking, “What an interesting metaphor.”

I wouldn’t have gone to Bethlehem in the middle of the night ‘to see this thing that has happened.” I would have waited for the online report.  I wouldn’t have seen Mary and Joseph and a baby, lying in a manger. And I wouldn’t have returned, glorifying and praising God.

I am too cool, too nuanced to let something like ‘God-in-human-form-coming-for-me’ actually get to me.

Roger_Bethlehem silhoutte
I would have missed the whole thing. All for the sake of showing that I don’t need anything. All for the sake of not being surprised. No – I cannot let myself be surprised. I cannot let myself be filled with anything. You see, if something fills me – then that would imply that I am empty inside. It would strongly suggest that I need.

And so there I stand in that quiet field, resolute and alone. I have succeeded. Nothing got past my plastic sunglasses. Nothing got inside me. How cool.

But sometimes, standing there alone in my cool success, I feel a little cold. And this little doubt arises – a small little voice deep in my chest. It bounces around inside me like an echo measuring a chamber. And despite myself, I begin to doubt my complete coolness. “What if I really am empty? What if there really is a space inside of me that I can’t fill?”

When I see the other shepherds returning – full of surprise, wonder and praise… well, I cannot suppress the question – “Is it too late for me to go to Bethlehem? Too late to face a Savior – without my sunglasses and with my need?”

Roger Edwards photo


Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life.  He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.

What Joseph Teaches Me About Forgiveness

Jason Gray Nativity revised copy

As I approached writing songs for each of the characters in the Christmas story, I was especially excited about looking into the story of Joseph. Most of my life I haven’t really known what to do with him and it seemed to me that he was more a part of the scenery—standing there without much to do—than he was a central character. As I spent time considering him, Joseph quietly emerged from the shadowy background I had relegated him to and I realized that I had failed to “see” him for the remarkable man that he was. This song was my chance to amend that. I enlisted my friend Andy Gullahorn, one of the most masterful storytellers I know, to explore a particular moment in Joseph’s story with me.

Taking my cue from Frederick Buechner’s book, “Peculiar Treasures,” in which he breathes new life into biblical characters who have grown so familiar to us that we no longer experience them as real human beings, I hoped to recapture some of the humanity of the people in the Christmas narrative. It was also important to me to try and write songs that were relevant beyond the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas day. I wanted to tell timeless human stories, and with Joseph we have the makings of just that with a love triangle, heartbreak, a question of revenge or forgiveness, and the age-old drama of fathers and sons.

As I read his part in the narrative, I found that more than just a foster parent without much to do (as he was often relegated to in my mind), Joseph is revealed as a man after God’s own heart. Faced not only with the news that his fiancée is pregnant, but also with her incredulous story of how it was God’s doing, Joseph’s character is tested and laid out for all of us to see. What will he do? Will he hurt the one who has hurt him? Will he forgive? This is his moment, and all of history waits and watches in wonder.

There are few things more painful than the betrayal and rejection by the one you love most, so we know it must have deeply wounded him—shattering the dreams he may have had of a future with the woman he loved. Pain is like a lightning bolt striking with a violent energy that can’t be held in the human heart for long. It looks for a way out. The way it usually passes through us is in the all too common progression of hurt turning into anger and then into vengeance. Unless the miracle of forgiveness takes place in a person’s heart to absorb it, the pain we experience will pass through us and be visited upon others.

There is debate as to whether it was within Joseph’s power to have her stoned—while Jewish custom might have allowed it, Roman rule did not. However, if not to her body, we know he still could have done violence to her reputation and her heart. But I believe that Joseph did the hard work of bringing his pain to God rather than letting it pass through him to others, and that God graced him with the miracle of forgiveness. The narrative tells us he was a “godly man” and that instead of doing her harm, “he decided to dismiss her quietly” so that she wouldn’t be publicly shamed. He took the full force of the blow and–acting as the husband he might have been–became a covering over her supposed sin.

It’s hard for us to experience the tension in Joseph’s story since, as the reader, we know from the start that she isn’t guilty of what he naturally supposes and that God is up to something beautiful that the world has never seen before. But to see Joseph for who he is, I have to remember that he couldn’t know these things in real time. It was only after he had given himself to the work and miracle of forgiveness that the angel appeared to him in a dream to tell him that what Mary had said was true after all, and that he should marry her.

It occurred to me that perhaps this is where Joseph’s heart was proven—if not to God who already knew his heart, then perhaps to himself. (I haven’t met a man yet who isn’t daunted by the responsibility of being a father, let alone a father to the Son of God. Maybe this was a test to reveal to Joseph what kind of man he could be.) In this moment he is found to be a man of mercy, which I imagine to be just the kind of man that God was looking for to be the earthly father of his son Jesus. In a way, we see that Joseph carries in his heart the same world changing power of forgiveness that Mary carried in her womb.

It’s also meaningful to me to think of how Joseph forgiving Mary is part of the story that leads to the birth of the savior in whom Joseph would find forgiveness for his own sins. Perhaps it’s the narrative form of Jesus’ teaching that as we forgive we find ourselves forgiven.

As we wrote the song, it was good to be reminded that forgiveness is a kind of miracle. I could be wrong, but I’m not sure that we can muster up forgiveness on our own. Have you ever tried to forgive someone? It seems to me to be a supernatural force of renewal that we participate in as we point our hearts toward it, pray for it, and make room for it in our lives, but that ultimately we receive as a gift from God, in his due time.

I imagine we all have someone in our lives to forgive, whether a friend, a spouse, a parent, or otherwise. While the Christmas season truly is the most wonderful time of the year, it can also stir up difficult memories—especially as we find ourselves spending time with people with whom we have unresolved conflict. My hope with this song was that as the season surfaces these kinds of wounds in us, Joseph’s story might help start an inner conversation with the Holy Spirit that might lead people to the healing miracle of forgiveness that God would like accomplish in our hearts.

May the miracle happen in me wherever un-forgiveness holds me captive!

Listen to the song here: 

Forgiveness Is A Miracle (A Song For Joseph)

Jason Gray / Andy Gullahorn
from the album “Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy”

Love can make a soul come alive
Love can draw a dream out of the darkness
And blow every door open wide
But love can leave you brokenhearted

Did she dare to look you in the eye
Did her betrayal leave you raging?
Did you let her see you cry
When she said the child was not your baby?

Pain can turn to anger then to vengeance
It happens time and again
Even in the best of men
It takes a miracle to save us

When love is like an open wound
There’s no way to stop the bleeding
Did you lose sleep over what to do?
Between what’s just and what brings healing

Pain can be a road to find compassion
When we don’t understand, and bring a better end
It takes a miracle to show us

Forgiveness is a miracle
A miracle
And a miracle can change your world
Forgiveness is a miracle

An angel in a dream spoke into your darkest night
So you trusted in the Lord and you took her as your wife
But the forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you
Because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb

Love was in a crowded barn
There you were beside her kneeling
You held it in your arms
As the miracle started breathing

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
And a miracle will change your world
Forgiveness is the miracle

Forgiveness is the miracle
The miracle
A miracle will save the world
Forgiveness is the miracle

You can buy Christmas Stories: Repeat the Sounding Joy here

Jason Gray HeadshotJason Gray is a singer-songwriter whose music has taken him from intimate venues to sharing the stage with some of Contemporary Christian Music’s biggest artists, but his onstage candor and honest songwriting connects him to audiences across the country, night after night. After growing up as a chronic stutterer in an abusive home, Jason developed a passion for telling honest stories about weakness through his songs and encouraging people to let go of shame and remember their identity in Christ. He spent nearly a decade as an indie artist before signing with Centricity Music in 2007, and is a contributor to The Rabbit Room. Jason lives in Minnesota with his wife Taya and three sons.

Shalom at Advent

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free.

From our fears and sins, release us; let us find our rest in thee.”

Charles Wesley

This fall I had the chance to retreat with friends to the mountains of North Carolina.  We ate good food, visited, laughed and I, for one, was able to deeply rest.  We sat under the teaching of a winsome woman who asked us to remember and to watch for Jesus’ presence in our current days.

Our first task was to  remember a picture of “shalom” from our childhoods –  some time and place where we felt deeply that all was well and all would be well, some time and place where we were hushed internally, or filled with wonder, or just content with who we were and how we were.  Then we were to come back and share this with the group.  I sat in my small group, listening to stories of innocence, joy, and security and I saw my friends’ eyes dance and light up as they invited me to remember with them.

In my young life, the Advent season was a time and place of restful peace.  I could lean upon this being true all year, and if I am honest, I still find myself leaning now.  Details from these Christmas seasons  still live so strongly in my memory that they often haunt me, in a beautiful way.  My  family  gathered at my grandparents’ small farm  during the days leading up to Christmas.  My grandfather worked to create and invite wonder and made it a place where I was free to anticipate.  There were candlelit services and a congregation singing “Silent Night” as we filed out of the chapel into the courtyard into the black, cold night with only our voices and our candles.   There were adults who knew and cared about my hopes for the season, and about my need for wonder, peace, and a baby born to rescue.

Candles for Meredith post

When did it begin to feel foolish to rest, to experience “shalom?” When did I, did we, conclude that the wiser path was to live braced, gripping, running? I was struck by how far back most of us had to go to get to a memory of deep and restful peace.  For each woman in my circle, at some point, her peace was taken, lost, either in a jolting way or by a slow toughening that prodded her to enter the real world of adulthood.

This still happens to us, even though we’re no longer children.  We live in and out of moments, maybe even seasons, of peace, that seem to always be interrupted by reasons to fear again. Rejection, diagnoses we did not want, loneliness, people who we cannot fix and for whom we ache, all seem to carry with them the whisper that the only answer is to live afraid, to leave behind the leaning.  Fear seems so adult, so rational; trust seems so childish.

Listen, with me, to the beautiful interruption of these words in 1 Corinthians, of this truth: “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise.”  A dependent baby, born to rescue us, intruded on our intrusions.  His interruption into this place came in the darkness of night, in a poor country, to an overwhelmed woman.  And His arrival puts to rest the power behind our frightening and toughening interruptions.  Many of us will be walking through this Advent season in really difficult places. Rest may feel foolish, or just impossible to recover. And yet, we can lean, as children. We can afford to enter into moments of wonder, quiet, free laughter, and deep peace because our “shalom” has been bought and is being given back by the Child who is King.

Meredith The Nativity cropped

meredith

Meredith Spatola joined The Barnabas Center on staff in January 2009, upon completing her Masters in Counseling from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and her bachelors in Religion and Psychology from Furman University.  She counsels, leads women’s groups and teaches a seminar called “Hope in the Darkness” for those walking with individuals suffering from depression or bipolar disorder.  Meredith, her husband Jon, and daughter Charlotte live in Rock Hill, SC.

Best Gifts: Grace Upon Grace

“At Grandmama’s house…I can have ezer. I. want!” – (translated: “At grandmama’s house I can have whatever I want.”  This was a claim I felt entitled to as a spoiled, four-year-old little girl, and this is something that my family likes to remind me of often.  It was true though; I felt delighted in and loved so much that I began to feel entitled to it as well as accustomed to it.  Emma Jo’s daily vocabulary towards most and specifically towards her grandbabies consisted of “Well, honeys,” “Sure, darlins,” and “Precious ones.”  While she exuded Southern charm, her love was genuine and those words authentic, far from anything fake or empty.  Both she and my granddad loved to spoil my sister and me, especially around the holidays.  Their love and gifts allowed me to receive and believe in their delight in me.

Christmas-presents_Mollie

She always lavished good and thoughtful gifts on everyone and always fulfilled all our favorite things from our Christmas “wish lists.”  Her generosity extended from gift giving to the way she served and cared for those around her.  She marked little traditions that provided a comfort and excitement about the holidays which beckoned a season of celebration.  Whether it was coffee cake on Christmas morning, hearing her sing, “It’s beginning to look-a-lot-like Christ-mas…” as she fluttered around the kitchen, making the grandchildren sit atop the stairs until all the adults reached their coffee fill in the morning before present opening, or the way she carefully attended each conversation, she provided a warmth, a welcoming, a security, and an unwavering joy.  I felt delighted in and special because of her.  I adored this woman.  She was a woman of God who consistently pursued her relationship with the Lord and from whom I learned a great deal about faith.

She passed away my freshman year of college.  Without her and with changes in family and in life in general, or perhaps due to the inevitable fact of getting older, some of the comfort, joy, delight, and excitement of the holiday season has dissipated.  The holidays can now leave me with a taste of reality, the finite, yet a thirst for something more.  I do not hope for or anticipate the material gifts as much as I once did.  Through the years there have been different kinds of losses which have made family smaller and the togetherness feel less…well, together.  I think this tends to happen to most of us, if not all of us, as we grow up.  Hardships and changes can numb us to the gifts and joys of the season, making the holidays feel less exciting over time.   Brokenness and limitations reaches all of us and appears different to all of us as well. Loss and grief can cloud our “seeing” of the good things, even around such a joyous season.

A friend recently enlightened me to the truth that I do not trust in God’s promises to me or believe that He gives good gifts.  Through the years, my hope and anticipation of material gifts has dwindled.  Strange how it was not always about the tangible gift, but it was more about the feelings of hope, anticipation, and love gained from a bow-topped box.  It was knowing that I was thought of and loved in the purchase and cost of that gift.  These days, I find that a lot of that is lost and that feeling delighted in can feel foreign.  I hated this to be true about myself.  I want to trust and believe in His promises.  I want to fully grasp the cost of Him sending Jesus, and I want to consider the thoughtfulness in Him sending Him the way He did.  I want to be reminded of the true Joy of this season and fully receive the best gift ever given.  I want to know and understand His delight in me.  For what better and lasting gift is there than Jesus?  What would it look like to live out of that place, of utter delight, and not just in December but all the time?  To remember and anticipate all the other blessings and glimpses of redemption that is to be forever seen soon and very soon.  So, this season I hope for it to be different.  I hope to trust and know there is only One who desires to give good, true, and lasting gifts to His children.  One who provides warmth, welcoming, joy and delight.  God delights in us so much that He gives the ultimate gift of grace and salvation by giving us Jesus.    “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” – John 1:16.  ‘Tis the season to reflect on this gift and the implication He has on our lives.

Grace verse Mollie

Mollie Johnston photo

Mollie Johnston moved to Charlotte from Tennessee to pursue her master’s in Counseling at Gordon-Conwell and currently works as the receptionist for The Barnabas Center.

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