Mpact—Honoring Pastor Michael Barrett

Just a few months ago when Pleasant Garden Baptist Church called me to follow Mike Barrett as pastor, I couldn’t have imagined the impact he would have on me in such a short period of time. I have been blessed to be around and serve with many good and godly pastors along the way. Until July 2018, I had never been around one quite like Mike Barrett.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been around any Christian with less pretense than him. He epitomizes Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” He has lived this way because he wants only Jesus honored. In fact, I paid him a public compliment not long after I arrived. He pulled me off a day later and whispered, “Please don’t do that. Just lift up Jesus.”

I know I’ve never been around anyone with the energy and metabolism of Mike. Diet Mountain Dew, a couple pieces of chocolate, and a go-go-go energy has bounced all around Greensboro and the Pleasant Garden community and even worldwide on mission trips where he’s scattered Jesus’ love everywhere he’s been.

I have loved being around someone with such a playful joy. I hadn’t even begun at the church officially when he welcomed me into the fraternity of “Robert, it’s your fault!” A table the staff was moving took out a rear truck window and with a smirk on his face and twinkle in his eye, he immediately blamed me. I wasn’t near it at the time, so I asked him, “Mike, how you figure it was my fault? I wasn’t anywhere around.” With playful glee he chuckled, “That’s why! If you’d been there, it wouldn’t have happened!”

What I couldn’t have imagined when my family and I arrived was the quick, deep, and prayer-shaped friendship we would develop in only a few short months. Weekly, we’ve gathered to pray together, for each other, and for our respective ministry futures. He’s walked me through many of his approaches to ministry. He’s let me talk. He’s given encouragement and direction. He’s also done something that I respect tremendously and know must not have been easy. While we’ve overlapped, he’s taken steps back more and more to let me lead. For the pastor, shepherd, preacher, and leader of 31 years to step behind me while he’s led and served so faithfully and admirably has been perhaps his greatest gift to me. He’s set me up for such success. Why? Well, take a look back at that first trait—no pretense.

In our celebration of his tenure, we outlined our service with the acronym, “Mpact,” calling attention to the mark he’s left on countless people through “missions,” “prayer,” “action,” “compassion,” and “truth” in his pastorate at Pleasant Garden. I know this. He’s made and indelible mpact on me. If, 30 plus years from now, I have had half the influence of Michael Barrett, I’ll have considered myself immeasurably successful in ministry.

As he transitions from Pleasant Garden Baptist this week to a new season as our local missions strategist, I’m looking forward to watching his future ministry grow even more. I know this: wherever he serves, he will leave an mpact. And a slew of chocolate wrappers, an empty Diet Mountain Dew bottle or two, and a string of people who’ve come to know Jesus because of his work.

Thanks Mike for your mpact!

Switching Seats

As a kid, I rarely, if ever gave much thought to driving. I just knew we would climb into our family van and go. But as a teen, something switched. Like many teenage boys, I began to appreciate my dad’s aggressive driving habits and tense as my mom creeped along the road. Like my dad, when I thought of driving myself, I knew I wanted to fly.

Then driver’s ed happened. The rules of the road were pounded into a full room of eager, juvenile, immature soon-to-be drivers. Our instructor did his best, but he certainly had his work cut out for him. I read about one driver’s ed student who, when told to put the car in “passing gear” by the instructor, shifted up to the big “P” slamming the car to a hard stop. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the experience surely turned into an excellent teaching moment for the instructor moving forward! While nothing quite that exciting happened in our class, rookie drivers may just bring such dramatic, and traumatizing, possibilities.

I can still recall those first few times switching seats. Exhilaration. Nervousness. An exceptionally heavy foot. (Wait. That last one didn’t happen until AFTER I passed the class.)

The perspective’s different in the driver’s seat. So is the responsibility.

In late June, I accepted the call to Pleasant Garden Baptist Church and began serving there with the outgoing Sr. Pastor, Michael Barrett in mid-July. I moved from an Associate Pastor’s role to a Sr. Pastor’s position.

I switched seats. The perspective’s different and so is the responsibility.

But here’s the best thing. The Instructor is better than any driving teacher I’ve ever had. God says to those who look to Him for guidance and direction,

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Psalm 32:8

I’m glad I switched seats. I’m enjoying the change in perspective and responsibilities. But oh, how grateful I am for the wise, faithful, diligent, guidance of the Instructor. Without Him, I’d be more clueless and lost than that teen who thought the “P” on the steering column meant “pass.” Just like when I began driving, I’m sure to make a mistake or two (or ten) along the way. But with God guiding our way with His watchful eye, I’m hopeful we’re more likely to avoid running red lights, crashing on the brakes, or other such “rookie” mistakes in the driver’s seat.

What Can You See?

How’s your vision? Do you need a eye check? What can you see?

“Can you read that lowest line for me?” My eye doctor had just adjusted the lens correction for my new contact prescription.

E D F C Z P

I could read every one. Prescription updated. Vision check success.

My optometrist has each and every necessary tool to look into my eyes and check them. Lights. Some red. Som white. Lenses. Drops. All this specialized equipment to give me a vision check.

That recent appointment has had me thinking, “What can I see spiritually?” And as I did, I realized, the One who created our eyes has placed tools before us to check our spiritual vision.

2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. 5 And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.” 8 And suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them but Jesus only.

Mark 9:2-8

These verses are overflowing with truth for us, but for our purposes here, I only want to highlight two key tools God uses to give us spiritual vision check. First, he sometimes breaks our routine so we see Jesus more clearly. Jesus took his three closest disciples with him on the mountain to include them in reveal they needed to see. This Transfiguration was all about Jesus’ identity. His power. His glory. His preeminence. His authority. His lordship. His might. Are You in an unusual place? Is life a bit unsettled now? Have some unexpected trials come your way? Is your routine out of kilter? Look. Pay attention. God’s quite possibly trying to show you a fresh glimpse of Jesus.

Second, when you do begin to see what God’s doing around you, don’t miss the Savior for the salve. Don’t mistake the miracle for the Miracle worker. Don’t be distracted by the grand expression of God’s involvement in your life that you miss God altogether. Standing right there. In front of you.

That was Peter’s mistake. He saw Jesus. And Moses and Elijah. He saw Jesus transfigured and two heroes with him. In the shock and grandness of God’s power, he made a mistake we are prone to as well. He took his attention and allegiance off of Jesus for the briefest of moments. So God gently corrected him. “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”

Back to the eye doc. After I read each of those letters, the thought never crossed my mind to thank the large, metal lens contraption she had just removed from in front of my face. I did not—even one time—consider thanking the bright, white light she had just used to peer into my eyes only a minute before. Nor did I contemplate thanking the letters on the wall for being bright and visible. But I did thank her. The doc. The expert who used each tool to help me see each letter deserved my appreciation.

It’s not the tools we thank. It’s the Doc. How’s your vision? Do you need a eye check? What can you see? When you finish the exam, remember, it matters most if you see Jesus. And when you do, thank him for it.

What I’ve Learned from Old Man Job and Dear Saint Paul

I’m currently experiencing a season of obvious, visible blessing from the rich storehouses of God’s mercy and grace. God has been expressively pouring out one clear example of his goodness after another upon me and my family. We are floating in a sea of joyful goodness. We are basking in the warm glow of generous grace. We are dining at a full table and drinking from an overflowing cup.

As God’s kindness has wrapped us up and carried us along in this season of life, I’ve repeatedly told my wife, “Oh, I don’t want to take anything for granted! I don’t want to miss one thing! I don’t want to be ungrateful for any one piece!” In so many ways, grateful joy and expressive rejoicing has been easy in this season of life for us.

As I’ve contemplated all these wonderful blessings, God has reminded me of two truths I need to keep close at hand, one from Old Man Job and the other from Dear Saint Paul. First, he’s recalled to my attention that he gives and takes away. Both blessings and trials pass by his throne room for permission. Our circumstances do not change his authority—or his praiseworthiness—one bit.

In my Bible reading, I just finished the book of Job. God gave to Job. Then, God took away from him. God allowed Satan to remove his wealth, his children, and his health (see Job 1-2). As he wrestled with the experiences of loss and the arrogant (and ignorant) correction of three friends, he defended his own righteousness and integrity (see chapters 3-37 for the back and forth between Job and his friends). But when God began to question him (chapters 38-40), reminding Job of his tiny place in the great providence of his creation, Job concluded,

3 …”Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? 4 I lay my hand on my mouth. 5 I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

‭‭Job‬ ‭40:3-5‬ ‭ESV

Two chapters later, after another round of God’s sovereign correction (chapters 40-41), Job again responded,

2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. 4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ 5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

‭‭Job‬ ‭42:2-6‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The only response we should ever have to God is submissive repentance and expressive praise. Job’s circumstances, even in their most dire, didn’t justify any other reply.

Which leads me right to the second lesson God has been taking me back through.

Rejoice always.

1 Thessalonians 5:16

Right now, for me, it’s easy to rejoice. Just about every circumstance is “good” by how we typically look at “good” and “bad” in human terms.

Paul had read the book of Job though. Paul had lived on top of the mountain and deep down in the valley (see Philippians 4:11-13). Paul had been honored by the lips of men and pelted by their stones too (see Acts 14:19-23). He knew trial, tragedy, and terror (see 2 Corinthians 11:16-33). This man, who knew life at both extremes, commands, “Rejoice always.”

Always. There’s no wiggle room in that word. No exclusions. No exemptions. No exceptions. Paul commands us to rejoice regardless of the circumstances, the trials, or the difficulties. He commands us to rejoice when we want to rejoice and when we don’t want to rejoice. Like Job, Paul had learned that whatever shapes our “always” never affects God’s worthiness. Like Job, Paul knew God’s sovereign power and great majesty deserve our joyful worship when God gives and when God takes away.

Tomorrow may be a different day for me. I assure you, I’ve had days when his visible goodness wasn’t quite like this season now. I, like Job, have justified my “righteousness” in trying times only to have God remind me that I will never hold him accountable. It’s as if Dear Saint Paul looked into Old Man Job’s story and concluded, “Let’s just bypass that whole self-pity or self-justification stage altogether. Rejoice always. Yep. That’ll do it.”

Are things good? Rejoice! Are things not-so-good? Rejoice! Either way, God’s worthy of it! Always!