Christmas and Baby Boys


It is a Christmas kind of day today. We got our “live” Christmas tree yesterday, I wrapped it in lights this morning and we will attack it with ornaments this evening. After 35 years of marriage we have lots of ornaments. The tree doesn’t have a choice, it will be made festive.

After lunch today we went to the new Pacific City shopping center in Huntington Beach, the one near the pier that overlooks the waves and sand from across Pacific Coast Highway. Sunny 80 degree days don’t feel very Christmas-y, but shopping and a gingerbread cupcake helped our holiday moods.

Our moods took a huge turn for the better as we returned to our car and prepared to head home. My wife’s cell phone rang. It was our son asking if they could stop by our house for a quick visit after they took our grandson to Pacific City to get his picture taken with Santa. “We’re at Pacific City now!” was Lisa’s smiling reply. In just a few minutes the arrival of a little boy was going do make our day infinitely better.

We made a u-turn and headed back up the escalator. 15 minutes later my Grandson was in my arms. Lisa and I took turns holding him while mom and dad shopped, and then we walked over to see Santa. We took several thousand pictures as Charlie sat in Santa’s lap. The “who the heck are you” look on his face as he stared at Santa’s beard was priceless. I found myself thinking that our grandson is the best Christmas present we could have hoped for.

After we arrived home I sat down to prepare a Christmas lesson to teach in church tomorrow. As I reviewed the story of the shepherds in Luke’s gospel I was reminded of how the arrival of another child, a different little boy, came to bring joy to the entire world. I realized that my grandson is actually the second-best Christmas present, that the greatest present at Christmas is the gift that God Himself gave us over 2000 years ago.

I pray that as I teach tomorrow I will honor the wonder of that gift, and that in these next two weeks before Christmas I will have opportunity to share with others the blessings that Christmas brings. 


Thanks for reading and sharing, and to all who subscribe to the blog. Comments and questions are welcomed. I can be followed on Twitter @bartbarrettmd.





The Most Expensive Wedding Cake Ever.


Wedding cakes are awesome. Most of the time. They are usually beautiful, almost always delicious, and a highlight of the reception. One wedding cake however, a cake that was never even made, is at the center of an argument surrounding the role of government in regulating religious faith. An argument summed up in a simple question- Where does religious life end and secular life begin?

To devout Christians with a Biblical worldview the question is absurd on its face. Committed believers know there is no distinction to be made and no line to be drawn. Our faith in Christ is at the center of every part of our lives. The Apostle Paul made this clear in his letter to the church at Corinth when he wrote, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Paul’s “whatever” is an all inclusive term. It is not limited to works done in church or done in formal Christian service. It applies to how we conduct our relationships, the words we speak, and the jobs we perform.

This consistency along the continuum of religious life played a crucial role in the Protestant reformation. 500 years ago, Martin Luther launched the reformation with a notice posted on the door of a church in Germany. While his emphasis on faith, personal relationship with God and the right of individuals to read and know scripture changed the way people understood religion, his teaching on vocation had a profound impact on culture outside the church.

Prior to Luther the Catholic church considered vocation, or divine calling to service, as applying only to those serving in full time ministry. Monks, priests and nuns were called, farmers, bakers and laborers were not. Luther changed this. He taught that people were called to serve God and live for him in the work they did outside the church. He supported this position in his famous teaching that a priest could not give a poor man a loaf of bread unless the farmer first sowed the seed, teaching that faithfully fulfilling the duties of one’s job was a way people honored God and furthered His kingdom.

Luther’s teaching had two major impacts. The first was in the way it gave honor and value to the work of every man. For the first time in centuries poor people were taught that their work had worth in the eyes of God. The second was in the way people viewed work itself. Everyday labor was now a divine call, which meant people needed to perform their work in a manner consistent with their faith. There was no room for halfhearted effort, dishonesty or compromise. People knew they would one day give account to God for the work they did. They knew they had to approach work differently because of their faith.

500 years have passed and the question of faith and work is still being debated. On the morning of Tuesday, December 5th, the question will be argued before the highest court in the land. On one side will be a man who believes that his work is the expression of his faith and must therefore be fully consistent with it. On the other are those that say faith must yield to culture in the marketplace. Whichever way it rules, the Supreme Court decision in the case of Masterpiece Cake Shop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission will have profound consequences.

Jack Phillips is a Christian baker in Colorado who views his work as did Martin Luther, as an expression of his Christian faith. He takes this attitude seriously, so much so that he refuses to make cakes for Halloween, refuses to make cakes celebrating divorce, refused to work on Sundays, and refuses to make custom wedding cakes for same-sex weddings. It is as a result of this last position that he finds himself before the Supreme Court of the United States. The State of Colorado thinks all bakers, regardless of their religious beliefs, should be required to make cakes celebrating gay marriage. When Mr. Phillips refused to bake a custom cake for a same-sex wedding the couple took Mr. Phillips to court, and Mr. Phillips was ordered to pay a fine and make custom wedding cakes for all customers.

Mr. Phillips chose another option. Unwilling to compromise his beliefs, he decided to get out of the wedding cake business. This decision was costly, as weddings comprised 40% of his bakery business and the loss in revenue forced him to lay off several employees. The decision was costly for Mr. Phillips, but it was not difficult. He would rather be poor than perform his work in a way he believes would dishonor God.

As Mr. Phillip’s case has wound its way through the court system passionate arguments have been made on both sides of the case. Some call it a free speech issue and side with Mr. Phillips, others call it a discrimination case and side with the state of Colorado.

I see a more important question, the question of who decides the limits of a man’s faith, of who decides the extent to which a person’s beliefs are allowed to influence his behavior in the marketplace. Whether or not one agrees with Mr. Phillips one thing is certain. The right of each Christian to determine for themselves how to incorporate faith into their work is being challenged. If our highest court decides that it is up to government to determine the limits of faith, Mr. Phillips will not be the only Christian forced to make a difficult decision. Photographers, florists, educators, therapists, and physicians may all be one day asked to say or do things contrary to their beliefs.

Our culture is evolving in an increasingly secular direction and previously questioned behaviors and values are now being endorsed and protected. Those who hold to a Biblical understanding of Christian living will need to be prepared to make a stand for their faith.

- Bart

Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughtful questions and comments. Feel free to click on one of the buttons below to share this with others, or to click on the subscribe button to receive future blog posts via e-mail. For those interested in a detailed discussion of what it means to make a stand for one's faith, the message on Daniel 1 on the sermons page of this site is particularly relevant.

Where Do Perverts Come from?


Based on recent revelations in the media I have come to the conclusion that I have been living under a rock for several decades. I had no idea there were so many disgusting men in the world. I was not so foolish as to think there were no disgusting men, it is impossible to have observed the 2016 Presidential election without admitting the existence of such beasts, but I thought perverts were incredibly rare. Like white whales, Halley’s comet and $10,000 lottery tickets, I never expected to encounter one.

I am realizing that episodes of sexual harassment are more like serious car accidents. The fact that I may never experience one does not mean they don’t happen every day.

Just this week a patient shared with me her stories (sadly she had more than one). When she was a young single mother she worked in a high level sales job. One afternoon her boss asked her to join him on some late customer visits. She initially declined due to child care needs but when he offered to pay the cost of a sitter for the evening she reluctantly agreed. The clients were among their most important and she felt she needed to go. The sales calls were uneventful, but ended after 7 PM  so she accepted his invitation to join him for dinner. At the conclusion of the meal he surprised her by invitingly saying, “I have a room here in this hotel.” She was stunned. She was not that kind of girl and she did not think it was that kind of dinner. She told him she needed to go home to her children and wanted to be driven back to her car, right then. She was let go from the job in a matter of weeks.

Later in life she worked in a CPA firm. She was an up and coming accountant in a the firm working the required hours so she could become a CPA herself. There were two senior partners in the small office, one of whom had a habit of standing next to her when she was at the copy machine. He would frequently stand close enough that he could rub his leg up against hers. Any thoughts that this was incidental contact were proven false on the occasion he slid his hand along her thigh. She was mortified, but he was a senior partner and she was desperate for the job. She said nothing.

Hearing her story, and reading the stories of others, I find myself wondering, “How does his happen?” What happens in the mind of a man that leads him to conclude that such behavior is acceptable? Some form of perverse rationalization must be going on. Very few people are so evil as to think, “I know this is a terrible and perverse act, but I am going to do it anyway.” Something is happening in the twisted minds of bad men that leads them to think it is okay for them to do what they are doing.

We see this in the lame “apologies” of some of those whose perverse behavior has come to light. Charlie Rose’s statement that he thought there was “consensual” interest would be laughable if it was not so pathetic. (Sorry, Charlie, no one wanted to see your wrinkly old body naked.)

How is it that otherwise intelligent men can reach such idiotic conclusions about how they can and should interact with women? I have a few thoughts.

-          They have no moral goals. They have personal goals and financial goals and sexual goals, but they do not strive for moral excellence. Men who strive to be honorable, respectable, good and kind men do not harass others.

-          They do not see women for who they truly are, individuals created in the image of God. Men who view women as Daughters of the King will be more likely to treat women as royalty. I doubt Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer or Charlie Rose would have dared to disrobe in front of the Queen of England. Good men know that all women are equal in value to the Queen and act accordingly. 

-          They do not cultivate attitudes of respect and honor towards women. Herein lies one of the dark consequences of the pornography epidemic. It should come as no surprise that a nation in which 61 percent of male college graduates report recent pornography use has a surplus of perverts. Men who desire to develop positive attitudes about women will avoid seeing women objectified and degraded. Good men avoid porn, knowing that normal women do not look like or act like the women in those images. Good men work to develop healthy, positive thoughts about women.

-          They get away with it. This is the saddest aspect of the story. We live in a world where profit is more important than people. Donald Trump was right. If you are a celebrity you can grab women and get away with it. Bad behavior needs to have consequences. If there is anything good about all the recent revelations it is that negative consequences are finally becoming a reality.

In these reasons for perversion we find the solutions to the problem as well. Men need to be trained in how to be better men. Leaders in business, faith and society need to set examples for others to follow. The Apostle Paul said it well in his instructions to his friend Timothy when he told him “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

I am working on this with some men I know. I recently started a weekly men’s group. The goal of the group is simple- We are men meeting together to help each other be better men. We recently spent an hour talking about what it means to honor our wives and other women. We talked about appropriate speech and conduct, about respect and kindness. One of the points we made is that if we are focused on being the best men we can be and if we are striving to treat women with honor and respect, there will be no room in our lives for abuse or harassment.

I cannot speak for the rest of society, but these men and I are working to make our world a better place. We know that change begins with us. Although none of us can change the world on our own, we know we can all impact our corner of it.


Thanks for reading and sharing. If any men in the Huntington Beach area are interested in starting or joining a men’s group focused on being better men, godly men, feel free to contact me.

The Value of My Father's Life

How should a life be measured?

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I have reflected on the question for the last few days as I ponder the passing of my father. It is easy to focus only on the end of his life and the decisions that led to his isolation and estrangement from his family but I do not think that is fair. My father was a mean and angry man who did mean and angry things, but he did not do only mean and angry things. Like all of us, he was much more complicated than that.

He was a violent man who beat my mother while they were married. When she took their three young children (we were all under 5 years old), he could have abandoned us. He could have ignored his responsibilities and refused to pay child support. He could have, but he didn’t. The checks always came.

When my mother divorced her second husband and became a single mom to three teenage boys she found herself in dire financial straits. She asked my father for more child support. He didn’t have to pay her more as there was no court order compelling him to increase the payments, but he did. As seemingly incapable as he was of giving emotional support he never wavered in his financial support.

As a father, he was often impossible to please. I have vivid memories of being a small child and him harshly criticizing me for the way I pulled on my socks, took off my shirts and even my choice of spoon when I ate my morning cereal. I was a pigeon-toed and awkward child and his biting “humor” found in me an easy target.  He called me "spastic" and when someone else was clumsy he said they had "pulled a Bart." His words were incredibly hurtful and damaging. To this day the memories of his words still bring a sense of fear and anxiety.

As mean as he was this angry man found the time to play with us. He taught us card games, played board games with us and organized football and basketball games with the kids in the neighborhood. He took us to San Diego Padres baseball games and Chargers football games and took us to the beach and taught us how to ride the waves on an inflatable raft. These moments were not idyllic, he was often impatient and critical and some initially pleasant times  degenerated into tears, but he gave us attention. He was inconsistent and unpredictable but there were times when he tried to be a dad.

His struggles with being a parent did not end when I reached adulthood. He struggled with my independence and career choices. He wanted more from me than I did for myself. He appropriately questioned my decision to drop out of college and forcefully encouraged me to re-enroll. When I did, he paid my tuition all the way through medical school. In spite of his financial support he did not have much faith in me. I will never forget his response when I told him of my perfect GPA at the end of my first year at the University of California, Irvine. He said, “I honestly didn’t think you had it in you.”

He was not a man of encouragement. He seldom gave praise and never gave hugs. Growing up I never thought he was proud of me or that he loved me for who I was. He seemed to see every flaw and catch every mistake while missing or minimizing every success. And yet, when I looked into the audience as I walked off the stage with my Medical Diploma in my hands I saw my father head and shoulders above the crowd, standing on his chair and proudly pumping his fist in the air.

For the three years I was in my Family Practice residency he was incredibly supportive of me and my family. Each month a check for $500 came in the mail, (almost $1000 in today's dollars.) He knew my resident’s salary was not enough to support a family and he did not want Lisa to have to work. It is because of him that she was able to stay home with our son.

His generosity had a profound impact on our lives, which made his decision to disown me shortly after graduation so difficult to process. I knew he was angry and had fits of temper, but I had always hoped there was some measure of good underneath. I had heard the horrible stories told by my step-brother and mother, of physical and verbal abuse, but thought that he had softened with age, and that love, especially for his grandson, would win out. It didn't.  His choice to cut off all contact with me and my family for the remaining 24 years of his life proved that anger ultimately won.

So how do I measure his life?

There is no question that his anger and inability to love left marks on me. My battles with anxiety, insecurity and anger are part of his cursed heritage. I struggle every day to overcome the damage he wrought. It is only by the grace of God that I have learned what it means to be a loving husband and father. Although I had no role model in my own family, God blessed me with a father-in-law who modeled goodness and kindness. 

In spite of the damage my father did it does not seem fair to ignore the support he gave me earlier in life. His gifts were tainted and had strings attached but they made a difference nonetheless. They had value. While the good he did is dwarfed by the harm, his warped generosity did help my family through difficult times. He was not a good man, but he was more than just a bad man.

I think this is the reality for all of us. None of us are totally good or totally evil. We are all broken people who fail and succeed to varying degrees. This truth of universal brokenness begs the question- How do we measure a life? Do we pull out a set of scales and divide up a man’s deeds and see where the balance lies? If so, do we give greater weight to more recent harms or blessings?  Many people have done terrible deeds believing in the moment that they were doing the right thing. How do we decide where to draw the line?

I do not believe that I am in a position to answer this question for others. It is not my place to decide. As I think about my father I realize there are pieces of his puzzle that are hidden from me. I have no knowledge of his childhood or of his relationship with his father. I do not know if he was abused or scorned, loved or hated. I do not know his mental history. As an experienced physician I see in his behavior hints of mental illness that were not visible to me when I was young. I do not know if he battled his demons or embraced them. I do not know if he was even capable of love. 

What I do know is that he paid a price for his sins in this life. I have wonderful children who fill the world with love, joy and laughter. My father never knew them. Theirs is a joy he never shared. In my relationship with my father-in-law I experienced the incredibly rich blessing of shared respect between two grown men. I received the wisdom of his years of life experience and he received the joy of seeing his wisdom shape me into a better person. My father never experienced this blessing, the joy of adult friendship with a son. My father lived the pain of loneliness.

Sadly for my father, the pain of this life pales in comparison to the pain that may await. My father rejected faith many years ago. To my knowledge he never turned to God. For the rest of eternity he will give account to His creator for his choice. It is God who will judge.

As it is God who will ultimately judge there is little to be gained expending energy judging my father. My time is better spent judging my own heart. When I turn my gaze inward I see incredible room for improvement. I have more bad in me than can be expunged in one lifetime. While true goodness eludes me I nevertheless intend to spend the rest of my life striving to be a better man.

The success of my self improvement efforts will be measured after I am gone. I often tell others that I have two goals in life, both to be fulfilled when I die. The first is that when I stand before my God I will hear Him say, “Well done.” The second is that my children will tell others on my passing that I was the greatest man they ever knew. I do not know if I will ever achieve these goals but I am certain that they will not be achieved without continuous intentional effort on my part.

I am also certain that the pursuit of these goals will bring peace and joy in this lifetime, and confident hope for the next.

- Bart


Being Thankful for the Right Things


Thanksgiving at my father’s house was never about giving thanks. There was no mention of God, no moment of reflection, no expression of gratitude. It was family and it was turkey dinner and it was football, and nothing more. Unlike Christmas (which while equally secular and devoid of spiritual meaning at least included presents) there was nothing about Thanksgiving in the Barrett household that was particularly joyful.

One year, during one of my mother’s religious phases, she decided to try and change the focus of her sons’ holidays with their father. I do not know what led her to believe it was her place to impact her ex-husband’s family dinner but she went out of her way to encourage me and my brothers to make sure thanks was given.

She took several white envelopes, one for each member of the extended Barrett family and put popcorn kernels inside. She packed the envelopes into my suitcase with instructions to hand them out on Thanksgiving Day. She told us it would be “fun” for each person to take an envelope at the end of the meal and use it as an aid in the giving of thanks. As each kernel was removed from an envelop the kernel holder could say one thing for which they were thankful. In this way each person would get to share. She thought it would be special and wonderful.

My father did not share her popcorn kernel enthusiasm. He thought the envelope idea was dumb. He nevertheless did not want to come across as an ungrateful jerk, so he instead suggested that we could go around the table and ask each person to share one thing for which they were grateful. When mealtime came each person did just that. It was awkward, forced and unnatural, but for the only time in my memory thanks was given on Thanksgiving.

Looking back, I am saddened by how unnatural it was for gratitude to be expressed. I wonder if it was because none of the adults in my family believed that any of their blessings had been bestowed upon them, none of them had been given. My father was of the belief that you earned everything you had in life. Who was he supposed to thank, himself?

I do not share my father’s opinion. While I have achieved significant worldly success professionally and financially, these accomplishments are of minimal importance to me. The things for which I am most grateful are all unearned.

I am grateful for my marriage, a 35-year testimony to the grace of god and the grace of my wife. I did not earn her love by being a perfect or lovable man. In many ways over the years I have at times acted in ways that could have earned her rejection! Too often I have been my father’s son and mirrored some of his worst traits. She loves me anyway, and I cannot be more grateful.

I am grateful for my children, one miraculously conceived and the other miraculously adopted. Years of infertility and futile baby-making efforts confirm the truth that my children are a gift from God, an undeserved and unearned blessing. The love and laughter they bring to the world are gifts beyond description.

I am grateful for the nation in which I live. I did nothing to earn the opportunities that America provides. Even with the intelligence and gifts I possess (also unearned), poverty and despair could have been my fate had I been born in another land.

I am grateful for my faith, the hope that sustains me and the God who is transforming me into a better man. I did nothing to earn or merit God’s favor, but He loves me nonetheless. In my repetitively expressed selfishness and rebellion I earned his anger and punishment, but He instead loved me and gave His Son for me, the greatest gift of all, unearned and yet freely given.

Happy Thanksgiving


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