When God Pulls Back the Curtain


I struggle with the concept of faith. The whole idea of trusting in a God I cannot see is difficult for me. I often wish that I could see God, or at least see some miraculous evidence that He exists. I understand that life itself is miraculous, as is the universe and everything in it, but I often long to see the type of mind-boggling, law of nature suspending, spectacular act of God I see described in the Bible. I know that God has given me more than enough proof of His existence and that the historical evidence for Jesus’ life and resurrection is compelling, but I still find myself sometimes wanting… more.

This sentiment was a part of my morning prayers a few weeks ago. I often pray as I walk our dogs before getting ready for work and on that particular morning I was in an especially whiny spiritual mood. “God, it has been over 2000 years since Jesus walked earth. It is hard to believe in something that happened so long ago. I wish I could see you move.” I knew my prayer was wrong and selfish but it was reflective of how I felt at that moment. I moved on to praying for others and soon forgot about my words.

A few days later I was doing some year-end financial planning and turned my thoughts to end of year charitable giving. Lisa and I have always given a portion of our income to Christian ministries and, since I typically receive an end of year bonus from my medical group, we tend to make a donation of some sort at the end of December. I had bounced a couple of possible recipients off of Lisa in previous weeks but we hadn’t yet made a decision on where to donate. On the morning of Saturday the 23rd of December and I got an idea to give somewhere new. I went out to the kitchen to see what Lisa thought of my plan.

“We’ve been talking about end of year giving for a while,” I said, “what do you think about giving money to Bill?” Bill is a retired pastor with whom I have become friends this year. He works for a unique and small organization that provides support to pastors. His job is to be a listening ear and encouraging voice to pastors, particularly those who are struggling with the intense scrutiny that comes with a life of full-time ministry. In addition to this work Bill teaches adult bible classes almost every week. He is a busy and faithful servant of God. From hearing him speak I had come to appreciate his heart and his commitment to others. I had also come to the conclusion that he and his wife live on a very modest budget. As he had encouraged me greatly in 2017  I thought giving a gift might be a way to encourage him.

“That would be good,” was Lisa’s reply to my proposal (which was surprising, because Lisa is the one who usually chews on ideas for a while before making a decision.)

“I am thinking of giving a chunk,” I told her, making sure she knew that this would not be a token gift.

“You usually do,” was her answer. In my typically impulsive manner I walked out of the kitchen and into the extra bedroom where we keep our computer. I searched online for his ministry organization, found the website and clicked on the “donate” link. I typed in chunk dollars and zero cents, entered my credit card information and clicked “submit.”

The next morning Lisa and woke up debating whether we should go to church on Christmas Eve. We wanted to attend the service but Lisa was feeling overwhelmed by the season and still had a long list of things to get done. We ultimately made the decision to go and hurried to make it to the 10:00 service. We pulled up to the curb at 9:55, feeling proud that we had made it on time.

Our church is rather large so we were surprised when we did not see anyone as we walked around the corner from the parking lot. It was not until we were almost to the door that we encountered any other people. We saw one of the Pastors and his wife and stopped to say “Merry Christmas” and exchange hugs. As we greeted them we saw Bill standing several feet away, as if he was waiting to say something to us. Indeed he was, and he walked up to us a few moments later.

“I got an interesting call from my boss yesterday asking me if I knew a Bart Barrett,” Bill said. He had been taken aback that his boss had known who I was, and he told us he had been racking his brain trying to decipher the connection until his boss told him of our gift. Bill told us he was hoping he would see us so he could thank us personally. He then shared with us details of his financial situation that were completely unknown to us.

As with many in ministry, Bill and his wife rely on the donations of others. Just days earlier he had been reviewing their records and realized that there had been a significant decline in their contributions in the previous three months. So steep was the drop that he was thinking that either God would have to come through with unexpected donations or they would have to find a way to make do with a lot less.

“Bart and Lisa, I want you to know, that after PayPal took their cut from what you gave, the amount we received from you was exactly the amount that we were short,” He told us. He repeated this detail a few times for emphasis. Our gift matched their need almost to the exact dollar amount.

We were stunned. To us it had seemed a whim, a barely thought out impulsive gift. I hadn’t spent time in prayer asking God how much to give, hadn’t thought much about it at all. It was just the amount that popped into my head when I sat down at the computer. And yet it was the exact amount that was needed. It was a “God thing.”

It was later that I realized that God had not only answered Bill’s prayer, he had answered mine. In that moment He had pulled back the eternal curtain and given me evidence that He is real and He is working. As He did, He also showed me why He does what He does. He does things so that He will get the praise and the credit. If I had given more, it is possible that Bill’s focus could have been on the gift. Because we gave the exact amount, Bill’s immediate response was to give thanks to the only One who knew what the exact amount was.

This small miracle was a huge blessing to us, and it did not carry with it the risk that can come with more flashy miracles. We see in scripture that when Jesus did some of His great miracles there were some who became obsessed with the miracles, who became more interested in the deeds than they were in the doer. Years after Jesus’ returned to heaven early Christians had a similar problem. The church at Corinth was so focused on showy signs of miraculous power that they were at risk of losing sight of Jesus' most important command, His instruction to love one another. Aware of this, Paul specifically told them that as desirous as miraculous gifts were there was a more excellent way, the way of sacrificial love.

It was the way of love, the desire to love and serve a friend who had been an encouragement to me, that led Lisa and I to give. It was loving God who allowed Bill's need to arise and it was God who moved me to give the exact amount needed. It was God who had us arrive at church at just the right moment, and to walk to just the right place so we could hear Bill share his story.

It was God who answered my selfish prayer, who showed me that He is real and that He is moving in my life even when I cannot feel Him or see Him.

- Bart


The Lessons of 2017


A lot happened in 2017. Some things were shocking, some were expected, and some shocking things should have been expected. Donald Trump was sworn in as president. We learned that Hollywood was full of perverts. The Houston Astros won the World Series. Congress was a dysfunctional mess. The stock market went crazy. Terrorists and crazy people did horrific things. There are so many things on which I could reflect.

For me, the most important thing to reflect on is me. 2017 taught me many things, some things I never saw coming and many things I should have known already. Here are some of them-

Kindness is the best response. Several times this year I found myself needing to respond to someone who had said bad things about me on social media. While my initial instincts were to be defensive or fight back, I forced myself to swallow my pride and to be kind. The result was saved relationships, better understanding, and resolved conflict.

Time with my wife is never wasted. For the first time in our marriage Lisa and I took some weekend getaways in addition to a few vacations. Each time I came back refreshed, rejuvenated and even more in love.

Anger is an incredibly useless emotion. I still spend way too much time on it.

I need to stop trying to control things I can’t control. Whether it be my kids, my dogs or my patients, I have very little power over others. I need to accept this.

I need to live in the present. There is so much good I can do by being faithful right now. I often worry about what will come next or what God is going to do in the future. Each day brings opportunities to do good. I need to make sure I do not miss them.

Grandchildren are the most amazing thing ever, and more addictive than crack cocaine. Every time I see Charlie, I end up wanting more!

Here's hoping for a better me in 2018!

Happy New Year-



Christmas Story, or Christmas History?


Most of us have heard the Christmas story dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Even the unchurched and irreligious among us are familiar with the story of the angel appearing to the shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem telling them of the birth of the Savior who would be found wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger,  of the declaration of the heavenly host, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men”, and of the shepherds hurrying to the city to discover the child exactly as promised.

We see the Nativity scenes as we drive through our neighborhoods and display them in our homes. We know the words to all of the Christmas carols and cheerfully sing “Christ the Savior is born”, “Glory to the newborn king”, “Born the King of Angels”, and that “This, this, is Christ the King.” We love the story of Christmas.

The question we need to answer is, “Is it just a story, or is it history?” Are the events of which we sing a fairy tale or fable, to did they actually happen?

This is not just an academic question. It is a question of supreme importance. If the story of Jesus’ birth is not real, if it is a folk tale on the same level as the story of Santa Claus or A Christmas Carol, then it requires nothing from us or of us. We can forget about it on December 26, Set it aside for the next 11 months. We can file it away with our Christmas decorations and store it in the attic.

Yet if the story is true, if the events described in the gospels happened as described, then the message of Christmas must endure all year long, every year. The message of the Angels that the Savior was born carries deep meaning, for it implies that we are lost and broken. Saviors are only born to those in need of salvation! The appearance of a heavenly host confirms the existence of a heaven, that this life is not all there is. The proclamation of Peace on Earth implies a world filled with conflict, between nations of men and between men and God. A world waiting for the Prince of Peace.

The Gospels tell us that Jesus was no ordinary baby. He was no ordinary man. Born of a Virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, the Bible teaches that Eternal God entered time on the first Christmas, clothing Himself in flesh, taking the form of a baby. 

If the Biblical account is true, then we should respond to the Christmas story in the same manner as did the Shepherds- “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” If the account is true, we have little choice but to spend the rest of our lives pursuing a greater understanding of who this Jesus is, why he came, and how we can best honor him with our lives.

What we should not do is allow another Christmas to pass without honestly addressing the question.

- Bart

PS: Merry Christmas!

The Original Christmas Tree


Sometimes a person’s heritage says a lot about them. I think it is fascinating that I am a direct descendant of William Brewster, the first spiritual leader of the Pilgrims when they arrived in New England. My family history of pastors also includes Wade Barrett, a prolific church planter who lived in the south in the early 1800’s. It seems that I come from a long line of Jesus freaks.

As interesting as I find my family tree it has nowhere near the meaning of the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew chapter 1. There we find the original “Christmas Family tree”, the lineage of the Messiah. We can learn a lot about Jesus and His ministry by looking at his ancestors.

There are many familiar and expected names in the tree including Abraham, the father of the Jewish people and David, the king of Israel through whom the Messiah was prophesied to come. While these names are crucial in establishing Jesus’ messianic credentials, it is in the unexpected names that we learn the amazing nature of Jesus’ ministry. The list is predominantly male, as family trees were traced through the paternal line, but there are a few female names listed as well. Each of these women has a fascinating story.

The first female name is that of Tamar. We see in the third verse of Matthew 1 that she gave birth to Perez, whose father was a man named Judah. The story of Tamar and Judah is found in the book of Genesis. Tamar was married to Judah’s son Er. Er died before fathering a child. Tradition provided that Tamar have children through one of her husband’s brothers. When neither Judah or his other sons honored this tradition, Tamar dressed as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law. The child, Perez, was the result of this union between an immoral woman and her promise breaking father-in-law.

In verse 5 of Matthew 1 we find the name of another woman, Rahab. Her story is found in the book of Joshua. Rahab was a prostitute in the city of Jericho. In spite of her immoral profession, she came to believe that the God of Israel was the One true God. She defied the king of Jericho and risked her life to protect two Israelites who had been sent to spy on her city. She was a foreigner and a prostitute, and an ancestor of Jesus.

We find the name of another foreign woman in verse 5, Ruth. She was a poor woman from the country of Moab. She married one of the sons of a faithful Jewish woman named Naomi. When Ruth’s husband died she made the remarkable choice to travel with her mother-in-law when Naomi went back to Bethlehem. It was remarkable because Moabites were unwelcome in Israel, and prohibited from entering the temple. In spite of this she made Bethlehem her home. There she married a man named Boaz; their son Obed was the grandfather of King David.

King David himself was an immoral man. He had many wives and concubines (mistresses). Even worse, he impregnated the wife of one of his best friends and then had him murdered to cover up the adultery. In verse 6 of Matthew 1 we see it was through this adulterous woman that the messianic line was continued.

David was an adulterer and a murderer yet he cannot lay claim to being the worst person on the list. That “honor” goes to Manasseh, an evil king who lived several generations after David. Mannasseh worshipped idols and engaged in child sacrifice. The book of Kings tells us he murdered his own son as an offering to the false god Moloch.

I find myself asking, “Why did Jesus have so many bad ancestors? Why is it that God did not give His Son a more noble lineage?” The passage in Matthew does not say, but I believe the story of Jesus’ birth provides a clue.

In Jesus’ ancestry we see all kinds of people. Wealthy men like Abraham and poor women like Ruth. We see Godly men like Josiah, who led the nation according to the Law of God for thirty -one years, and ungodly men like Manasseh. We find prostitutes and kings, as well as liars, cheats and murderers. We see foreigners and the accursed as well as pure blooded Israelites.

We see that Jesus, the one whose birth brought “Good News of great joy which shall be for all people” came from a family that included all sorts of people. He came from a broken and troubled family line to save a broken and troubled world. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, came from a family with a conflicted history, to proclaim Peace to a world in conflict.

The “family tree” of Christmas reminds us that regardless of our background or station in life, no matter who we are or what we have done, there is room in the family for us.

- Bart

If you are interested in reading more about the stories behind the names in Jesus' family tree, go to www.biblegateway.org and enter the name into the search bar. Thanks to all who read and share. Those who wish to receive future posts via email can do so by subscribing to the blog. I also share each post on Twitter @bartbarrettmd. 

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.