Well, if you checked the last time I wrote anything on this blog, it was quite a while back (looks like more than two years). I haven't really been too interested in blogging for a while. A lot may have to do with my putting out a weekly devotional on Facebook, and also doing lots more songwriting than I ever have. Anyway, those are the two main reasons that I think I haven't come back to do anything with this page. So it's time I wrap up writing on this blog. So far as getting spiritual insights into current events (however bewildering and overloading they are), there are other writers on the net who can help with that; one great Christian writer I highly recommend is Michael Brown.
So I thought I would wrap up this blog with a tribute to a personal friend of mine, who passed away this week at the age of 70: Barry Rataiczak.
I've been very blessed in my life to have had a great succession of pastors, who were used by God to speak into my life at various times. I still lean on wisdom that I got through them even today. Barry was one of those in that great line—but I have to say, he was the one who was not just a pastor or friend, but a spiritual mentor.
In praying about how I would write this, one phrase came to mind: open door. Obviously, this is one of the names of Jesus, and in Revelation 3:7-8, we see where Jesus places in our lives open doors to carry out his will, just as he did for the faithful church of Philadelphia.
But I had never thought of a person in my life being an open door used by God. And that is what Barry was to me, from the time I first met him in the mid 80s, when he took over as pastor of a church in the southern Ohio town where I lived. We immediately became friends, and his door was always open for times of fellowship. I also knew I could always go to him with any burdens I was carrying. This was especially critical during a time when I was ministering in a church in a neighboring town, where I came across some really rough waters. Barry was always there to encourage me through those times, and others that would follow. His door was always open to me when I needed prayer and encouragement.
Barry was also an open door for me to discover new ideas and teachings that were outside my denominational box. I read where one writer said that churches at times can get stagnant, and that they need a "fresh wind of truth" from another part of Body of Christ to be revitalized (one purpose for the gift of discernment, which the writer was discussing). I remember one time in Barry's office, discussing how I came across the name of some great spiritual writer named St. John of the Cross—and if Barry had ever heard of him. Barry simply reached back into his library and pulled out a copy of Ascent of Mount Carmel, to my utter shock. I learned from him not to be too gun shy about writers and teachers from other Christian traditions: so I was introduced to St. John of the Cross, Kierkegaard, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, among others. Even those who come from traditions we sharply disagree with can shed additional light on our spiritual path. My spiritual life became so much richer after Barry taught me that, especially through our discussions on those great works.
Then there was Barry being an open door for me into new ministry opportunities. There were several I simply helped him with, such as volunteering at an inner city mission in Cincinnati. And Barry gave me a great opportunity to minister when I became his associate pastor as his church.
Then there was the major decision I was faced with in the fall of 1993, when I was asked to take over the Chi Alpha campus ministry at Morehead State in Kentucky. At first, I didn't know what to make of it, and at that time, I greatly enjoyed ministering at Barry's church (I was named associate pastor only months earlier). When I shared this with Barry, he said, "As much as I want you to stay here, you have to follow God's will if he wants you in Morehead." God later confirmed that word, and it turned into a life-changing decision in taking over that ministry the following fall semester, watching God miraculously line up everything as I followed Him in faith. At subsequent XA reunions, Pastor Ron Hamm, who asked me to take over the XA ministry (and who was the best XA mentor I could ever ask for), talked about how much he admired Barry for his unselfish, godly counsel—and he never even had the chance to meet him! I can never thank God enough for Barry speaking God's counsel into my life, especially at such a critical juncture.
Well, I wish I could go on to say that we stayed in close contact after my taking on campus ministry. But our paths, for some reason or other, took off in different directions, and we lost contact with each other for a long time. So I was excited when we finally got back in touch with each other last year through Facebook, and he and his wife Josie came to visit our family in Kentucky. I could see immediately how Barry was affected by the Agent Orange poisoning he suffered while in the Air Force in Vietnam—but his spirit was joyful and buoyant as ever, as he excitedly asked each of my kids, "Do you love Jesus?" and talked to me and Melissa about his visit to International House of Prayer in Kansas City, where God greatly touched him. That visit from him and Josie was one I will always greatly treasure.
This mentor, this open door God placed in my life, is now standing on streets of gold before Jesus, rejoicing in perfect health before our Lord. Please say a prayer for Josie, their three children and the rest of the family through this difficult time. And never forget to be thankful to God for those people who are open doors for Him in your life—just as Barry was in mine.