Thursday, August 24, 2017

Barry Rataiczak

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.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Should some worship songs be on the chopping block?

Corrie Mitchell: I repent!
I was recently sent a link to your article on the web site titled “Let Stop Singing These 10 Worship Songs.”

You're right: we NEED to stop singing some of these songs you listed, because, as you said, they have verses that are “theologically incorrect” or “questionable,” “vague lyrics could easily suggest a plan to sneak around and make out in the bushes,” or contain “zero theological content.” And let's not forget those songs that don't mention Jesus or God (while in the same breathe, you complain about songs that used “Yahweh” or “Jehovah,” the New Testament equivalent of which is “Lord”).
As one who has led or helped lead worship over the years, I have to take responsibility for propagating some of these these songs that should be on the chopping block.

Let's start with all those songs you say have with “zero theological content.” I think we should add some other “zero theology” songs I grew up with as a young Christian, such as “This is the Day,” “I Will Enter His Gates,” “His Banner Over Me is Love,” “I've Got The Joy.” Out with them all! You have to have really DEEP truths in music—like the song the theologian Karl Barth quoted when a student asked him to summarize his life's theological work in a sentence: “Jesus loves me, this I know/for the Bible tells me so.” Guess I'll also have to toss out those pop songs I rewrote for my children's church (although I must confess, I'm sure you would put “I'd Have a Blue Christmas Without Jesus” and “God Loves You, Yeah, Yeah Yeah” up on your list, above even “How He Loves” and that yucky “heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss” line).

Then you've got to steer clear of those songs with the “vague” lyrics, since you don't really know if God or a “middle school crush” was being addressed. Yes, I've been guilty of singing “vague” lyrics that no one can apparently really “figure out.” Then again, I'm sure people singing “Draw Me Close” or “In The Secret” can pretty much figure out it's God who is being addressed, since they're in a church service instead of a Metallica concert.

As for those “theologically incorrect” songs, can I suggest one more, one of those hymns you say we REALLY need to bring back: “Come Thou Font of Every Blessing,” and that great line, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it/prone to leave the God I love ...” Well, if I ever sang something like that to MY sweetheart, my wife of 18 years, I'd be sleeping in the barn with the chickens! And yet, it's a-okay to sing it to GOD! Now, I understand those who would say that lyricist was simply being honest about struggles in our faith. And maybe that's my point: the writers of these songs (hymns or modern), in expressing their love for God, may not be 1,000 percent “theologically correct” when they express their devotion. I'll paraphrase another great theologian, John Lennon. He once talked about one song he wrote, comparing it to someone drowning, who is not going to say, “Can someone please help me with this problem,” but will be screaming a very loud “HELP!” So the songwriters, in simply expressing what's in their heart, may come up with lyrics that are too “simple,” or not “specific,” or may not be theologically accurate at times. Whatever we do for God, and whoever we are in the Body of Christ, we're all a work in progress (including songwriters).
Then there's all those songs where God is singing to US, instead of the other way around. Gosh, all those years I was told from the pulpit, “The Bible is God's love letter to YOU!” I guess we shouldn't be expressing that truth musically, huh?
Look, I agree there are songs or lyrics that probably should be re-evaluated. I'll be honest here: I did not know about the line in “How He Loves” with the “sloppy wet kiss” (my church sings the alternate “unforeseen kiss”), and if I HAD heard it in a service, my gag reflex probably would have kicked in. I'm just not sold on the idea, that making sure everything we sing is “up to snuff” is really going to aid in our worshiping Jesus. This is coming from someone who for years has told people they need to be discerning about any music they listen to, so that it doesn't have ideas that can stunt their spiritual growth—and church music doesn't get an automatic pass from me on that one.
Maybe I can best close out this response with an incident from the life of Rich Mullins (whose music should be a lot more evident in church services than it is). Rich and his band once visited a church that met in a barn, where the worship team's singing ability was, well, terrible. Then the church leaders realized Rich was in the congregation, and invited him up to sing some REAL music. But when Rich came up on the podium, he DIDN'T sing—because he was so overwhelmed by the HEART of those singers. He knew they sang straight from their hearts of their love for Jesus, and he didn't need to add anything to it. Maybe that's my bottom line of what songs we should or shouldn't sing in worship. I'll take worshipers singing to God from their HEARTS, even if the song they're singing is not the most spiritually “accurate” or “deep,” over a cold, religious repetition of a song that has the stamp of approval of every Bible college on the planet.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Favorite Songs (December 2014)

“Greystone Chapel," Johnny Cash, 1968

At Folsom Prison, the album that reignited the Man in Black's career—a risky album, at that, for the times—reaches its crescendo at the finale when Cash played “Greystone Chapel,” a song written by Folsom inmate Glen Sherley. Cash only learned the song the night before—and his nervousness over the number showed up as he introduced it; he later said he regretted identifying Sherley, which could have led to other inmates assaulting the prisoner. But the song got the biggest applause of the concert.
There's a Greystone Chapel here at Folsom

A house of worship in this den of sin …
It's hard to tell by the roaring applause at this juncture whether the inmates were reacting to the “house of worship” or the “den of sin.” No matter—Sherley expresses his love for God and the strength his faith received from seeing that chapel each day, where “the door to the house of God is never locked.” The chorus sums up:

Inside the walls of prison my body may be

But my Lord has set my soul free

The Folsom concert (Johnny actually had two concerts in the prison that day) featured Cash standards such as “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Cocaine Blues.” Cash was backed by his future wife June Carter, The Tennessee Three, Carl Perkins and the Statler Brothers. The album regained commercial success for Cash, even leading to his own TV show. At Folsom Prison has since gone multi-platinum, and has been designated one of the greatest albums of all time.

While writing a devotional about “Greystone Chapel,” I thought of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 4:7, how God's treasure is carried in jars of clay—namely, us. God used a song by an inmate—through Johnny Cash—to encourage others to look to Jesus, and to never forget those milestones in our walk with God that rebuild our faith when it is weakened. I wish I could tack on a happy ending for Sherley here, but his life after his eventual release took a very dark and sad turn.

Nonetheless, “Greystone Chapel” is a classic song about God's redemption power; His use of imperfect “jars or clay” to carry out His perfect will; and how our faith can be renewed and strengthened in seemingly hopeless situations, that for us can be our own prison.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

And America's moral dive continues …

Ever heard of “post-birth abortion?” That's right, don't stop at killing an unborn child—make it okay to kill them up to 4-5 years old! There ARE immoral idiots out there who support this Nazi-style “choice,” which sadly is gaining traction with a larger number ofcollege students. With this kind of “philosophy” being pumped into the brains of young people through our schools and media, is it any wonder America has all but loosed its moral moorings, and that “anything goes?” (Anything, that is, except for Judeo-Christian principles, which are deemed “evil” by the elites who claim there is no right or wrong in the first place). It makes me wonder whether writer Mark Steyn's words are all too true: “If the culture’s liberal, if the schools are liberal, if the churches are liberal, if the hip, groovy business elite is liberal, if the guys who make the movies and the pop songs are liberal, then electing a guy with an 'R' after his name isn’t going to make a lot of difference.”

God help our country.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Cartoon of the week

You can add a few more "non-scandals" to that vehicle. Maybe the cartoonist is onto something here ...

Saturday, July 20, 2013


John 15:7: If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. (KJV)

This verse hold several simple, yet powerful truths for the church is these times, when Christians in America are bewildered about the direction of this country (mainly downhill). First, we need to let God's Word, the Bible, “abide” in us. This is not just head knowledge: “Abide in youNot only are remembered, but are suffered to remain in you as a living principle, to regulate your affections and life.” (Barnes)

This is rooted in the first part of the verse, about abiding in Jesus. Obviously, we abide in Jesus when we ask Him into our heart as our Lord and Savior. When we love anyone, their voice, their words have a life in us that no one else could ever have. How much more should this be with our Lord Jesus and His Words in the Holy Bible!

When we are abiding in faith in Jesus, and let His words direct our paths (Proverbs 3:5-6), then we can be confident that whatever we ask, it will be done for us. It's easy to believe for this in regard to personal needs—but do we believe this for our neighbors, and for that matter, for our nation? Yes, we must put hands and feet under our prayers in standing up for biblical truth and opposing Satan's plans to tear down out society—but we must first and foremost have the total faith in Jesus in our prayers to do this.

When our faith in not firmly rooted in God's Word, any enthusiasm we have in our efforts to turn people back to biblical truth will wilt away, especially in the face of trials and opposition (Matthew 13:5-6, 20-21). So our first steps in shining our light into the darkness, in seeing true revival come to the American church, is not dreaming up more complicated man-made methods for this, but by the church returning to basics of the faith, to get afire with the love of Jesus in our hearts and letting that love shine through our words and actions.

Here is a video link to a chorus written about this truth, that I hope will bless you as you allow Jesus' words to abide in you.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Heart of the pro-abortion movement

The heart of the pro-abortion movement has been pretty much exposed in the recent battle to stop pro-life laws in Texas. I'm posting some links, but here's a rundown:

*The “pro-choice” protesters aren't content to carry around perverted signs—they have little children carrying them too.

*Members of the pro-abortion crowd repeatedly yelled “Hail Satan” at pro-life demonstrators who were singing “Amazing Grace.”

For the above two items, check out the link here (Warning: some of the signs in the pictures are offensive. Actually, they are ALL offensive—but some are especially perverted).

*State legislators are receiving threats from these alleged guardians of women's rights—including messages hoping that their daughters are raped.

*And the kicker—these are PAID activists. They are pulling in up to $2,200 a month from leftists groups allied with President Obama.

If you have the stomach, check these links. Then pray for the pro-life legislators and demonstrators in their courageous stand for life; for the pro-abortion activists' salvation; and for what's left of the conscience of our nation.