Debra Murphy of Christian Book Previews spoke with Bob Barnes about his new book, Men Under Construction.
CBP: Can you share with us, Bob, your Christian testimony?
Bob: Fortunately, one of the great heritages I had was being raised in a Christian family. I remember on Easter Sunday 1945, I was twelve years old, we were attending a Baptist church in Long Beach, CA. I had a Sunday School teacher that taught boys, can you imagine teaching a group of sixth grade boys? Every Sunday, she would encourage us boys to make a decision for Christ. I have a twin brother, so I thought to myself, what more appropriate time would it be to make a decision than Easter Sunday? So, I stood up and sang Just As I Am, and I walked forward. It was the best decision I made in my life. But I was so fortunate to be raised in a Christian family, so it was just a confirmation at that time. I've never drifted away, never had any problems with my faith even through college, I was able to retain what I felt, and teachers, professors, and instructors didn't alter that.
When I met Emilie, she was from a Jewish persuasion, heritage and background, and I went to her mother as we were dating, "Would you mind if Emilie would go to church with me on Sunday nights?" And she said, "No, that would be fine. You can do that." So she started coming, and over a period of time of about six months, Emilie heard the gospel and made a decision. Of course, coming from a Jewish heritage, that did not go well with her aunts and uncles. But over the years, they've loved our family even though her mother became a Christian, which was a blessing. She lived with us for a few years, and came to church with us. Emilie wanted to know could she live with us, and homes were for one family, not for two families necessarily. I told Irene, "Irene, if you come to live with us, you go to church with us on Sunday, and you're welcome." So she came to church, and again, heard the Word, that Christ was the Messiah, and accepted. So I've been blessed.
CBP: I am amazed that when people hear the Word, the change that happens to them. I just don't know if people really hear the Word in general. So your family was delivered quite a blow in the last five years. Your wife was ill and you cared for her, and though she has experienced healing, what did you learn?
Bob: You know in Job it says that the Lord will redeem what the locust have eaten. So in ministry, there are times when you have to taper down, I think that was a way that the Lord said, "You need to slow down just a little bit." You know? And we have slowed down. But there's been so many positive things that have happened because of going through that valley that we said, "God, your plan is for us, and whatever you have for us." My favorite verse is John 11:4 where it says that this disease is not unto death, God would be glorified and His Son will be also lifted up. And so we made a decision early on in her detection, that regardless, whether through death or life, that the Lord was going to be glorified. Our kids sometimes said, "Why don't you sometimes slow down a bit?" But because of the letters that we receive and the people who read our books, that's why we keep on doing it. It keeps our mind active. Just because you reach a certain age, you don't have to retire. I don't know if I'll ever really retire, I may taper off a little bit. But I just love the interaction with people, the changed lives of people. We're blessed.
CBP: Your person career was in a area at one time, and you left to share your career with your wife.
Bob: I had two careers really. When I left college, I became a schoolteacher. So for fourteen years I was in public education in California, I got my master's, was thinking about going back to get my doctorate, and realized that that's not really where I wanted to be. So then I went into the mobile home manufacturing as an owner, and we sold out to a company, and they decided to close out in California. So here I was without a job, first time in about twenty eight years that I hadn't had a job. Emilie was just starting out in ministry, and writing More Hours in My Day, and a couple of books, and I said, "I'll just go along with you." And then one night, I think there were about twenty five women there, and I said, "I think the Lord could provide a ministry if we really want to focus and market it. I'll help you until I get a real-time job." That was in 1982, and I still haven't found a real-time job!
CBP: I went to one of your classes in 1987! You've written before, both on your own and together, why Men Under Construction?
Bob: We've written for the phase of our lives. Emilie was organization, so that was the first ten years of writing. Now that we're grandparents, we've written some grandparents books. Of course, Emilie loves hospitality, so she's written some tea books. We were in Dallas a few years ago with CBA, and her book had come out, 15 Minutes Alone With God. The bookstore owners said that it was good for women, but what about men? Harvest House came to me and asked if I was willing to write a devotional, 15 Minutes Alone With God for Men. It came out and was successful, so it was really a suggestion. It's wonderful that you're not having to pitch your book to the publisher. I've always had a heart for men, I've been in Men's Ministry in our church. I want to be an encouragement to men, so my style is easy, pertinent, and not so deep that the person says, "I don't get that." It's easy to handle. It hits a broad spectrum, it talks about family, finance, work, priorities, goals, children, grandchildren. So it's a pretty balanced book.
CBP: What's happening to men across America and across the world?
Bob: Some people get discouraged, because when you watch TV, the portrayal of a man today comes off as a dork. He can't refinance their home, he can't plan a vacation right, and he comes off looking really bad. I think men live under too much expectation today, and our society wants him to be in the delivery room when the child is born, they want him to be at all the sporting events and school activies. They don't realize that a man is responsible for the finances of the family, and that's a full time job. I see a lot of concern about the feminization of men in our culture.
CBP: Are men more of a hybrid now?
Bob: The culture of women today, I'm not being against women because I love women, but I think they have false expectations of what marriage is. The man that tries to meet those expectations, and the media, and the books, and magazines, and TV shows today build a false impression. Many women expect their men to be just like them, and to think just like them, and don't know that men are different by design of God, and they need to be students. Women need to learn what makes a man tick, because we are two different creations. With Emilie I've always said I'm glad she has the friendship emotionally of some of her girlfriends, because they're able to give her much more emotional support than I can. I can give her emotional support, but it's not the same. Tell me what you want fixed, "But I don't want it fixed!"
CBP: Men are supposed to lead in the family. Why don't they lead?
Bob: In order to lead, you have to have someone willing to follow. I think sometimes men branch out, they want to lead. For example, "Wouldn't it be nice if we went to the mountains this weekend and camped out?" She says, "Well, I was thinking of the Marriotts, not the mountains." So already, she's let him know she doesn't want to go. Or another example, "Let's go out as a family, let's go to a movie." And the kids say, "Dad, we just went out to the movies last week." So after a while, a man says he gives up. Nobody wants to follow. So what a woman has to do is get smart, and my wife Emilie is very smart. She makes me her hero, even as the kids were growing up. Even if she necessarily didn't want to do it, she knew that she needed to be my cheerleader. After a while, the man will get the confidence and say, "They like my ideas." So, naturally I take leadership. Then they'll say, "Okay, let's get together as a family for devotions at breakfast time." I think mothers particularly need to be cheerleaders for their husbands, and really build up dad in the sight of their children.
CBP: People aren't saying that, but it's so true!
Bob: My best cheerleader is my wife. If I was as good as she thought I was... I remember my grandson, he's a very sanguine sort of a kid. He likes to swim, but he would always lose. He never won a ribbon, except for participation. One day when he was about eight years old, he came in last. A little girl came up to him in the pool and said, "Chad, you sure looked good." And we need that. You know what happened? In high school, Chad and Megan were dates for the senior prom. To this day, and they're in their twenties, she's a supporter.
I know that wives have a difficulty, because maybe the husband doesn't give her a reason to be the cheerleader. So we the men have responsibility on our shoulders to make it so they can be the cheerleader. You know, the Bible says that wives are to respect their husbands, and husbands need to be responsible to do those things that give honor to us.
Another thing is that women are more verbal than men, which means that they dominate the conversations more. Sometimes they intentionally have to let their husbands speak.
CBP: You said in your book that knowledge is easier to acquire than wisdom.
Bob: You probably know because of the high technology, how rapidly information accumulates, which is knowledge. Knowledge, we can understand a lot of things. But getting wisdom is an entirely different thing. It is the godly application of knowledge. That's one of the things in the church today. I see a lot of notes and underlining in their Bibles, but does it affect their everyday lives? Are they only hearers of the Word or doers? In my books, there's always a point of action. After every devotion, there's a prayer and an action. It challenges the reader to do something about what they read. Simple, not too complicated, but just one step. The prayer is only there to assist them. My hope is that someday they will be able to use their own prayer. It's just a model.
CBP: So, you start with a note on wisdom, that says say, "No," to good things, and save your "Yes" for the best.
Bob: It's one of my favorite quotes. A lot of people say they don't have time for that. But if you really evaluate, what are you doing? You'll probably find out that you're doing things that are not high priority. Say no to good things, and save your yeses for the best things. Let's say someone comes to you and asks you to handle a Sunday School class for them, and you might say, "Yes." But that's only adding to the burden of your other commitments for your family and yourself. For your own schedule, you might have been better off to say no. Or, you should give up the things you are doing of a lesser value and say yes to teaching Sunday school. But it's becoming aware of what's important in life, and living with purpose.
Most of us are people pleasers, so we want to accommodate everything. We're too frazzled, we don't focus enough, so consequently we don't do well at anything we do.
CBP: Someone was telling me recently that the point of purpose is so that you can make decisions and decide whether it is inside or outside of that realm. You mention that we need to recognize that we aren't saved by being good, or being a member of a religious organization.
Bob: Well, I think today's mentality is one of works, one of pleasing, one of performance. Because we only get the gold medal if we are in first place. So what I'm really saying there is that salvation comes through faith, not works. I also know that there's a dichotomy there, that if you do have faith, you should have a production of works. There's a balance there. It's not saying there's no more works, but salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ, then we'll be transformed.
One of my favorite verses of Scripture is Romans 12:2, not to be conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of your mind. So that we are not conformed. It's very subtle. I see it with my grandchildren all the time, how subtly the world sucks them in all the time. Once there's a transformation, then you do things: you're kind to people, you don't steal, you share with your neighbors, you have integrity in business. I don't want to give the wrong impression that someone is saved because they're good.
CBP: What gives a man a legacy of significance?
Bob: In my book, our grandson registered for the University of Oregon, and he had to write an essay. At my funeral, I would like that essay to be read. I can't think of anything more humble than Chad writing what he wrote. He chose me as his hero.
CBP: I read that and I cried. I sent it to a friend who lost a race for mayor, letting him know that he was my hero. He wrote me back and was honored that I said it, and said the battle was not over, that he would stay in it.
Bob: Your words of encouragement! I don't know if it's in this book, but something that really touched me was the story of a woman who went to see Abraham Lincoln in office. She didn't have an appointment, but she brought some cookies. He saw that she was there, and invited her into the White House. He said, "You're the first person who's ever brought me something and did not want something." I thought it was such a touching story, your letter is the same way. You didn't want anything, you were just encouraging him to keep on fighting the battle.
The legacy -- did it come easy with Chad? No, we spent hours communicating together, going on fishing trips. I could not be more pleased as a grandfather by him. I don't know if you read about Father's Day when our daughter wrote me a letter?
CBP: You know you've arrived when they write about you in a letter, or when they want to come home and visit. Not that they feel they should, but that they want to.
CBP: You talk about what a woman need, how did you pin this down?
Bob: I've been blessed for the last twenty four years to work with women, because I've supported Emilie's ministry and have been around women a lot. The simple thing that I think a woman wants is to know that her man is going to be faithful to her. When I leave home in the morning and come home again, is family a priority? If find that women today are very simple, there are just a couple of key issues. One, you notice their hairdos, a new dress. Our neighbor across the street came out the other day and I said, "Oh, Janice. You have a new hairdo!" And she said, "I am so impressed that you would notice that." Emilie and I also have a hug-a-day. We tell each other, "Have I told you lately that I love you?" Those are the common things. If a woman knows that, if she knows her husband loves her, that's all she wants.
CBP: What's forces in today's society threaten families.
Bob: The whole culture. Compared to when I grew up, everything is so different. Most parents don't know that they are teachers. They raise their kids, shoot from the hips, have no plan, five years from now they don't know what they want their children to be. They don't plan for their education, manners, character. So that's what I see is a big problem in our society.
CBP: How do you transform the mundane into the divine?
Bob: Ooh, that's good. Some people complain that they have to wash the dishes. I think, thank the Lord we have food that dirties the dishes so they have to be washed. Or some say they hate to wash the car. Well, thank the Lord that you have a car so that you can wash the car. So it's a value, too.
The other day, it was after the 4th of July, we had a lot of boxes, we had about twenty eight people over, so we had lots of trash. The garbage man comes the next day, and I said, "I apologize for having all this trash." And he said, "No. Trash means that the Lord has blessed your life with things." So he reminded me, that what I thought of as drudgery was a blessing. Our glass has to be half full, and it's so easy to be negative. From the biblical point of view, everything that we do should be a blessing.
I look over the illness of Emilie, the drudgery of cancer, doctors, blood transfusions, chemo, whatever. But I look at the people that we met and what we went through, and He used it. You can look at it and say that it was tragic, and it was, but it was also a blessing. These books have come out from the time that we were in Seattle.
CBP: Bob, you are an incredible man of God, married to an incredible woman of God, and I thank you for your time.