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I limped into church today.  I shed a few tears as well.  As I stood up to lead in prayer, all I could see were people I’ve walked with the past 12 years and I know their limp.  Sometimes our limp becomes us.  Like Jacob in the Old Testament.  God touched his hip, and he limped the rest of his life.  God does that.  He causes us to limp so we can slow down and know him.  We tend to want to take the lead instead of follow.  

I was reading an article the other day that talked about hurting Christians.  The author must limp as well.  He points to four elements that often leave us far from the spiritual high that others seem to relish.  The four characteristics that suck the life out of us are: isolation, loneliness, shame and worthlessness.  Often all four are a result of sin that finds us.  Other times we have no problem finding it on our own. 

It’s hard to think that in our current world we might struggle with isolation or loneliness.  To me they’re kissing cousins of the evil world.  We don’t need demon possession in our world.  Isolation and loneliness are evil’s best friends   

Church can often promote isolation and loneliness.  One time when you limp into church and someone asks, “How are you today?,” tell them.  For some reason we have this idea that Christians are not supposed to have issues much less sin issues.  When the body of Christ gathers, it should be a safe haven for those who limp.  Unfortunately, the local bar is the only safe haven.  In church you can call yourself a sinner; just don’t say what kind.  

When someone unloads his or her burdens, the kissing cousin of loneliness tag teams with isolation.  I’ve often pointed out that Jesus indeed answers our needs.  What we have failed to learn is that the Holy Spirit resides in believers.  It is through believers that he moves and his Holy Spirit flows.  We are the conduit for the power of God.  If we don’t answer the need of the limping, hurting brother or sister somebody or something else will.  

I honestly believe the main reason churches are struggling to keep people in the pews is their inability to care well for the limping, weary traveler on the path of life.  We have decided to choose, as a friend of mine who struggles to get out of bed every Sunday morning calls it, “a faith defined by unicorns and rainbows.”  As a friend asked this week, “Doesn’t Jesus want me to be happy?”  “Yes,” I answered, “but only by walking in the ways of the Lord as defined by the Holy Scriptures.”  Let’s just say he left quickly.  

Limping into church often lets others know we are suffering.  Since we learned nobody wants to be around suffering anymore (Apostle Paul said it’s the way into the kingdom of God) each limp sends impulses of shame to the heart.  Surely, if no one else is limping, something is wrong with us.  I asked that this morning, “What’s wrong with me?”  Maybe I’m not walking with the Lord.  Maybe I’m depressed.  Maybe I’m not praying enough.  Maybe I’m too serious.  Maybe I’m this.  Maybe I’m that.  Maybe.  Maybe.  Since no one wants to connect with the limp or tears, you know what that shame will do next week?  Keep us in bed.  

Eventually, as we wallow in our pain, worthlessness will take us to places we thought we would never go.  All four isolation, loneliness, shame and worthlessness – pounce on the wounded, leaving them paralyzed and numb.

A friend recently told me his mother died and he was absent from church for six weeks and not a soul called on him or showed up at the funeral.  He was on the path.  

Another soul talked about suffering the rejection by her friends due to a wayward husband.   There seems to be an unspoken fear of the single woman.  Instead of embracing the crippled woman, she is forced to limp in and out.

Jesus told his disciples a story.  He said there was a king who was having a banquet.  He invited the expected guests; the ones who usually attend a king’s banquet.  Only they had plenty of excuses.  So the king told his disciples to go out into the highway and byways and invite “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind” to his banquet.  I found out today in Luke 14 that there is nothing wrong with my limp.  There is nothing wrong with your limp either.  Line up the wheelchairs and the crutches next Sunday.  The crippled are coming to the banquet! Worship well!  We got the invite.

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From time to time we are called upon to do hard things. Whenever I get that cal,l my mind races to find easier ways to fix whatever is the problem. My first reaction tends to be the one I inherited from my father. Maybe if I ignore it long enough, it will go away. Actually, it’s more along the line of if I ignore the person long enough he or she will go away. It is safe to say most hard things involve people.
After a few minutes of debate with God, we realize he called “me” not somebody else to go the distance. Since the problem won’t go away, the next avoidance trait is to find somebody else to deal with the problem. That one never works. Never. We think we can dish our problems off to other people, and sometimes we do. However, they tend to boomerang right back to us. Of course they will. God calls us to handle the hard stuff, not somebody else. If there is a temporary reprieve, the problem usually resurfaces worse than if we would have answered the bell when it rang.
Then there is the pleading to God to give us a way out. We misquote Scripture to our advantage. If we are honest, we probably misquote more Scripture to our advantage than we will admit. Anyway, it’s the old “God ,can you handle this one?” His answer is always, “Yes.” “However, as my child,” he whispers, “I’m using you to bring about my glory.”
I remember the day as a Bluffton Police Department Chaplain I got the call on a child drowning. Nobody likes to be called to minister at any serious injury or death of a child. I happened to be right around the corner from the ongoing incident. I was still praying to God, “Can you supply one of our other chaplains for this one?” As I turned the blinker on to make the left hand turn, I so much wanted one of my fellow chaplains to call in. They didn’t. I made the turn, and, in seconds, was in the middle of total chaos. One of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to answer. God doesn’t keep us from the hard ones, but he does promise to be there with us every step of the way. He was. He is. He always will be.
The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that “My grace is sufficient: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” It’s when we are weak that Christ is our only hope and aide. It is counter to all our culture demands. With Christ, His calling is for the weak who know their only hope is the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. I honestly don’t know how it works. I only know that it does.
So, we try to ignore the hard things or people and hope they will go away. We hope somebody else will go to the front of the line and fix the problem. Our last avoidance mechanism is to build up barriers or attitudes hoping to insulate ourselves from the fall out. First responders are usually pretty good at building up the wall. They tend to walk on the dark side of the moon. In order to protect their own being, they develop a “macho” image. It works during the emergency. However, they are not machines. They are humans. It comes out, and, if not cared for well, it tends to come out in unhealthy ways. It’s not only first responders. It’s all of us.
What do we do when we get news we don’t want? How do we live when we say, “I can’t handle this?” What happens when we are blindsided by an accident, an illness, or event? What makes us think that as Christians we should be immune from such things? It’s not our faith. That’s our own self-righteousness. There is a cancer that invades the Christian faith that says “If you behave well, serve God, and practice the disciplines of the faith, you will be immune from the tragedies, major illnesses and tough situations of life.” That is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Jesus didn’t say, “I will not let anything bad happen to you.” He said, regardless of the effects of depravity, “I will not leave you.”
Instead of trying to find a way out, those who claim Christ should be going straight to Him asking for Him to prevail over our limited capabilities. We love to quote “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” when we have already come through the valley. It should be out front.
I often think we have Christianity backwards. It’s not what can I do with Christ. It’s more what will Christ do with me. Christians seem to be getting more and more afraid. We should be afraid if we are out front. With Christ in our full view, out front where He belongs I like to cry out, “Bring It On!” Christians used to tell the world what Christ was going to do. They served God rather than man. We can do that when we get our position in Christ corrected.
As we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, we can look our issues right in the eye with confidence. We will answer the call and not depend upon an enabler. We don’t need a false ego; our weakness will be transformed into strength. That’s exactly what Christ did on the cross. No wonder Paul told us to “work out our salvation every day.” Go back to the cross today. Go back to the cross tomorrow. Go back and get your vision corrected. Bring it on!

“Where is God?”  “Why me?” These two questions permeate our lives when things go wrong.  Not just when they go wrong.  It’s when they go miserable.  This past week I lost a friend.  He was fine.  Suddenly he is sick.  Hospitalized.  Things go way wrong, and, the next thing one knows he is gone.  He was too young.  We look up to the heavens and ask the two questions looking for a reasonable answer.  We probably won’t get it.  At least we won’t get one that satisfies.

I could give a sound Biblical answer.  Most Christians know the theology behind death.  But there remains this little piece of us that would like to know what went wrong.  We are not satisfied with what went right.  Each and every one of us, even though we know it’s not true, thinks God should grant us long life and blessings.  I hear it all the time, “Have a blessed day.”  I wish we could put that one to rest.  We are already blessed according to Ephesians 1.  We’ve been granted all of them already!  What more do we want?  We want to be in control of the blessings.  It doesn’t work that way.

We can’t seem to get our hands around the idea that Jesus left the comfort of heaven to rescue man.  The minute he left the Father, he was suffering.  The suffering reaches a crescendo when the Father veils himself in the last three hours while his Son hung on the cross, bearing our sin.  Jesus cried out, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me!”  It is the way of true redemption.

Yes, the hurt and pain does feel like we have been abandoned and forsaken.  Yet, as Scripture so adequately says, “Joy comes in the morning.”  Joy comes when we see beyond our vision.  My friend will not have to suffer any longer in this world.  As the Word also says, “Absent from the body; present with the Lord.”  We are not cheated in his death, and neither is he.  We along with my friend are given a few years.  What’s 10 or 20 more in relation to eternity?  Our death is not the end.  It’s only the beginning.   

The joy that comes in the morning is not so much thinking we will see each other again.  The joy is to know my friend is safe and secure in the presence of the Lord Jesus.  Can anyone imagine what it will be like to be so safe and secure in the presence of all good?  There is no evil in the presence of Jesus.  None!  There is no depravity allowed in.  The reason we (depraved for sure) can be in His presence is the sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross.  His grace is sufficient.  Why?  It’s all we need.  

We who are left behind will wonder why he didn’t get to see his grandchildren grow up.  He won’t be there when his kids need that fatherly advice.  His wife will miss his presence in the night.  To this day, I miss my father-in-law.  I mainly miss his smile.  He was always smiling.  I think the world could have been coming to a literal end, and he would still be there smiling.  I hate Parkinson’s Disease.  It stole his smile before it stole him.  Yes, we are still bound by this earth, but he is free.  

Jesus, very early in his ministry said, “Blessed are they who mourn…”  I used to wonder about that one.  I finally realized mourning shows great love.  We do not mourn those we do not love.  We do not mourn those who bear our anger and bitterness.  Mourning shows a great life, a great family, and a great God.  He promised the mourners comfort, that only God can grant.  It’s a comfort that knows the truth and looks into the future. 

“Where is God?”  He is right there in front of all of us.  That is where the Shepherd takes his place, guiding His sheep along the weary paths of life.  He didn’t leave us.  He can’t.  In fact, Jesus said when we go our own way, He will come and find us.  We don’t find Him.  He comes and gets us.  Amazing…I don’t think any other religious practice has a God coming to rescue his wandering sheep.  He’s where he promised to be.  

“Why me?”  I’m sorry but we all must go through the fire.  We aren’t there yet.  My friend is, but we are not.  So instead of wondering what God is doing, we turn to a little book in the back of the New Testament titled Titus.  The Apostle Paul wrote to him and answered his questions.  He wrote, “Looking for the blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.”  When that occurs, many will be without a job.  No more health care.  No more doctors needed.  No health insurance to be purchased.  No more pain.  No more death.  

Not here but there.

Thank you Jesus you told us we could mourn our loved ones.  Thank you, Jesus, that we will be comforted with the One who suffered the cruelest of all.  Thank you, Jesus, that because of you, we don’t have to suffer for eternity.  Do you know my Jesus?  

Today’s article is dedicated in memory of my friend, David Marcy. 

Quiet!
“Quiet” may be one of the most paradoxical words in our English language. It’s something we all want in our noisy, noisy world. At the same time, we can’t stand too much of it. Even in the Bible, quiet can have this double side.
In I Timothy 4 the Apostle Paul tells his young protege, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.” I wonder, I really wonder, what Paul would write in this fast-paced, over-stimulated world. On the other hand, in Revelation 8, the Apostle John writes his prophecy and states “…there was silence [quiet’s kissing cousin] in heaven for about half an hour.” This heavenly silence was very rare and was a pause before judgments of God were poured out.
Silence or quiet (pick one) tends to occur even in the Scriptures when someone or something demands it or the responder is stymied. The same thing occurs in our lives. Quiet occurs in hospitals, at funerals and in special places. Silence will be demanded when children are screaming in the car. There is a place and a time for silence for sure.
One of the classic Scriptures pertaining to quiet is Psalm 46:10 where we are told “Be still and know that I am God.” There is indication from these words that man has always been scurrying around in this world making noise every step of the way. Maybe we think we can find our significance in making noise. God tells us at this point to take the time to shut up, sit down and focus on Him. Now we have a specific reason for quietness.
Jesus remained silent at one of the most important times…his trial. His silence was purposeful. If he were to speak at this time, the redemption of man might have been in jeopardy. His silence is the lamb taking on the sin of man.
Quiet can be scary and uncomfortable as well. At our church we have a few minutes (actually seconds) to sit quietly before God as we enter into worship to Him. We also may have a time of quiet during confession. Man, it feels like those few seconds go on forever. It’s the same use of quiet in a horror movie. The same concept is in Revelation 8. Silence can be the bearer of bad news.
We can see that quiet at the right time has great purpose. Quiet at the wrong time tends to speak volumes as well. When I was taking counseling courses, a wise instructor taught, “Everything we do and say is counsel. Everything speaks.” Quiet speaks. Sometimes we think being quiet keeps us out of the fray. Not so fast! Quiet speaks when there should actually be words. Quiet at the wrong time leaves interpretation up to those we should be speaking with (notice I did not say “to”).
So, why am I taking so much time to write about something that there is not enough of in our lives and yet scary as well? I have noticed lately that the modern evangelical church is loud in its worship and silent on important issues going on in our world.
Let’s take the latest immigration issue where children have been separated from their families as they try to illegally cross the border. The church sits quietly.
How about the abuse of women going on in our culture? The quiet is condemning on this one.
What does the church have to say about the murder rates in our big cities? The opioid epidemic? Civil rights violations? Issues of justice where the poor are being used in issues like predatory lending? The president when he goes over the line in his attacks and opinions that look nothing like what we read in the Bible? We have gone quiet.
Our quietness demonstrates our inability to develop and promote a response built on the foundation of God’s love and truth. Our quiet is not so much a fear of God but rather a fear that we will lose something. Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters. You will love the one and hate the other.” Our silence betrays our belief. We have two masters.
It is interesting to study the book of Acts. The early church clearly had one master. They were far from silent. 12 men changed the world. How? Not by being quiet. Can we be humble, loving and caring and not be quiet? Yes! The only thing is we will have to sacrifice. I can hear the quietness from here.

A frequent reader asked if I would take a week and address “respect” as a topic. At a weekly Friday morning meeting the issue of respect constantly hits the table. So, I thought this week I would try and tackle it.
Respect is one of those topics that is hard to pin down. It’s sort of like humility. Humility is one of those topics one doesn’t want to discuss. Why? If someone thinks they have it and talk too much about it, it disappears. Respect is close. One can demand respect but not deserve it. One can give respect and not receive it back. What do we do then? I’m not sure I know.
Let’s start with a dictionary definition. The definition I found is this: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Let’s look at the Bible. I Peter 2:17 is probably the best verse that encapsulates respect. It reads, “Show proper respect to everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.”
Now, let’s put the two together. The Apostle Peter, along with a lot of other Bible authors, talks about our faith in Jesus Christ moving us to honor or respect others. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” This is the very message of Christ when he talked about loving God and loving others. In other words, the gospel of Jesus Christ moves us out of our own world and invites others, regardless of any distinction, in.
The dictionary definition says we have respect or a deep admiration elicited by someone’s abilities, qualities (positive, if I must add), or achievements. Jesus should automatically gain our respect since His achievement is the giving of His life for mankind’s redemption. This is the very essence of respect either as a receiver or a giver of it. This concept of giving our lives to others is parallel with the apostle John telling us that the love of God is to lay our lives down for the sake of another. Thus, respect happens.
The other characteristic of respect involves leadership. Many from the older generation feel that they should be given respect simply because of their generation’s achievements and age. However, when one generation demands respect without laying its life down for the next, respect will be hard to find. Respect does not really happen because of achievement. Respect happens when you know someone loves and cares for you.
President Trump is an example of this concept. He has some amazing achievements as a businessman. Being elected president is quite an achievement. However, how he handles himself tends to lose him respect even from those who voted for him. Why? There is an air of self-righteousness that diminishes any sense of true public service. This is probably the reason there is very little respect at many levels of leadership. Leadership that does not care for the underdog will not engender respect.
Jesus was constantly caring well for the underdog. In my lifetime, I think Mother Teresa is an example of someone who garnered immense respect. Everyone knew she laid her life down for the downtrodden. She was not weak. Her life backed up her words. Now, there is an unwritten element of respect.
Most of the older generation want to talk about respect because they feel it is demanded. However, get them to talk about where they have failed as parents, leaders, and followers of Jesus Christ, that is a different creature. Respect can not be demanded. It is lived.
God is the foundation of all respect. The Father gave his Son, Jesus, for his creation humankind. We can not be good enough to reestablish a relationship with Holy God. The Father gave us his Son to redeem us from our unbelief. As a parent, I’m not sure I have met any human for whom I would give my son. That’s just it. His love and action encompass what we are seeking through great achievements without sacrifice.
Finally, take Jesus out of the respect equation and what do we have? I don’t think It’s spelled, R.E.S.P.E.C.T. The end result is selfishness, blind ambition, avarice and any other word that can be used to define self-absorption.
Did you catch the elements Peter gave? Love, Fear and Honor were the big three. Of course, Paul said anything without love is like a sounding gong. Take a closer look. Respect…Donald Trump or Mother Teresa?

I met the my friend for breakfast as we normally do. We are slowly building a friendship meeting bi-weekly, having good conversations about life. We come from different backgrounds but seek the peace of God in our lives. We are weary travelers on the road of life, and it’s a pleasure to have someone walk a few miles alongside.
This day I didn’t feel like talking. I wanted to complain. Please do not think that pastors don’t go through times of depression, anger, discouragement and disappointment. If a pastor tells you he doesn’t, either he is lying or he has not been in the position long enough. So, complain I did.
My friend is a talker. It’s his nature. After he commented that I seemed tired and asked how I was, he sat and listened. For the next 10 to 15 minutes, he said very little. I actually stopped once thinking he wanted to interject some sort of wisdom. Instead he sat there with the strangest grin on his face. So, I continued to clearly let him know where I was, and I was not in a good place. The sheep were winning. This shepherd was not happy. By the way, “happy” is one of the least used words in the Bible. Probably because our state of happiness is based on circumstances not internal peace.
I don’t know if I was testing my new friend to see how far I could go till he either would try to fix me (please don’t try), or placate me with trite sayings, or use out of text Bible verses. Regardless, he didn’t do any of those relationship killers. Instead, he listened well. HIs first statement was true as he pointed out, “You seem depressed and angry. You know they often go together.” He was dead on.
At that point I expected him to start the “fix it” or tell me about what he would do. We all do that a lot. What works for one person is not necessarily, and, actually I will say seldom, is the recipe for anyone else. That’s the major problem with self-help books. We all have different baggage, interpretive lenses, and family histories. What is really happening at those times is the shifting of attention to ourselves.
Instead, my friend asked me if he could tell me about the time he was institutionalized with a Jesus fixation. It was more than a Jesus fixation. He actually believed he was Jesus incarnate. Yes, he had a mental illness. I was not sure where he was going with this one but we continued walking together.
He told me about his thought patterns. When one really believes he is Jesus and nobody will listen, depression and anger hitch a ride. Meanwhile, when one thinks he is Jesus coming off his “rightness” doesn’t happen. Everybody else is wrong. They have to be; they aren’t Jesus. It went on for a few minutes, not real long.
At first I was thinking, what does this have to do with anything. We have talked about this before. I began to hear instead of listen, or do I have that one backwards? He began to talk about taking on a self-induced suffering since no one would come along with him. It was at that point the Holy Spirit clued me in. Suddenly, I was massively humbled. I got it. I didn’t like it but I got it.
It isn’t only the mentally ill who may have problems with thinking they are Jesus. It’s all of us. I’ve heard people say, “We all want to be god.” Only the word “god” is too generic. The name “Jesus” puts skin on it. Let’s face it, when life isn’t going the way we want it to go, we become complainers. If no one listens, we can easily become angry. If nothing happens, we can slip into an anger-induced depression. Why? It’s not because I want God to do things my way. It’s because I want to be Jesus. I want to be right. I want people to respond to “ME!” I want things to go my way. If they don’t, I will self-inflict “poor pitiful me” suffering to prove I am who I claim to be. We all do this, only we don’t want to acknowledge it.
When Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden of Eden, the sin goes much deeper then we think. And Jesus keeps pouring out his grace over and over and over. Good thing he is the real Jesus and not me or you.

Jesus was emphatic as he constantly described the modus operandi of the Kingdom of God.  He had to!  The world or kingdom we are entrapped in abides by a different set of rules.  Jesus made that clear as he talked to brothers James and John a few days before he entered Jerusalem.  He describes it as the “rulers of the Gentiles.”  

In the kingdom of this world, the first are first.  Man should look out for his own good (narcissistic at a certain level).  It isn’t the servers who rate it’s the one being served that holds the upper hand.  Jesus said His kingdom is quite different.  He said, “Whoever must be great must be a servant; whoever would be priest must be a slave; you are to serve not be served; and follow my example give your life as a ransom for many.”  Earlier he said, “Whoever wants to find his life must lose it.”  Living as a member of God’s kingdom is vastly different than what we think it is.  I fear we have adapted the kingdom of God to the kingdom of the Gentiles and the offspring is not pretty.  

The life based on love of God and then love of our neighbor was so unique the community at large in a city called Antioch gave us the moniker “Christian.”  There is no indicator it was used to mock them as it is used often today.  Is seems that the early Christians overwhelmed their neighbors with the love of God both in word and deed.  

There is a document found in Rome that described the effect the plague had on the city.  It gives mention to a group of crazy people who ran to the plague instead of away.  Guess who they were?  The Christians.

I read of a recently discovered document that described a horrid situation in the city of Ephesus.  Unwanted and/or babies with a defect were thrown into a dump outside the city.  Again, a group of people would rescue the babies and adopt them raising them as their own children.  Who were these people?  The Christians.  

Now these are dramatic representations of the love described by Jesus in Matthew 25.  These manifestations of love are epic in proportion.  More than likely the Christians in Antioch were loving each other and their neighbors daily.  Often the daily love is harder than the dramatic love in tough times.  

Daily love and grace are long and hard and full of ups and downs. They’re dirty too.  

Last week I wrote about this puppy we adopted over Memorial Day weekend.  Vader (yes, we named him after Darth Vader) has awakened me, to of all things, God’s love and what it really looks like.

Take last night.  I have been trying to let the 8-week-old bundle of energy learn to play by himself.  I have given him plenty of distractions.  However, as a dog, he wants and needs my attention and love.  At first I sat and read a book while he played.  Then I moved a little closer to him hoping to settle him down.  Eventually, I sat down on the floor.  What did he do?  He left all his chew toys and came up and sat on my lap with a strong desire to lick me and bite my ear.  As I sat and talked to him and rubbed his ears and belly, he settled down.  Bonding and love happened.  Why?  That’s what a puppy does.  That’s what a puppy needs.  

I know there are some out there that believe one should beat their dog into submission.  I have trained two dogs now and know that love is a much deeper and better bond.  I have learned over the years people need love too.  Only no bellies rubbed.    

When Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you,” it was not an option.  It’s the modus operandi!  He tells us to go and love our neighbor the same.  What kind of love is that?  The kind that sits on the floor.

King David described the love of God as being “a father to the fatherless and a defender of the widows.”  Jesus has a special place for the downtrodden and suffering.  It’s who He is.  It’s who He desires us to be.  There are no “if’s, buts and maybes” in His call to live a different life that reveals the nature of Jesus.  It’s not a sit afar off and hopefully they will figure it out.  

Hey Church!  Tired of the decay in our society?  Repent for our failure to get down on the floor with somebody and bind his or her wounds, share in his or her pains and suffer along with him or her.  Remember, not because God forces us too.  It’s because of who we have become.  In Antioch they used the word, “Christian.”  

I did something absolutely crazy this past weekend.  I adopted a dog.  Let’s get specific.  I adopted a puppy.  He is an 8 week old black, part Lab, part Hound puppy.  We named him, Vader.  Eventually I want to give him a command “Darth.”  Yes, I have lost my marbles.  My wife cannot believe it.

I’ve had him for two days.  He sleeps through the night except to go out around 3 a.m.  From there he makes it till 6 a.m.  Other then chewing everything in sight, wanting to play every waking hour and the continual effort to figure out his “movements” it’s been a blast.  

Vader has awakened me to life outside of my own circle.  As we grow older, the kids move out and have families of their own it is not very hard to have our lives shrink.  We might get involved in some things we like to do but truthfully, our lives get smaller and smaller.  Maybe that was the point of the odd movie “The Odd Case of Benjamin Buttons.”  In that one, Buttons developed into an infant as he grew older.  There was more to that one than meets the eye, I do believe.

Having Vader around disrupts my schedule.  It is hard to write this article as he tries to nibble on my elbow seeking to gain my attention even though he has 3 chew toys at his disposal.  A morning and evening walk is required.  Vader has extended the waking hours.  It’s been a long time since we had a pup in the house.  My life is no longer mine.  It’s mine and my dog’s.

Thinking about this new venture I think it resembles our lives as believers in Jesus Christ.  Many of us accepted Christ as our Savior since it sounded a lot better then going to hell.  Let’s just say with a bit of sarcasm that possibly we bought fire insurance in Jesus.  For many raised in a “Christian” home we said early prayers so that we get to be with our loved ones in the golden streets and live in a mansion at our new address in heaven.  Little did I know till around the 35 years old that being a believer in Jesus Christ is so much more.

We like to think our belief will cover us at death when we are to enter the pearly gates and live a peaceful eternity in the kingdom of God.  Isn’t that the gospel?  It sure is.  However, there is a lot more that is often covered later instead of earlier.  

Jesus and the Scriptures talk a lot about living in the kingdom of God now.  Yes, right this very moment was the idea.  Living in the kingdom in the future simply extends living in the kingdom today.  What does living in the kingdom today look like?  Possibly not what one thinks.

Jesus was asked directly who gets to go to heaven in Matthew 25.  He did not answer with customary methodologies like devotions, prayer lengths (Jesus commended the short and sweet ones), Bible studios and small group attendance.  He said his sheep would do stuff like, give water to those who are thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, care for the sick, invite the stranger in and visit the imprisoned.  Hum, not what I thought in the first 35 years of my life.

Basically if we add the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control) to Matthew 25 and throw in love God and your neighbor and one more, think of others better then yourself, we have a kingdom life whereby we cease being narcissistic lovers of ourselves and become lovers of others especially those we would naturally not have in our lives.  We literally look for need and pain and address it with grace and love.  This is the real Christian life.  

It’s funny actually sad. Christians revel in the opening scene of Les Miserables when the priest gives the family heirloom candle holders to the their who already stole the family silverware displaying an incredible act of grace overwhelming the desperate man with grace he could not forget.  However, to have the same viewers display the same grace in forfeiting their lives for the sake of incredible grace let’s just say there will be no movies or plays written for our often poor response.  

Looking through the Scriptures and history Jesus often goes silent when his people shrink the life that Jesus gave.  He makes his people desperate for his grace.  It is often not pretty.  He gets his points across and brings his people back into an understanding of real life in Christ.  I have no idea how he is going to drive us back to Him.  All I know is he will.  

Got to go!  Vader just woke up and I don’t want to have to clean the floor.  Again.  

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever losses their life for my sake will find it.”  Matthew 10:39

Marriage holds a high place on the priority list in the Bible. It is mentioned as early as Genesis 2. The Apostle Paul equated the marriage relationship to one that mirrors the relationship between Jesus and his bride, the church. That is a pretty special relationship.
Marriage is often seen as the backbone of a society. As far as I know, all major religions and even atheists acknowledge the importance of the institution. The magazine Psychology Today published an article recently that pointed out that a family where mom and dad are present is the healthiest environment to raise a child. Marriage, the legal commitment, brings stability to possibly the most important relationship on earth.
It’s under grave attack.
As a counseling pastor, I see more broken marriages than anything else. A broken marriage endangers the next generation, and that is exactly the intended target. All the good elements of life are to be what drives a marriage. We marry because we say we are I’m love. When someone asks what is the most important characteristic of God, the answer is usually “love.” Break the love that is to hold a family together and the interpretation of God’s love is at stake.
We have not handled marriage well in the last 50 years. Divorce rates are on par in the church with the rest of society. Deep teachings giving a marriage purpose and meaning is relegated to maybe a Sunday school elective. Pre-marital counseling is weak to non-existent on most occasions. God values marriage highly, and we treat it haphazardly.
I want to tickle your brain for a few seconds.
In Genesis 2 God says one of the most important relationships of man, parent to child, is not to interfere with the husband to wife relationship. He tells men to “Get Out” of our parents home. Your wife is your most important relationship. Interesting!
Jump to Ephesians and we see the Apostle Paul telling us that the marriage relationship is an image of the relationship of Christ to believers. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church. I often ask men, “How did Christ love the church?” The answers take awhile to come out and are often shallow. There is the indication we don’t consider marriage as high of a priority as we say we do. We get more training for job skills then the marriage relationship. I like to treat a 6-week pre-marriage counseling as an opportunity to see why a couple should not get married. At least they can’t say they were not warned.
Apostle Paul in the NewTestament said our marriages are like Jesus (God) and the church. Jesus summed up the commandments by saying “love God and love your neighbor.” Since human marriage is like God and his love for the church, why don’t we look at the first 4 of the 10 commandments for guidance? Aren’t the the love commandments of God and the church? They are!
Here is a summation of the first 4 commandments: 1. No other gods (no other relationships come between us), 2: No idols; God is a jealous God (nothing comes into the relationship), 3. Do not take the Lord’s name in vane (do not speak idly of our relationship), and 4. Remember the Sabbath (take time to rest together). What if we applied these four to our marriage? Can it make a difference? Without question.
No other relationship is to take anything away from the marriage relationship. There is no flirty with the cute waitress. Texting a best friend endlessly instead of engaging our spouse is letting someone in where historically they were not allowed. Even the children are not to interfere with the ever important relationship between a man and a woman. It is easy to tell when a marriage is under stress. The parents have an unhealthy relationship with the child, and it doesn’t have to be perverted.
Nothing is to take away from the marriage, including sports, sport events, work (man have we failed at that one), television and now social media. The love of Jesus according to the Apostle John has us laying our lives down for our neighbor. You heard that right. It’s not about what is fair. It’s not about what I want. It says, “Lay your life down.” Even when you are mad and frustrated and not getting a reciprocal response. Nothing means nothing.
How do you speak of your spouse? Do your closest friends know that your spouse is the most valued commodity in your life? Do they even know he or she exist? What does your spouse hear from you? Complaints and ridicule or encouragement and love? Our mouths do expose our heart. What is in our heart for our lover?
Last but not least, even God wanted his people to break from the craziness of life and spend some time with him. How are we doing with that one in todays pressure-packed time overload world? And spouse, are you using that time well to connect with each other, and I don’t mean sexually? Is your spouse so valuable you will purpose your time with him or her? You would not believe the looks I get when I counsel parents to make it a point to tell your kids that your time comes first. Kids are a by-product of a marriage not the marriage.
I have never had anyone put the first four commandments together with marriage. It is so much deeper than “man love your wife” and “wife submit to your husband” because God said so. If you can’t do these things…you do not love the other person. Don’t get married. If you are married and feel like you don’t love your spouse anymore…hate to tell you this…love is for the bad times not the good times. That is the love of God, even when we shake our fist at him. His love keeps on flowing. And flowing. And flowing. Now, go love whom God has chosen for you.

We like to have fun with the grandkids. They live around the corner from us. They can come to our house any day and all day. We treat it like they live 600 miles away. We know how to have fun. Laughter is the order of the day. I tell people all the time, “If I knew grandkids were this much fun, I would have skipped kids.” It’s fun to watch them work that one out. Every once in a while, somebody will say, “But that’s impossible.” I just give them the look.
We had a great day last Wednesday. After a quick stop at Parkers for a refill of candy it was off to the Savannah Wildlife Refuge to hunt alligators. After the gator hunt, we took a ride in the golf cart, hiding painted rocks in the neighborhood. Grandma came home a little late, but that didn’t stop us from going out to eat at Kylee’s choice since she won a Student of the Month award at her elementary school. Fun is fun and fun was on the menu.
Everything was going very well till around 9:00 p.m. The kids are supposed to be in bed by 8 on a school night. Not only that, but Grandma had run out of juice. She was close to empty; however, I don’t know what it is but kids seem to get a last burst of “super” energy at that hour. The two grandkids were on fire.
We stopped at our house to pick up some items and I took the opportunity to tell the live wires it was time to settle down. As I closed the van door they screamed in delight. Talk number two was on the way as I implored, “Grandma is at her wit’s end. Time to settle down. Seriously.” As the door closed the second time, the youngest decided it was time to test ole Poppie. He hasn’t figured out yet he will lose every time.
As I quickly popped open the door for the third time, I asked them if they wanted Poppie to exercise his right to put the hammer down. They know what that means. The look on their faces and the shake of their heads from left to right communicated to me that they desired to avoid that one. That was until I closed the door. At that point, the youngest, probably on a sugar high from Parkers, tested the water once more. I thought it best to walk away and fight another day for respect and reason.
The next morning as they came in the door all ready for me to take them to school they were instructed to sit down. We had to have a talk. Kylee, the 9-year-old, confirmed the need to address their behavior from the night before.
As they sat down, I asked them if they knew why I take them to Parkers for a candy stop and do things like take golf cart rides, paint rocks, hide them, ride to the Wildlife Refuge and play numerous games like Pie Face Showdown (yes, we laugh for hours at whipped cream pies blasted in our faces). They both replied, “Because you love us.” That was correct.
The next question was not so easy. I asked them why it was important for them to listen to me when I ask them to do something like settle down for the night. Kylee instantly replied, “Because you are the boss.” I shocked them with a firm “No, that is not correct.”
As I went down the hall to let the dogs in from their morning ritual, I told them to sit there quietly and think about their answer. A few seconds later, I asked them the question once again. Ben, the 6-year-old ball of energy, looked at me and said, “Because you love us.” “Bingo!,” I replied.
End of discussion.
As I listened to them talk about it the best a 9 and 6-year-old can, I took it all in. I sure didn’t think that way when I was 6 and 9. In fact I probably didn’t think that way till I was in my 30’s. I was told that God was the boss. My discipline was not to think about His love but more on His wrath. The more I thought about Ben’s answer and the purity of the concept, I want to know why nobody put my response to God together with His love. I often wonder why it took 30 some years till I heard that the love of God is the motivator of the heart? All I could hear was the big bad God who looked to punish me because he is the boss.
The Bible does say, “God disciplines those He loves.” I understood that to mean God punishes those He loves. There is a difference between the two; however, it was not taught nor put in action. I could never figure out “Do as I tell you, not as I do.” I’m not so sure any of the millennial generation figured that one out nor should they.
God pours his grace out to us over and over and over, especially through his Son Jesus. Jesus comes and asks us to follow him. Why? Because He loves us. Then He turns around and tells us to love others as well, even our enemies. But what about the rules? They are not the 10 Commandments. They are 4 descriptors of what it is to love God, who pours love out to us, and 6 descriptors of loving our neighbor. Yes, God is the boss, but it’s His love that makes him so unique.
I did not take the time to preach to my grandchildren. I didn’t have to.