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I have to admit I’m feeling good this week.  It’s a pride issue.  I usually don’t go this direction but I am going to boast for a few minutes.  With the social distancing stuff and church closed down, we quickly dove into the cyberspace world.  Now, we are a small church and we don’t have a lot of talent on certain fronts.  Technical sound and audio is not our strength.  Like anything else we all knew just enough to get in trouble.  

I know when I am in trouble with technology.  It is that moment I am forced to call the help line.  Has anybody noticed that nothing comes with directions anymore?   It’s a world that either expects you to have a general knowledge or at least the ability to go to Youtube to find a tutorial.  If all else fails, you are going to have to either click the help line or call them.  A man will click the button.  A woman will call.  I will call only if it is the last option.  I say a little prayer before I call, asking the Lord to fix the problem or fix me.  

It was such a good week I didn’t need to call anybody.  Here six weeks ago I did not know a lot about video, video editing, live streaming, or audio control.  I still don’t know much about audio issues, but the rest of them, it was goooooooood.  I have a way to go with video editing to be really good at it, and our live streaming system has some smaller issues I have to get my hands around, but overall…it was good.   

Creating a project from scratch to finish is like taking a picture and using Photoshop.  Photoshop can make any picture look good.  I’m not a user of Photoshop.  I use other photo editing software only because I am cheap. and they are easier to use.  However, it is the best.  One day maybe I’ll venture down that lane.  

I use iMovie, a Mac app, for video editing.  It is easy to use.  This week I went from a complete novice to functional in about three days.  This weeks edited worship video made me feel good.  I’m sure somebody will remind me I am not an expert, but they can’t dent my ego on this one.  I’m really feeling good about it.

Don’t you, like I do, wish life had a Photoshop button or an iMovie mode?  We can take the real deal and make it look good.  I know some people like to live by the old adage, “Fake it till you make it.”  But, that’s not what I’m talking about.  With the edit software, one can clean up the image, make it look the way they want it to, and, in the end, delete the real deal.  How many times would I have liked to delete the real deal?  Too many to count.  

Most of my “edits” need to be audio adjustments.  It’s my mouth that gets me in more trouble than anything.  The book of James in the Bible talks about how the tongue can be such a small spark to start a huge wildfire.  That can be me.  I say the dumbest things sometimes.  My mouth runs faster than my brain.  Of course, that is just an excuse.  

There have been other “events” I wish I could have back.  Choices I made that didn’t turn out too good.  Things I have done that have caused other people pain and suffering.  Failure to care for others when my own pride takes over.  Yup, I have those pictures that could sure use Photoshop, and I’ve got those clips in my brain that run over and over, wishing maybe an editor could either cut out the flub or put a few new slides in.  I’m sure you are with me on this one.  We all have them.  We are all human.  

Actually, we do have an edit, and we have an editor.  One of the most interesting truths about faith in Jesus Christ is the total forgiveness of sins.  Not only does he forgive, like a court of law, there is a total acquittal.  The Word of God tells us he “spreads our sins as far as the east from the west and he remembers them no more.”  God can forget.  We are so covered by the sacrifice of Jesus that no one can stand and accuse a believer of anything.  It is as if I have never sinned.  Now, that’s an edit I can live with.

Some people talk endlessly about the code, written or unwritten, that a Christian should follow.  However, our faith is not about anyone’s ability to keep the code.  Our faith is in Jesus who covers our sin.  Our faith is not on our good works but rather on the work of Jesus.  It’s not about what has to be done.  It’s about what was done.  What does the old hymn say, “My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  

The changes that take place in our lives are not about being a good boy or girl.  The change is because Jesus made it possible to have a relationship with God no matter what we have done.  A man recently asked me if God could forgive him of an atrocity.  He went on to share with me his situation.  “Of course,” I replied.  Jesus forgave the thief beside him and actually prayed to forgive those who unjustly murdered him upon the cross.  Not only is he the “editor” of my life he is my help line as well, guaranteeing to never leave us hanging.  His “edits”are always for the better.  I thank the Lord often that He can take all my flaws and sins and make me beautiful.  Only God can do that.  A God full of grace.  His name is Jesus.  The Christ. 

This is been a week for sure.  In the church world lately it has been quite confusing. As we all contemplate restarting worship services, everyone has an opinion.  Of those opinions, it is often hard to find any two that are the same.  The return to worship in a new world of “social distancing” combined with “social responsibility” leaves all our heads spinning.  Our senior pastor and myself were in complete agreement this week.  We agreed that our minds are working overtime ,especially at three in the morning over various issues surrounding having a worship service.  

As we desire for God’s people to join together again in worship of the King of Kings, we find a broad response range.  There is the one group who won’t return to worship for quite some time.  They believe we are returning to gather too soon.  They take the threat very seriously, and, honestly, no matter what we do we will never check all the boxes on their “safe” list.

On the other end of the opinion spectrum are those who believe we should have never cancelled worship at all.  Some think the corona virus thing is made-up and over-stated.  Others in this group feel that God trumps all, and we catered to the whims of the world.  A few others in this group just think it’s time.  

In between these extremes are a boat -oad, no, let me change that, there is a cruise ship loaded full of various opinions and ideas about reopening.  They are expressed in questions and comments about protocol they want to see in place that satisfies their personal world.  I’ve seen people get angry, and I’ve seen people not care.  

On top of all this, we won’t find this type of situation in the Bible.  There is complete cultural disruption in the captivity of the Israelites.  There are kings conquering kings and bloodshed around every corner.  The Romans in Jesus’ time were no picnic.  I’m sure the debates raged back then as to the function of faith in a world gone mad.  Sometimes it got so bad we see men and women going it alone.  Daniel had only three faithful companions and often was separated from them.  David had a best friend in Jonathan, and he was killed when still young.  The prophets, especially Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel were lone voices even among God’s chosen people.  Isaiah is actually told to shut up and stop talking about God. They told him “tell us pleasant things.”  One thing for sure, if there are 10 people involved there are 10 different opinions and desires. 

I have come to the conclusion after all these years that our first reaction to a stressful situation is generally bathed in depravity.  Even our “correct” responses are usually self-driven.  It’s the human condition.  Shutting our traps and listening to gain perspective and insight into not so much the problem but rather the person is not our first nature.  Take a minute.  Can anyone honestly say when confronted with a problem or stress is building they are thinking of the other person, and the glory of God is their goal?  I didn’t think so.  

Especially regarding this disruption in our lives, real or perceived, does our limited knowledge of the situation trump loving our neighbor as ourselves?  Getting angry is not a loving response to someone who does not have the same opinion.  Having a “who cares” attitude is not, as the Apostle Paul said, “considering the interests of others.”  

So, how do we as brothers and sisters, with different opinions and ideas have unity in the Spirit of our Lord, Jesus Christ?  Never speak to one another is an option, but I know it is not in the Scriptures.  

Let’s pause for a minute.  There is more in the Word of God about how we are to love one another instead of our ability to keep the law of God.  Faith in Jesus is not about  how good we can be.  It’s about how love transforms our heart into a heart of Jesus.  The heart of Jesus can be found in Matthew 25:31 – 46.  Take time to read it.  You might be surprised.  I was.  

The heart of Jesus is one that takes us outside of our narcissistic egos and enters the lives of our neighbors.  Better yet, the heart of Jesus is one that considers those outside of our circle of life.  It has great compassion and grace for the “least of these.”  In other words, the sufferers of life.  Instead of judgment and ridicule, the heart of Jesus came to fulfill John 3:17 as well as John 3:16.  

Next time somebody does not have the same opinion as you, stop and listen, thinking of them instead of yourself.  Find unity in the good news of Jesus and work from there.  Instead of finding jots and tittles to debate for hours, we might actually care for the well-being of another.  Maybe then we can grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  

I used to joke that the pastor used to let me take money out of the offering plate so I wouldn’t sing.  I used to sing in the high school choir.  Actually, I used to act like I could sing in the choir since my girlfriend was in the choir.  I couldn’t carry a tune in a wheel barrow much less a bucket.  

My dad was worse.  He couldn’t sing worth a lick.  I’m pretty sure he is one of the 4% of the human population that have been diagnosed as amusics.  Amusics are people who can’t produce and distinguish musical sounds.  Music sounds no different than traffic noise.  It isn’t that they are tone-deaf.  They literally cannot hear it.  

It seems that scientists have found a brain anomaly that they are pretty sure keeps them from hearing musical tones and notes.  It isn’t that they can’t hear it.  They cannot distinguish them.  

On the other hand, there are a lot of individuals who cannot carry a tune, but they are not amusics.  They think they are tone-deaf, but that is not true.  With some training, they can actually hear the different tones and get better at singing.  I think I’m that kind of person.  I don’t sing all that well, but music does not sound like a traffic jam on Route 278.  The scientists that study such things declare that the only reason most people can’t carry a tune is because they have untrained ears.  

Untrained ears, generally, were not around music as a child.  I do think that was my experience.   I do not remember music being played in our family setting.  The only music we heard was from the radio, and that wasn’t much.  If one is not around music, he or she does not develop an ear for notes and tones.  They think they are tone-deaf, but they actually don’t have an ear for it.  Everyday Health reports, “As with any muscle, practice and regular use improves the strength of the muscles that control the vocal cords. And some tone-challenged people need time to produce music and hear themselves to understand how to hit the right note. Of course, practice won’t turn us all into Mariah Carey or Josh Groban.”  At the end of the day those who are not amusics can’t hear and produce the right musical tone.

One of my best friends, who calls me from time to time, called today.  We talked for about an hour.  I mentioned to him that I heard a statistic that says 80% of American churches are stagnant or in retreat.  His response stunned me.  He said, “We are tone-deaf.”  I asked him what he meant by that statement.  His reply left me in silent contemplation.  He said, “We cannot hear the cry of our community.”  We talked some more and discussed the truth that we as the church only communicate with others in the church.  When this happens, we only hear ourselves and cannot hear the voice of others.

Jesus talked about it.  He gave the story of the Good Samaritan.  It is the same situation.  The beleaguered man was lying beaten along the road.  I’m sure he groaned and possibly asked for help.  The two religious guys walked right b,y quoting words they would have heard in their religious circles.  The Samaritan comes along.  He sees the man and hears the beaten man.  What does he do?  He responds and cares for him.  The Good Samaritan was far from tone-deaf.  He was singing like Mariah Carey or Josh Groban.  

It isn’t so much the church people who go tone-deaf.  It tends to be the leadership.  A tone-deaf church only hears one voice.  It tends to be the voice of those who sit in the pews.  Instead of inspiring people to give their lives away, they become complacent.  It isn’t about what they can give away, it becomes what they get.  They only hear their own voice.  

One of the key elements of the generational divide we now face in the churches across America is the inability to hear the voices of the younger generations.  Since we cannot hear them, we cannot communicate.  The funny thing is we tend to blame them.  However, the ears of our heart are not trained to hear the cry of their heart.  So we need to practice so that we can sing the gospel song to the tune of others hearts.  

When we cannot carry a tune, few want to sit next to us.  We ruin the song others are enjoying.  Either that or we just don’t sing.  Either way, we lose the connection that is vital to relay the life changing good news of Jesus Christ.  The only problem is it’s our children and grandchildren who are running away instead of to.  One thing I have learned about the millennial generation with which baby boomers tend to struggle with:  they are talking.  We can’t hear.  Time for voice lessons.  Time for music lessons.  Time for lessons to train our ears. 

Our recent crisis  has allowed conversation to reveal many things.  It’s funny.  The first few weeks my phone was silent.  Suddenly, a few weeks in, it blew up, and I don’t mean by an incendiary device.  Many of those, I have had the privilege to be part of their lives were calling for a quick tune up.  Nothing was earth shattering.  I think it was the “pause” in life that made them look at things a little closer than they ever had before.  

It’s that way at my house in a sense.  The painting of the house is done.  Not only was it painted from ceiling to baseboards, it was a total housecleaning as well.  We saw things we had no idea existed in the same place we lived.  

My wife and I laughed a ton one night.  We began to move the furniture in preparation of painting the living room/front door entrance.  We have lived in this house for about seven years.  At first our attention was on the dog hair-balls under the curio cabinet along a wall facing the front door.  I think we had hair from every dog that has ever entered the house.  Then we looked up and just about lost it.

We had no idea that our house had one of those built-in arched 12-inch shelves along the same wall.  It’s one of those areas where someone can put a statue or something.  I don’t know what they are called, but we have one.  We had no idea.  It was full of dust bunnies and spider webs.  We seriously had forgotten all about it.  Since we moved the cabinet into another room ,it now holds some greenery and a wooden angel.  We both would have preferred a flat wall.  We still laugh about it.  

We have found things missing for a long time.  The words “do you remember” were used constantly during this major painting/cleaning.  Most of the time I couldn’t remember much of anything.  

Along with taking a closer look at things, the extra time has people looking closer at each other.  I see it on Facebook.  Just about everybody thinks they are going to gain weight, and it looks like a lot of it.  As I started this one, we seem to be paying more attention to what we say, how we are doing things, and who we are.  There is nothing wrong with any of that.  

One observer noted to me a few weeks ago, “I have become aware of the wasted motion in my life.”  What a beautiful observation.  “Wasted motion” is an interesting concept. Another person said something close to that one when they confessed, “I don’t miss the unimportant times in my life.”  “Wasted motion” and “unimportant times” are kissing cousins.  

I discovered wasted motion not so much during the crisis but during lent.  I decided this year to give up video games on my phone and computer.  For 40 days I found myself wanting to play a game.  Instead, I read a book.  I found out I wasted 2 hours a day on video games.  That is 14 hours a week.  In a month I wasted 56 hours.  That means in a month I played video games for over two days.  Wasted motion.  

It is not so much that I was doing something bad.  I was wasting valuable time doing something that was not improving or moving me forward.  On top of all that, I always told people I was too busy to do something or the other.  

On the other hand, “unimportant times” is close to “”wasted motion only it does not have to involve action.  I find in my life, the constant rehashing of life’s moments that really don’t mean much to me.  I have a relative that likes to sit around the table for hours retelling inane stories that most simply say, “Wasn’t that nice.”  No, it wasn’t nice.  It had very little meaning.  Other unimportant times might include watching a television rerun for the 7th time or more.  I don’t know why I chose 7.  

Recently, I watched a movie I liked the first time titled “What About Bob?”  The second time I felt it was one of the most boring movies of all time.  I just wasted about 2 more hours of my life that I will not get back.

That’s just it.  “Wasted motion” and “Unimportant times” are hours that move into days that stream into weeks that can end up in months that we don’t get back in life.  Unfortunately, in my profession, I am around death a lot.  In those times when I arrive before the individual passes, I have never heard anyone say, “I needed to watch some more television” or “Can I play one more game.”  Nope.  They always say to their loved one, “I wish I had more time with you.”  We have it.  It’s right before us.

Psalm 90:12 tells us to “number our days.”  Why? So that we may “gain a heart of wisdom.”  In other words, what we do is important.  We don’t live in a vacuum.  We are either living on the positive side of life, or something or someone is taking away from our lives.  During the crisis, did we get valuable things done or sit around and stare?  Did we encourage someone else or continue our wasted motion dance?  These are important times.  What have we learned?

This past week our governor gave us a sense of hope by opening the beaches and some retail businesses.  It was a breath of fresh air.  It gave many, especially in the church world, a feeling that we could all be back in the pews or seats shortly.  That was until one takes a closer look at the details.  The opened retail businesses are only allowed 20% capacity, restrictions on people per square footage and social distancing (6 feet rule) were to be observed.  While certain places were opened, it left all restaurants closed except for carry out or delivery, and pretty soon with barbers closed we will all look like we are back in the 1960’s.

It’s clear.  Things will not be normal for sometime, and more than likely, there will be a new normal.  

It makes for some interesting discussion.  What will our new world look like?  We can guess.  We can act like a prophet and make big declarations.   At the end of the day, all we can do is ask more questions.  Will fast food restaurants do away with the dinning room?  What about the buffet restaurants; are they done?  Will anyone ever shake another hand?  I’m pretty sure the “greet everyone with a holy kiss“ left a long time ago ,but what about the hug?  What will be the seating arrangements in restaurants in the future?  Will people stay home and “live stream” church?  These are just some of the questions open for an opinion. At the end of the day all we can say is “We will see!”

I will take honesty a step deeper today.  This one has me concerned.  It doesn’t keep me awake at night, but it does occupy my thoughts, on and off, throughout the day.  Just today, my daughter had an appointment to have her car serviced.  She found out the establishment had half the staff under 14-day quarantine due to an employee being exposed to COVID-19.  She is an at-risk individual.  She canceled her appointment.  This is not going to go away over night.  There is not going to be an “on and off” switch. This is the first time in my life there may not be an end to it.  It might not be able to be fixed.   

I am concerned about the impact it will have on our family, church and communities.  The inability to connect with another is not good at all.  Isolation has been proven to be detrimental to the mental state of man.  It is also an issue with the spiritual side of us.  The gospel takes sinful man who, when he sins, isolates himself from another and puts them back together again.  It’s beautiful.  Yet, we have come across something that makes redemption of a relationship harder than ever.  So, I’m bothered.

The social media is great to at least give us an opportunity to communicate.  But, and I say but, it is not the same as being in the presence of another person.  There is something about the human need of community.  It’s how God made us.

When I was younger, I thought belief in Jesus was about going to heaven.  In fact, most people try to sell Jesus as a way to make sure we have “fire” insurance.  We were told to believe Jesus to stay out of hell and be the best you can possibly be to make Jesus happy.  That was the gospel that I knew till about 35 years old.  At 35 I began to not just listen to the preacher on Sunday but also study the Word on my own.

I found out that belief in Jesus wasn’t so much about staying out of hell as it is being in the Kingdom of Christ.  That kingdom doesn’t happen when I die.  It happens the moment I believe.  Jesus is the kingdom.  His presence is the kingdom.  So when one believes in Him and the Holy Spirit dwells with them, the presence of Jesus is with us always.  Therefore, we live in the kingdom of God the moment of the budding of our faith in Christ.  In other words, the kingdom has come.  

Being in that kingdom is totally relational.  It is a relationship with God.  It is relationships with fellow believers.  It changes my relationship with the world.  What once was hate is now love.  What once was separation is now redemption.  What once was sin is now forgiven.  It is a kingdom of justice for sure, but that justice is melded with amazing grace, marvelous mercy and tender love.  

Jesus showed us the importance of touching people’s lives.  He showed us that even the outcasts were to be touched.  Engaged.  An important element of the community.  With Jesus the sinner can be redeemed.  With Jesus the unclean can be made clean.  With Jesus the “least of these” are given a seat.  According to James, the half-brother of Christ, they were to be given the best seat.  

Our salvation is about the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is about people.  People are the conduit by which the good news is spread.  And, yes, I am concerned about the impact our current state of affairs will have on our personal relationships.  So, what do I do?  I share my concern with the King.  I hope you do as well.  It’s his kingdom of which the Scripture says nothing will prevail against its gates.  I’m very interested to see how that is going to happen. 

Remember a few weeks ago I was beginning to paint the inside of my house.  Well, here we are weeks into our Coronaquarantine, and I’m still painting.  I’m getting there.  I’m down to two rooms.  This week the goal is to finish the living room.  It is the largest room, so it won’t be done in a flash for sure.  I’m somewhat thankful for the down-time.  It’s allowing me to get the job done.  There is always a silver lining in the dark times.  We have to take a step back and look for it.

It’s amazing what a little bit of paint will do.  Things are looking brighter in the Ring household.  I am also learning a lot while painting.  My kids say I think too much about such things.  They do not like watching a movie with me.  I look for the theme, plots and sub plots, and, last of all, how the gospel comes beaming out of the flick.  They tell me all the time, “Dad, we just want to watch the movie.”  Maybe one day they will understand.

I’m having the same type of experience with painting the house.  I’m seeing a lot of spiritual application which, seems a bit easier than applying coats of paint.  My wife probably just wants the house painted.  On my side of the paint-brush, the more I paint the more my brain needs stimulation.  As I pray and paint, I see things from a unique perspective. Allow me a few minutes to share some with you.

As I continue to paint, I am amazed at how bad the house really did need to be painted.   Somehow the human brain works in a way that it can make a pig sty seem nice.  Right now I have painted about one third of the kitchen due to it’s unique design.  The difference between the painted side and the “ugly” side is astounding, to say the least.  

I think it is that way with our lives.  The tendency is to avoid issues in our lives that need attention.  We can even justify our poor behavior due to the absence of gross sin.  Or at least the absence of what we think is gross sin.  Just like my house.  There were no glaring issues other than a small dinks and dirt.  We lived in this lack of beauty for a long time, much like we live lives that lack Godly perspective and accept it as acceptable.  

We can also live such busy lives we never look hard at the problem.  What took us so long to get to the paint store?  Busy lives kept us from looking closely.  No wonder God said, “Be still!”  It’s like driving in a car.  The faster we go the less chance of seeing detail.  If we don’t look closely, we can’t see it.  I have been appalled at what I have found on our walls.  Some of the stuff I have no idea what it even is.  S]The same with our lives.  Keep busy.  Don’t ask.  

I have also learned that painting the entire house is messy.  Even with plastic and canvas, somehow paint finds its way to the floor.  Not only that, but cleaning the brushes and rollers can leave any sink in disarray.  Cleaning up our lives for the glory of Christ is messy as well.  I think sometimes when someone comes to Christ at a later age it’s like switching a switch and all is well.  It doesn’t work that way.  The Holy Spirit moves us to address issues in our lives often at a pace we can go.  What happens in the meantime?  Our lives can be quite messy without even trying.  

This leads into the third life lesson.  Painting the house takes time.  I wish there was paint we could put in the middle of the floor, push a button, and then, presto, it’s on the walls, all in a fine shade.  I think the slow-down with the COVID-19 scare will actually speed up my finish date.  However, at that, it still is taking a lot of time.  

Lives need time.  I get people in the office for counseling who often think a few sessions and all will be well.  There is no such thing as a simple problem.  It takes time to have a life grow in the Lord.  I have learned that patience is indeed a gift of the Holy Spirit.  We need it to paint the house ,and we need it to walk side by side in the body of Christ as well.  

The balance of painting the house, regular life responsibilities, and work was and is a constant game of give and take.  I like to have the time to set up, paint, and then the nasty job of clean up.  Meanwhile, I have to be at work.  The family comes through since they live in the house.  Keeping the grandkids takes on a whole new avenue.  We do all this with the hope that paint does not end up splattered all over the floor, ourselves, or somebody else.  

Balancing life and Jesus is not easy.  We like to think we are sold out on King Jesus.  We sing songs that make it sound like we are all ready to forfeit everything and follow Jesus to the end of the world.  However, let’s just admit, we believe in Jesus, and he is our hope and he is Lord, but life has a way of enveloping us in a way we tend to fall behind.  

Thank you, Jesus, my hope is not on my ability to balance it all.  My hope is “built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  

I’ll get the house painted soon.  I hope.  I also hope that Jesus returns soon.  That is his call.  In the meantime, I am enjoying the insights on Jesus and the truths that surround him.  All this and more in a bucket of paint.  Who would have thought?

Once again I had to write something other than “the end of the world as we know it.”  I’m sure it’s not only the kids coloring.  Enjoy…

It did not take long for the grandkids to reject the crayons that came with the dinner menu.  They knew they were not Crayola crayons.  Their colors lacked vibrance.  It would not take long till the off-brand would break in half.  People want to know why kids go for the iPad at the local restaurant.  I blame it on the off-brand crayons.  You can’t fake Crayola.

I think the key element of a Crayola crayon is the beef fat used to give it a waxy feel.  The fake ones probably don’t use beef fat.  Look out!  Vegan parents might ban Crayola crayons.  Sorry young children.  If you don’t believe me, do what we all do.  Google it.  

Over time, with the introduction of new colors, Crayola now boasts over 100 colors in their array.  At the time I researched Crayola, there were 120 colors.   Oprah Winfrey has one named after her.  Her crayon is “the Color Purple.”  Hold on to that one.  It sounds like a potential Jeopardy answer.  

Without googling, it do you know what America’s favorite Crayola crayon color may be?  It is a basic color instead of one of the more modern ones like fuchsia.  By the way, I know what the color fuchsia is.   It’s the purple side of pink.  Back to the answer. It’s blue.  Blue.  Just blue.  That is my favorite color as well, but is probably will not be a Jeopardy answer.  

There is an entire Crayola culture.  There is a name for the shards of crayons that are too small to use or too flat to draw.  They are called “leftolas.”  My sister would probably like that name.  She is left-handed.  More than likely it has to do with being “leftover.”  

Are you ready for this one?  The average child wears down 720 crayons by the time he or she are 10 years old.  That is a lot of crayons.  Let’s say there are 100 kids in your neighborhood.  In 10 years they will use 72,000 crayons.  If they were bought in a 64-count box, that means 1,125 boxes of crayons were used just in your neighborhood.  At one time, a 64-count box went for $12.00 a box.  A box can be bought on Amazon for $7.00. That means a 100-kid count neighborhood will spend up to and probably over $7,785 in 10 years just on Crayola crayons.  That is $778.00 a year.  Bet you wish you were the inventor of Crayola crayons.  

It is hard to imagine, but it is true, that adult coloring books are popular, especially for those who suffer from high anxiety.  I wonder if the PR employee at Crayola came up with that therapy.  My wife tells me coloring is an important element for a child’s development.  

Remember when you were a kid and you had a box of crayons?  It didn’t matter what color was used.  People could be purple.  Elephants might end up yellow.  The sun appeared in orange tones, and just about anything could go.  Not only was color selection up for grabs, my favorite part of coloring as a child was not staying in the lines.  I bet just about every parent has a picture in their possession showing the inability of their children to stay in the lines.  They used to call it “beautiful.”  

But something happened as we grew older.  Colors had to be appropriate, and we had to stray in the lines.  “Beautiful” took on a different definition.  Probably nobody complained about it.  We figured it out by the look on their face or by the bland “Isn’t that nice” response.  So much for childhood.  So much for yellow elephants and green people.  So much for stretching the imagination.  So much for fun. 

Often our faith in Jesus can become like our coloring books.  When we come to believe in Jesus, it’s acceptable to “color outside the lines.”  It’s encouraged to color with any color in the 120 count box that comes with a sharpener. 

We talk about Jesus without fear.  We worship from the heart.  We have passion and excitement with our new lives.  But something happens.  One by one we lose our crayons. We are told we can’t color elephants yellow.  We are told to color inside the lines.  I can hear it now, “Jesus wants your best and that is not your best.”  Jesus doesn’t want my best.  He wants my heart.  He picked quite a band of disciples if you ask me.  They struggled to color in the lines.  Peter is constantly mouthing off and getting in trouble.  James and John have to get their mother to ask Jesus a question.  Thomas doubts.  Four of them we don’t even know much about since they didn’t seem to play an important part in the gospel story.  

At one point, the band of 12 were telling the children to leave. They said  Jesus was too busy to play with them.  Jesus scolds the colorless disciples and proceeds to welcome the children.  He tells the disciples that anyone who wants to be in his kingdom must become like a child.  Later, the Apostle Paul talks about our freedom in Christ.  Freedom to color elephants Jazzberry Jam or, better yet, Macaroni and Cheese.  There is freedom to color outside the lines.  Why?  The grace of Jesus Christ tells usto follow the Lord Jesus not the whims of man.  No wonder our faith tends to fall into a rut of dullness.  We forget the joy of coloring.  

I coughed in public the other day.  I stopped and looked around.  Those around me had their eyes glued to me.  I caught one person stepping back even though they were easily 10 yards away.  I waited a minute to see if any men in little white suits were going to come and throw me in the back of an unmarked vehicle.  Suddenly, I thought, my cough would be my last action here on this earth.  

The longer the national crisis continues the more confused I get.  For three weeks the news told us not to wear masks.  They said it does not help prevent getting the virus.  Now, they want everyone to wear one.  I guess, maybe, if I had been wearing one when I coughed ,people would not have stared at me like I was about to fall to the ground in misery.  I don’t know.  If a mask does not help, why are the doctors wearing them?  How would I know?  I’m hoping to get by today without coughing or sneezing.

The longer this goes on the more we will have to decide what is accurate and what is not so accurate information.  I’m pretty sure if someone is trying to get the money out of your pocket, it’s not accurate.  There was a man who was trying to sell the magic pill that would cure COVID-19.  I saw the advertisement.  He looked convincing..  Last I heard he was in jail facing a litany of charges.  

It is getting pretty serious.  More and more jobs are being lost.  The bills don’t stop coming.  Let’s face it.  We don’t live to a set of beliefs; we live to appease a life style that we have chosen.  Disrupt that life style and everybody within sight better duck.  Our life styles are being turned upside down, and, yet, we are still trying to figure out what the new “normal” is going to look like on the other side.  

Here we are.  Most are scared to sneeze or cough.  We don’t know what is accurate.  We struggle to know the truth.  Our life style is in jeopardy. 

It’s not just those who have no faith in God asking these questions.  It’s the church goers as well.  All the nice Jesusisms we have are suddenly not as satisfying as we thought.  The “Jesus Light” faith construct is leaving many wanting.  The verses quoted out of context are suddenly quieted.  We are left with little to offer other than a good sales pitch.  I turned on the television this morning, and, sure enough, I got one of those guys who always haves the “smile,” and, while he did not say it, there was strong innuendo that if we believe in Jesus, we won’t get the coronavirus.  That is if the faith is combined with sending in some greenbacks to Mr. Smily and performing a list of “Christian” deeds.  I had to turn it off.  

I have to admit that Donald Miler in his book Blue Like Jazz was right.  Man tends to believe in things to be “cool.”  A lot of belief has no idea and depth.  Don’t smile fellow Christian.  We are right there with them.  We can talk about believing in Jesus but will be stopped in our tracks when someone asks, “What causes you to put your faith in a man who died some two thousand years ago?”  Am I making you a bit uncomfortable right now?  Don’t worry.  I’ve been there before.  

I can’t sell Jesus to anyone like a used car salesman tries to sell a good car on his lot.  I am uncomfortable telling someone in the middle of a crisis to believe in Jesus.  Why?  Jesus is not a guarantee that all will be fine since we tend to define Jesus by what we want from and of him.  That is backwards faith.  

Faith in Jesus is giving up my life to have a life he desires for us.  Faith in Jesus is not framing Jesus the way I want him to be, but, rather, we are molded by Jesus, the potter.  Faith is not about what I can get out of Jesus (health, wealth, and heaven) but rather what I can give to others so they can see the ultimate truth.  Jesus is the personage of God who makes it possible to have a continuous relationship with God through his death, burial, and resurrection.  Now we only have to decide one thing.  Is this true or not?

Instead of trusting the words of a minister, read it yourself.  Don’t trust even my stuff.  Pick up a Bible and read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.  Just ask one question.  “If this is true, what does it mean for me?”  Then, answer the question Jesus asked often as he walked this earth.  He asked, “What do you believe?”  

I answered that question a long time ago.  I answered the same way Peter did, “You are the Christ.”  In that belief system, I don’t expect to be virus free.  I don’t expect to be protected from the ills of this land.  I don’t expect Jesus to answer all my prayers with a “yes.”  I don’t expect to never feel pain and sorrow.  Actually, I expect the opposite.  For all I pray everyday is “Lord, what do you desire of me today to glorify your name?”  I no longer rest on the kingdoms of this world.  I am a member of the kingdom of God through Christ Jesus.  Since this is no longer my home and I live as an alien in a foreign kingdom.  

Join me.  Lord, find us faithful.  I’ll give it my best, but we need Jesus to lead.  Sneeze or cough, blessed be the name of the Lord.  Accuracy and truth are founded on the words of Jesus Christ.  Life style?  “For me to live is Christ.  To die is gain.”   

Tired of COVID-19 news and opinions.  I’am.  Too much information for me.  I hope you enjoy this week’s article that has nothing to do with any viruses.  

A few weeks ago I wrote an article I liked. Not only did I like it, I really liked it.  I don’t know why I get excited about the ones I really like.  History says that the readers like the ones I think are not up to par.  It’s like beauty.  It is in the eyes of the beholder.   

For once this year my thoughts flowed well.  I like to have conclusions that don’t tell people what to do but leave them thinking or looking inward instead of outward.  Jesus did that a lot with his parables.   

Hopefully, I am not writing in parables.  Sometimes I think I’m writing in a way that makes people say, “Hey, I don’t get it!”  There are those articles that don’t flow all that well.  The one I wrote was quite the opposite.  

I liked that article so very much.  It flowed well.  Had meaning.  Concluded well.  I was so happy.  I had been in a writing rut, and this one was going to bolt me back.  I don’t know what it was bolting me back to, but it was going to jolt the old brain cells.  I was convinced.  That was until it went into cyberspace oblivion.

I do a lot of preps for the different things I do.  I am constantly writing something.  Since buying a MacBook, I have not lost anything for years.  Years, I tell you!  I did the same routine I do every week. That is, I export the article to Word.  Save it.  Send it to my editor and wait for it to return all nice and pretty.  This time, I didn’t make it past saving exporting to Word.  It disappeared.  Totally.  I tried to rebuild it with the rebuild function.  Not only did that not work, it was like it never existed.  

I was telling a friend about my consternation, and she said very innocently, “Just rewrite it.”  I would.  If I could remember what I wrote and how I wrote it.  Remember last week I referred to my brain not necessarily firing on all 8 cylinders?  It’s true.  I know what I wrote about, but remember the details?  That was not going to happen. But I gave it a try.

I sat at my computer trying to see it, hear it, and any other “it” I could manage.  Nope, it was not only gone from my computer, it was gone from my brain.  I have a problem with details.  My father once told me, “Son, details will kill you.”  He knew I had an issue with details, only he didn’t know it was how my brain works.  He was right on one account.   They will kill you or at least bring one close to death.  

Losing that one article that I gave a lot of credit has bugged me.  I don’t worry that I hit the wrong button.  I’m confused as ever as to how it disappeared.  I’m really confused that it does not appear in the reconstruction file.  

My only conclusion is that, as much as I write about God being personalized in Jesus Christ and revealed by the Holy Spirit, He did not want that one in print.  It must not have been very good.  It wasn’t enough that the readers don’t like the ones I like God didn’t like this one for sure.  I pray over every article.  I ask God a few days before I sit down and write asking him what he wants me to write about.  I take it seriously (could have fooled you I’m sure).  I pray about the article the same way when I have to preach.  I want these words to be His words.  For some reason, that one was probably too much my words.  

I really do believe Jesus is in the details.  Funny isn’t it!  I have problems with the details of life, but I find Jesus in the details of my life.  I don’t look for the big things to find Jesus.  I look at the little things. All through the Bible, Jesus is in the little things.  He is in the books I read.  He is in the music that catches my ear.  He is in the conversations I have.  I am not one of those new-agers who think God is in the trees.  No, not at all, even though Paul said God is revealed in nature.  I see a God that is in our experiences.  

Yes, I see God in the article that went into oblivion.  It reveals HIm.  So instead of delving deeper into my own despair, I consider the good news.  The good news is not that I found it.  The good news is that Jesus, though his death, burial, and resurrection, has covered my sins with his blood.  He moves them as far as the east is from the west ,and best yet, he forgets them (Psalm 103:12).  Better yet, due to his redemption and grace, he will never blot me from His heart and the Book of Life (Revelation 20).  And you thought the “cloud” was amazing.  Join me. Jesus said, “Believe in me.”  No separation from God.  That’s only for bad writing that God decides is not worth the print.  

The day ESPN came live on television was the day I was happier than a bee finding a newly bloomed flower.  Sports on a 24/7 basis was the goal.  I don’t know if one can buy ESPN stocks but I should have if they were available.  By the way, do you know what ESPN stands for?  It stands for Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. Forget the entertainment.  Bring on the sports.

It got better.  Instead of one channel we got two, and it has grown to more than I can consider.  If that wasn’t enough, they made an application for our cell phones.  As a sports aficionado, an ESPN app made all the sports news possible in the palm of my hand.  What more could a fan want?  

Have you ever played fantasy baseball or football?  ESPN made it all possible.  This year I played fantasy hockey for the first time.  Yes, I am crazy.  I’ve played fantasy baseball since I was 25 years old.  Once ESPN came on board, we moved from hand tally to immediate tally of statistics.  When it came to fantasy football, we couldn’t wait till waiver day.  For non-players, that is Tuesdays.  Believe it or not I have participated in not only a hockey league, I’ve dabbled with a Professional Golfer’s Association league and NASCAR as well.  Thank you ESPN.  You sent us to sports nirvana.  

Yesterday, I removed the app from my phone.  There wasn’t even a tear in my eye.  How can there be?  It’s all been shut down.  The NFL is trying hard to make news with outrageous trades, but, at the end of the day, no use wasting time and space.  I guess they might change the acronym to EPN since there aren’t any sports.  The dream was over.

So with little fanfare, I moved the ESPN app off my phone.  

We all tend to be overwhelmed with our own world and oblivious to those around us.  For on the day I left ESPN, I woke to a hurting world.  Colleges closed first.  The school systems followed.  Supplies were running out at the local grocery.  Restaurants closed.  The world was shutting down, and behind every “closed” sign there were lives, no people, being traumatized.  Little would I have thought we would face such times, and the sign on the church door read, “Closed.”  The historic place of refuge was no longer an island of comfort.  

I sat in stunned silence as the elders of our church voted unanimously to close down for the rest of the month.  It wasn’t so much the vote that slapped my heart.  It was the realization that something we never dreamed of has brought unprecedented pain to our lives.   It no longer mattered that Tom Brady left the Patriots.  Humbling.  For now, we cannot depend upon a pastor’s sermon, a good set of worship songs, or a hearty prayer from one of the old guys.  We will now have to be the church of God.  

Our current national crisis will change the face of our lives.  We are living a historical moment that will define the future.  We can make guesses.  We can have unsubstantiated opinions.  We can deny, complain and try to make some deals (3 of the stages of grief), but, in the end we are not in control.  

The interesting thing is not only are we not in control, government and science aren’t in control either.  We are watching all our smart investment plans go up in smoke.  We are watching government officials throw darts at a dartboard, and they are coming nowhere near a bullseye.  The great savior science has struck out.  The only thing they can do on this one is “lower the curve.”  What does that leave?  God.  

How is this going to work if we can’t go to church?  We are about to find out that church is not just Sunday.  Preachers have been saying this for years, but then they catered to the ones who show up on Sunday.  The church that will impact our world now is not the ones behind the podium.  It will be the ones who sit in the pews.

I see signs that the church is not dead in the water.  Younger families are volunteering to go on grocery runs, pharmacy pickups, and general care for those in the “danger zone,” the elderly and compromised by chronic and past health issues.  While our president asked for groups of no more than 10 to meet, I see people reaching across the fence inviting their neighbor to share in the limited community settings before us.  I see technology being used for something more than a bad, out-of-context Bible verse transmitter.  For now, we can actually communicate and care and still honor the President’s request.  I see people actually caring for others in ways they never did before.  And, best of all, I see the good news of Jesus Christ having a place in our society.  Not that belief in Jesus Christ will keep anyone from getting sick or even dying.  The faith in Jesus Christ is about having God with us, and we don’t have to go it alone, even when the experts tell us to isolate.  Having faith in Jesus Christ also covers us if we start losing our lives to an unseen enemy.  Faith is about hope, for the Apostle Peter said, “Be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have.”  

My hope is not in government edicts or doctors to suddenly bring us back to our comfort zone.  My hope is in Christ who says, “I will never leave you.”  We must walk through these dark valleys of death.  However, I know, hear me clearly, I know, live or die, I put my trust in the Lord.  Why?  Everyone else has failed, and He rose from the dead.  Enough said.  

Meanwhile, we pray.  We pray for our Lord to change the heart of stubborn man and humbly call upon Him.  We pray for those who are sick and dying that they can place their hope in Jesus who has gone before us.  We pray that he would grant great grace and get us through to the other side.  I call upon the One who is Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.  Who do you call upon?