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Often it is good to get something behind us to have an adequate evaluation.  The American way is too fast.  Sometimes it’s good to let things simmer and stew before we come to a conclusion.  Sort of like cooking a good batch of soup.  The flavor has to have a chance to take over the different elements in the pot.  It takes time.  

It’s funny actually that we like to judge things or people in the heat of the moment.  As I peruse the Biblical heroes it would be easy to freeze them at the moment they fell from grace and give them a big “F” for failure.  However, when we give God the chance to not only righten the ship but awaken us to His purposes and ways, we can have a different view on things.  

Take about any major trial you have gone through in life.  When we get on the other side of it and are able to see with eyes of wisdom, we can come to different conclusions than during or immediately after.  It is wisdom I hope and pray we gain through our various trials.  For some reason ,we now live in a culture that thinks it should be trial free.  I find this in the Christian community a lot.  There is this false view of God that has many thinking if they live right and do their written or unwritten list, God will shine on them and keep them from extreme pain and suffering.  Obviously, they are not well versed in the Bible.  

When we have to go through a trial, we think it builds character.  In actuality, it shows right where our character resides.  It is only after the fact, when we can have time to evaluate our response, that wisdom can be gained.  As we insist on this fast-paced, get it done yesterday, fast-whatever life, we often stymie the growth of wisdom.

God isn’t bound by a clock.  He is the author of time.  We shudder when we read in the Bible that God put his people in the desert for 40 years.  We want to faint when we see the Babylonian captivity being 70 years.  I want to thank God for being a patient God who speaks in terms of years not minutes or even seconds.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  The finisher or the cook is taking a marathon approach not a sprint.  His timing is so perfect it brings out our praise for Him at the right time.  HIs timing bursts with flavor, illuminates the sky, and makes His way clear.

I remember when our son was going through the trial of his life.  As I visited him in Jesup, GA at the federal correctional institute, he greeted me with a smile.  He must have seen the stress and worry on my face.  He said, “Dad, I need to be here.  It will be OK.”  He could see what I couldn’t.  He needed the time and the place to get his life back on the tract God wanted.  He knew that if he was where he used to be, that would not happen.  God was at work.  Today, he ministers to ex-cons at Shield Ministry in North Charleston.  Just the other day he told me, “I’m doing what God intended for me long before I got in trouble.”  

We don’t like the process for sure.  We don’t like the lost time any less.  But, when we understand God does what God wants to do when he wants to do it, we can relax and find a peace we never knew we had access to.  Time isn’t lost with God.  Once we submit to his ways, we discover the use of that time was indeed in God’s hands. 

As we move further and further away from the crazy year of 2020, let us not be quick to judge.  Somebody the other day said they were looking for a t-shirt that said,”I survived 2020.”  We Americans are funny people sometimes. Yes, we had, and still do have, a pandemic on our hands.  Fire ate up the West Coast.  Hurricanes made the Gulf States their destination point.  We have forgotten we are still in the midst of an opioid epidemic.  Schools closed and Internet education was not all that great.  Some lost their jobs.  The politicians and main stream media have gotten more confusing than ever.  Many cities were looted in rioting.  It would be easy to assess 2020 as the worst year in the last 50 at least.  

However, for the overwhelming majority of Americans, the only thing disrupted was their lifestyle, not their life.  In the Bible we find Israelites having to make bricks with no straw.  When people groups went into exile it meant rape, death, and pillaging of the like we have never seen.  We see kingdoms vanish.  Whole cities destroyed.  Here, we can’t go to our favorite restaurant and we ask, “Is it end times?”  

Let’s not judge 2020 quite yet.  Let’s let it simmer for a bit.  Yes, many at-risk individuals lost their lives.  That should never set easily in our souls.  Let’s not judge the “church” yet.  Let’ stake the long range view from God himself.  Wisdom takes time.  Hopefully, we won’t be in a hurry to move on to the next headline.

Remember, if we freeze and judge Jesus right after the crucifixion, we lose site of the great redemption of the resurrection.  He is still on the throne.  Our lives are still in his hand.  Thank him for that one.  Regardless of what has happened, regardless of what will happen in 2021, regardless of whoever is the president, regardless of any one event nationally or individually, the only place to have hope that is guaranteed is on bended knee before the Lord.  Give him the praise that is due him.  Why?  Nobody else is worthy.  He has stood the test of time. 

As we enter 2021, many are hoping for a better year than 2020.  In the past year, we saw the western coast literally go up in flames.  Over on the east side of our nation, five different hurricanes bellowed through the Gulf of Mexico with their sites on Louisiana to Florida.  An election that won’t go away continues to rankle the masses.  Riots in the streets of our cities cause fear and dismay.  The pandemic continues to take lives, leave others in its wake and raise the level of everyone’s stress.  Surely the new year has to be better.

New Years brings a sense of hope.  A new beginning is like the birth of a child.  There is a lot of joy and elation when a child is born.  So too with the New Year.  

Before we leave 2020 totally behind (it might take till spring to leave the pandemic behind), I would like to have a last look at the Christmas story in order to see where our hope for 2021 lies.  Matthew and Luke give us the detail of the birth of Christ.  The gospel of Mark doesn’t mention it at all.  John gives us a more “theological” or “philosophical” view, and it is from John I would like to find our hope.

In order to need hope, we have to experience or see the lack of it.  While John does not give us the details, he tells us about the introduction of the Word, or Logos, into our world.  This living Word is the metaphor for Jesus.  He gives a great picture using this metaphor.  However, he also details the greatest tragedy of Christmas as well.  

As he tells about the living Word coming to save man from his sin, we find that the people who were looking to be rescued did not know him nor receive him.  A better rendition combining the words is they did not recognize him.  

They were looking for someone else.  They were looking for the Messiah that would come in royal majesty with an army to rescue them from the dreaded Romans.  They were looking for someone they could get behind.  They were looking for a king.  Instead, Jesus camewith humility.  He came not to establish an earthly kingdom but one of the heart.  He really was not too concerned about the outside of a man.  He was here to rescue the inside of a man.  But, they missed him.  

How could these religious people, who had the words of the prophets before them, miss him?  How could they literally be within feet and, at times, inches of him and not see who he was?  How  could they live in full view of Jesus and not recognize his deity?  For surely no one can receive someone they do not recognize, that’s why at the airport people hold a sign with the name of the person they are there to meet for the first time.  

They did not recognize him because they were looking for someone that fit their view.  I see this a lot with non-believers and believers.  An overwhelming number of the world’s population, through all time, believe in some semblance of God.  However, we all often put him in a box we create.  It’s usually a box that we want to control.  It’s usually a box that benefits us and what we want out of life.  It scares us when he breaks out of that box.  

He broke out of the box on the first Christmas.  The Christmas story is not so much one of a cute baby in a nice clean manger, sans the odors and other issues of being stuck in a barn.  It’s about God, literally in bodily form, invading our world to gain access to our heart.  

Recently, a friend of mine ran into an old high school acquaintance.  As they spoke, he shared the gospel with her.  Her reply summed up the problem of the great tragedy.  She said, “I don’t want to submit to him.”  Bingo!   She wants a god that will submit to her.  I call that one the Santa Claus god.  He knows when we are bad or good.  We will try to be good the best we can.  He will honor our attempt at goodness no matter what.  

We want a Jesus that will give us a larger house, a nicer car, a better job, and good kids.  We want a Jesus that will give us steak instead of hotdogs for dinner.  We want a Jesus to keep us from the storms of life even though he said early in his ministry the rains would come and the floods would rise.  We want an easy Jesus, plain and simple.

As we enter 2021, we can either continue to perpetuate the tragedy of not recognizing him for who he is, or we can be humbled by his majestic rule of grace and love.  For 2021 to turn around, we must see Jesus as the potter and we as the clay.  We are to see that Jesus is the Shepherd and we are the sheep.  We are to submit to Jesus as he submitted to the Father all the way to the cross.  For we are the children ,and he is our Father.  

When we see who we really are, then we can see and recognize who he really is.  Once we recognize him, we need to receive him.  Unlock the door of our heart and discover he didn’t come to stop the fires, keep the storms in the ocean, allow only our politician to be elected, and end all disease.  He came that, amongst all this, we will have what the angels declare, Peace.  The peace is one within our hearts that recognizes and submits that he is God.  He also came so that we, believers, will be the evidence of his coming.  How?  As the angels said that night, “Goodwill to man.”  

2021 will not be better if the circumstances have to be lined up for our benefit.  It will if our hearts recognize the Lamb of God, who came to take away the sin of the world, and submit our lives to him the we might grow in his image.    Happy New Year. 

The Christmas season is quite a festive time of the year.  There may be none other like it.  We put in a lot of time and effort to make sure there is some sort of “joy.”  Weeks before the event we set up our lights.  Some think they are reliving “Christmas Vacation” and are playing the part of Clark Griswold.  There is usually one per neighborhood.  When their lights go on the lights in the house dim.  I asked a friend last week, what drove him to put up all the lights?  He replied, “For the kids.”  He wanted the kids to enjoy Christmas.  

We make plans, buy an abundance of gifts, and put a lot of energy and money behind the day.  Many go to church on Christmas Eve.  Some go on Christmas Day.  The Christmas story from Luke will be read.  We will try hard to remember the Christ of Christmas for at least a few minutes before everything else takes over. 

Christmas for most is the one day of the year everyone looks forward to with great anticipation.  

But, what happens when the angels leave, and the shepherds go back to their flock.  We don’t have to have the wise men leave since they didn’t show up till approximately three years later.  On December 26th, Mary and Joseph are still in the rustic setting since Bethlehem didn’t clear out that night like the local bar does.  Now, they have a newborn baby.  I don’t think Joseph had a bank account at the Bank of Israel.  Life was going to come striking down real quick.  The post-Christmas story gets bleak at a point when Herod is scared of the prophecy of the newborn king so he has all the Jewish children under the age of 3 murdered.  Where are the angels now?  

In our lives we experience spiritual events that we call “mountain top” experiences.  Retreats, mission trips and conferences can give us great feelings.  They can be almost “angelic” in nature.  We will report that we have never been closer to God than in those moments.  The pastor of the church might call us to give a word of testimony as to our experience with God.  The moment is locked in.  For now.

When we return and our family doesn’t have the joy we have, discouragement begins to take a toe-hold.  When the people in our community group sit with big eyes and mouths gaping at our talk about Jesus, but, have no words other than “that’s nice,” doubt starts to grow.  When we are at church and nobody is paying any attention to OUR mini-Christmas moment, we begin to wonder about it’s reality.  

It is interesting in the Christmas story to find Mary looking at all the events going on, and she “pondered them in her heart.”  She has a few minutes in the chaos to take in the significance of the Christ child into her soul.  I wonder what she woke up the next morning thinking?  We know later that while Mary knew the significance of her son as the Messiah, and she knew what was going to happen since she was well learned in the Scriptures, she asked Jesus to turn water into wine.  She wasn’t always focused on the mission of Christ either.  

When the angels leave, life in this world continues.  The baby would need to be fed.  The whatever-they-used-for-diapers would need to be changed.  Everybody has to eat.  Joseph would need to find work.  Somebody would have to find better lodging.  Oh, the donkey Mary was riding would need to be fed or sold.  Life doesn’t stop just because the angels showed up.  It doesn’t get “better.”  Rain still comes and the floods rise.  A mountain top experience quickly sends one back down the other side of the mountain.

Truthfully, most of life is not lived on the mountain-top but in the valley.  Western Christianity in its long time of peace and prosperity has moved the object of our faith away from Christ and onto ourselves.  The first time a major tragedy hits what do we ask?  We ask “Why me?”  We expect the angels to be around all the time.  

Plenty of Biblical heroes (if you want to call them that) had the same problem.  Even those in the Old Testament who experience angelic settings often forgot quickly who sent the angels.  Abraham had issues remembering God gave him the promise.  David, a man after God’s own heart, had plenty of human issues.  He often asked God in various ways, “Why?”  Even John the Baptist sent messengers to ask if Jesus was who he claimed to be.  Where were the angels as John the Baptist was going to have his head removed?  Let’s not forget Job, a righteous guy, who ended up in a spiritual chess game.  He asked the same question. Instead of God showing him his place in a battle with Satan he gets a long response from God that basically says, “I’m God. Deal with it.”  

When the angels are gone and we are still mired in a fallen world with calamity, chaos fueling our own sin nature, there really is only one answer.  Life goes on, and we have one function in life.  Just one.  It’s the answer to the first question of the catechism which is “What is the chief end of man?”  Angels or no angels?  When it’s the mountain top or the valley below?  When it’s the best day of your life or the worst day?  Chaos or calm?  War or peace?  Remember, good theology has to be consistent in all situations to be true.  So what is our purpose when the angels leave?  “To glorify God.”  

The biggest thing we have to get straight is that God is the potter, and we are the clay.  Many do not like that idea.  Basically, when God answered the questioners, he did not give full disclosure.  There was this “I am God. Deal with it” sense in his reply.  I guess that’s why our response to God to give him glory in all things is called faith.  I trust that all is in his hands when the angels are gone, the shepherds returned to the fields, the baby is crying, Joseph is no where to be found, and we remain stuck in a manger setting.  It’s humbling.  That’s the point.  

At a meeting the other day, a question was asked that brought back many memories.  The group leader asked what memories did we hold regarding Christmas.  He was looking for pleasant memories I’m sure.  As we went around the table, there were a lot of “good” memories.  The attendees told of family customs, food, fun, and the like.  Eventually, it was my turn.  In order to set the table, I had to give some memories that were not all that fond.  

As I relate my Christmas stories, it may give insight as to why I am not a “happy” Christmas type of guy.  I wrote last week about desiring the Christmas story that was “based on a true story.”  Maybe, just maybe, one will understand after hearing my tale.

Long before I was born, Christmas was doomed in my family.  My aunt (my mother’s sister, whom she loved dearly) died of pneumonia on Christmas Eve when my mom was around 10 years old.  My grandparents came home with the news.  They proceeded to gather anything related to Christmas, including gifts, and threw them into a pile in the backyard and declared that there would never be Christmas in their house ever again.  From what I can gather from my mom, it was hell.  

The death brought about mixed responses over the years.  My mother became a Christmas fanatic.  Christmas in our house was way over-done.  The problem is that it created a chaotic mess at least two weeks before and continued till New Year’s Day.  Honestly, I couldn’t wait for Christmas to end.  Everyone hoped nothing would affect mom’s plans.  If it did, let’s just say we looked for the closest door.

My grandfather developed a twitch in his eye.  When stressed, that twitch was non-stop.  Being a young boy with a big mouth, I made the mistake of asking him why his eye twitched.  It so happened that I asked him at the Christmas dinner table.  Wrong move.  After he smacked me in the head with his spoon, he said a few words that I cannot type here.  Christmas had its issues for sure.

Another wonderful Christmas memory was the year I bought my mother a box of her favorite chocolates.  Being very young, I thought it was a special gift from my heart.  I couldn’t wait till she opened it.  The only problem was we had a rat in the house.  Yes, a live real rat.  That Christmas Eve it made its presence known by taking the box of chocolates from under the tree and eating every one of them.  We discovered the rodent a few weeks later stuck in the hole it used to get in and out of the house.  It got so fat it couldn’t get out.  He deserved it in my eyes.  He made me cry on Christmas Day.

My brother brought anguish to my heart twice during the happy season.  I got a really cool Matchbox race-track one year.  Being 5 years older, he insisted he knew how to put it together.  Well, I learned that being 5 years older does not make anyone smarter.  Our family did not have enough money to get a new one.  My prized gift was useless.  I was really starting to sour on Christmas, and at such a young age.

Later, our family went to a “white elephant” gift exchange for the adults.  Every family has that one member who likes big packages.  My sister was in that club.  My brother had packaged a busted toilet in a big box and let everyone but my sister know it.  Sure enough, with the #`1 pick of the night, she chose the biggest box in the room.  Watching her face turn instantly from joy to despair hurt my heart deeply.  I don’t think I will ever forget it.  While everyone in the room was laughing and thought i5 was quite a hoot, I stayed focused on my sister.  She figured out the joke.  It was never righted.  

I can’t remember any great Christmases when I was young.  Yes, the family gathered and it was loud.  Very loud.  We got a lot of presents since Christmas and birthdays were the only day we got anything.  Those days were sure different than today.

It wasn’t until a few years ago I found the “joy” of Christmas.  I mean the real “joy.”  I wondered where my father-in-law had found the ability to enjoy everyone on this special day.  He would never open his presents till much later because he was sitting back enjoying his family as they opened their presents.  I could’t figure it out.  I found it, in Jesup, Georgia.

Our son spent two Christmases in a federal prison there.  His first Christmas was also my granddaughter’s first one as well.  Our family spent that Christmas at the prison.  We got to know a lot of the prisoners who received visitors since so few got visits.  As we sat there with our family making the best of a tough situation, one by one, the prisoners came by and wanted to hold our granddaughter.  I sat there amazed at the smiles and the joy these men (most of them up there in age) had as they walked around the visitors’ room with her.  Some had tears in their eyes.  Every one of them was polite and respectful.  They always said “Thank you so much” when she was returned.  

As I sat there, I kept my thoughts to myself until now.  I got to experience a real Christmas.  See, Jesus came to “set the prisoners free.”  Each of us has our own prisons that often we keep to ourselves.  That is what sin does.  It imprisons us.  Jesus came as a baby to set us free from our sin.  As the angels sang, “peace on earth, goodwill to men,” I watched a tiny baby enter the prison of the men and give them a few minutes of peace and goodwill.  

Christmas from that day forward had new meaning.  I know now what was in the heart of my father-in-law that my grandfather and mother struggled to find.  Christmas isn’t about me.  Christmas is not about the gifts.  It’s about the God-child who came to us to set us free.  Only then can we have real joy, peace, and goodwill.  

Jesus asked often, Do you believe in me?  I hope and pray this Christmas that you will believe that this story of the Christ-child is true, and you will find Him in your hearts turning your pain, despair, and struggles into joy, peace, and goodwill.  Merry Christmas.

As we enter the Christmas season, I have a confession to make.  I am not a Christmas fan.  Before you cease reading, let me clarify.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy it.  I have reached that point in life where I enjoy other people’s enjoyment more than mine.  It’s not that I am a Scrooge.  I don’t wish it to disappear.  I don’t hope somebody abolishes the celebration.  

For the longest time now, I have not been a fan of Christmas music, and I’m not a fan of the “plastic” associated with it either.  Maybe that is why I have come to adore Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is Christmas without the hoop-la as far as I am concerned.  

I can understand why some sects of the Christian faith have ceased to celebrate the holiday.  I get it that the world will do what it can to make a few extra dollars.  I get it that we have to try and make something spectacular so we can feel good, especially this year, with the pandemic.  I get it that the gospel will always go one-on-one with other things, often good things too.  It’s the nature of the beast (and I’m not referring to end times).  

I’m simply tired.  I want the real deal.

I no longer want the sterilized version.  I want the “based on a true story” version.  The “based on a true story” version is not popular.  

In that version, the animals stink, people are far from nice, there is dirt everywhere, and a lot of children were brutally murdered.  Mary more than likely had to put up with a lot of rumors and insults, for an unmarried pregnant woman was not accepted in that society.  Yes, angels did appear and encourage them forward, but they disappeared.  That’s right.  They left.  Mary and Joseph had to go the distance.  In the last few days, they had to travel about 90 miles on a donkey to get to Bethlehem.  If they made 20 miles a day, that’s a four day journey.  There were no bus lines, trains, or automobiles.  They walked and road on a donkey.  Ask a pregnant woman to do anything like that today… who knows what will happen.  Don’t forget, there were no angels to assist during that journey.  

Bethlehem was not a “5 star” town.  Being sent to the stable was the attitude of the town as well.  Each man for himself and nobody really cared that Mary was quite pregnant.  It gets better.

After the great angelic appearance at the birth, who shows up?  Shepherds.  The dastardly vermin of society.  Shepherds were not held in high opinion.  They tended to be uneducated and much like the country-side in smell and cleanliness.  

The wise men did not show up for about 2 years.  Please tell your children the truth.  They came from the east.  They did not show up anywhere near the time of the birth.  When they do, all chaos breaks out.  Herod, the king, gets scared that there is an heir to the throne, and it is not his family.  So he does what scared kings do.  He killed the children under the age of 2 who could possibly be a threat to him.  Yes, in the grand scheme of Christmas, children were brutally murdered.  That one gives new meaning to the words “Silent night.”  

Instead of Mary and Joseph settling down in their town of birth, it’s back on the road.  Off to Egypt they go.  No Mayflower vans in sight.  Back onto a donkey we find Mary, Joseph, and the future king, Jesus.  Why?  Joseph had a dream, and it was necessary for prophecy to be fulfilled.  That means more troubles and trials just to fulfill the words of God.

Everywhere we look at the birth of Jesus we find struggle, chaos, and problems.  God had invaded the world of man.  There has to be conflict.  The unholy trinity (the world, the flesh, and the devil) never sits idle letting God have the glory. No, they are glory thieves.  It is not a quaint birth of a royal child.  It is the beginning of war.  God is going to redeem.  He is going to get into the fight big time with his own Son as the spearpoint.  Look ou.t man.  God is here!

In the movie, Talladega Nights, the star, driver Ricky Bobby ,liked to pray to baby Jesus.  Why?  He could control baby Jesus.  Baby Jesus is cute and cuddly.  The real Jesus says things like “Follow me,” and “In order to find your life you have to lose yours.”  If we set aside the cuteness, we will find that this baby is far from cute and cuddly.  Even his mother, Mary, has been recorded in Luke 2 that she “treasured up all the things, pondering them in her heart.”  What was she pondering?  She was pondering that this baby was going to disrupt the world as she knew it, while at the same time, redeeming those who believe.   

The more I look at the reality of Jesus’ birth the better I get a grip on the magnificence of the moment.  On that birth day, there was hope and, at the same time conflict.  Man’s ways and means would take second place to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It was not going to be easy, and the birth declares it.  The shepherds came looking for the one the angels declared, “Peace on Earth and goodwill to man.”  Little did they know at the time; the cost it would take.

What happens when a culture as a whole turns its collective back on those of the Christian faith?  The first thing that generally occurs is a cry for Christ to return.  That desire leaves many asking their clergy if this is the end times.  I get asked that one a lot.  I responded the other day, “Well, Jesus didn’t know the date, so neither do I.”  That one does not make some smile.  After I replied, I added, “We do know that there are various times the church (God’s people) are put to the test, refined, and disciplined.  Those things we can find in the Bible.”  The unhappy questioners generally leave after that one.  However, it’s true.  

Here we are in a pandemic, a changing political climate, an already changed culture that wants Jesus to disappear, and we have been left unprepared and disengaged as a whole.  Yesterday, I heard a report from a missionary that has European missionaries eradicating things that had to go, evaluating the rest, and preparing for a changed future.  Yes, someone gets it.  That is what we need to do here in the United States.  We are now a mission field.  It’s time for change, and the climate is right for it.  

The Bible doesn’t leave us uninformed about the events that have precipitated the current sentiment towards Christianity.  Instead of wasting time blaming someone, let’s begin the process of evaluation with prayer.  Then let’s look to the Scriptures, as my good friend Art did last night, reminding us that there is Biblical precedent to not give up hope, gather in holy and some unholdy clusters, or quit.  

The first one I can think of is when Israel (God’s people) were taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Open to the first six chapters of Daniel, and you will find four men whose culture changed overnight.  They were even being given new names in hope they would forget their heritage.  Daniel, the prophet and their leader, sets the tone.  He doesn’t lie around complaining, pointing fingers, and bemoaning what he has lost, remembering he has lost his family, his home, and his heritage.  Instead, he commits to serve the Lord right there in prison along with his 3 buddies.  

Now, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but as we read these chapters, we find heroes of the day who stayed committed to their God before a prideful and wicked king.  Making a very long story short, it is through these men that King Nebuchadnezzar, after a very rough spell, scores, “I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven…” If this king can become a follower of the true and living God, can’t any of ours?  

How did this happen?  Daniel and his companions adjusted to the new culture, held on to their beliefs ,and lived, anticipating God to do great things.  

My friend Art shared a story from John 9 where Jesus heals a man that was blind from birth.  One would think there would be a great party for a man who only saw darkness, who after Jesus healed him, not only could see colors and shapes, he could see everything.  That has to be an awesome event.  The only problem is the man was not accepted by those around him, including his family.   There was no party. They feared being thrown out of their functional religious system.  His own family didn’t have his back.  

Today, many college students are falling to the pressure of a culture that accepts nothing of their faith.  They fear being ostracized.  So they either shut up or delve into the culture, forfeiting their belief system.  Few welcome isolation from their peer group.  What we will do to be accepted is, let’s just say, found in the sin nature.  

But the blind man knows who touched him.  He refuses to give up on the one who brought him out of total darkness and into the light.  “I once was blind but now I see,” he cried.  Life just got tough for him.  He wanted to escape his culture and go with Jesus, only Jesus told him to stay and testify about the one who touched him.  He had to stay in his culture, engaging those around him.  

These examples show us the methodology of Jesus.  Let’s not forget he came and walked amongst us before he laid his life down for us.  By laying his life down for us, he displayed his love for us.  He calls us to do the same.  Yes, we have opinions. Lay them down.  Yes, we have desires for our lifestyle. Lay them down.  Yes, we have dreams and wants.  Lay them down.   But, why do we have to lay them down?  That’s the easy one.  So people can see Jesus not “me.”  

Don’t fret about the pandemic.  That’s in the Creator’s hands.  Pray for guidance of how to function for God’s glory during it.  Don’t fret about the political situation.  The Word of God tells us to pray and obey our leaders since they were put there by God.  I find arguing with God not a very profitable position.  Worried about the changed culture?  Follow Daniel’s lead.  Adjust and hold on to Jesus.  Why?  He is holding on to you.  

What happens when a culture as a whole turns its collective back on those of the Christian faith?  The first thing that generally occurs is a cry for Christ to return.  That desire leaves many asking their clergy if this is the end times.  I get asked that one a lot.  I responded the other day, “Well, Jesus didn’t know the date, so neither do I.”  That one does not make some smile.  After I replied, I added, “We do know that there are various times the church (God’s people) are put to the test, refined, and disciplined.  Those things we can find in the Bible.”  The unhappy questioners generally leave after that one.  However, it’s true.  

Here we are in a pandemic, a changing political climate, an already changed culture that wants Jesus to disappear, and we have been left unprepared and disengaged as a whole.  Yesterday, I heard a report from a missionary that has European missionaries eradicating things that had to go, evaluating the rest, and preparing for a changed future.  Yes, someone gets it.  That is what we need to do here in the United States.  We are now a mission field.  It’s time for change, and the climate is right for it.  

The Bible doesn’t leave us uninformed about the events that have precipitated the current sentiment towards Christianity.  Instead of wasting time blaming someone, let’s begin the process of evaluation with prayer.  Then let’s look to the Scriptures, as my good friend Art did last night, reminding us that there is Biblical precedent to not give up hope, gather in holy and some unholdy clusters, or quit.  

The first one I can think of is when Israel (God’s people) were taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar.  Open to the first six chapters of Daniel, and you will find four men whose culture changed overnight.  They were even being given new names in hope they would forget their heritage.  Daniel, the prophet and their leader, sets the tone.  He doesn’t lie around complaining, pointing fingers, and bemoaning what he has lost, remembering he has lost his family, his home, and his heritage.  Instead, he commits to serve the Lord right there in prison along with his 3 buddies.  

Now, I’m sure it wasn’t easy, but as we read these chapters, we find heroes of the day who stayed committed to their God before a prideful and wicked king.  Making a very long story short, it is through these men that King Nebuchadnezzar, after a very rough spell, scores, “I praise and extol and honor the King of heaven…” If this king can become a follower of the true and living God, can’t any of ours?  

How did this happen?  Daniel and his companions adjusted to the new culture, held on to their beliefs ,and lived, anticipating God to do great things.  

My friend Art shared a story from John 9 where Jesus heals a man that was blind from birth.  One would think there would be a great party for a man who only saw darkness, who after Jesus healed him, not only could see colors and shapes, he could see everything.  That has to be an awesome event.  The only problem is the man was not accepted by those around him, including his family.   There was no party. They feared being thrown out of their functional religious system.  His own family didn’t have his back.  

Today, many college students are falling to the pressure of a culture that accepts nothing of their faith.  They fear being ostracized.  So they either shut up or delve into the culture, forfeiting their belief system.  Few welcome isolation from their peer group.  What we will do to be accepted is, let’s just say, found in the sin nature.  

But the blind man knows who touched him.  He refuses to give up on the one who brought him out of total darkness and into the light.  “I once was blind but now I see,” he cried.  Life just got tough for him.  He wanted to escape his culture and go with Jesus, only Jesus told him to stay and testify about the one who touched him.  He had to stay in his culture, engaging those around him.  

These examples show us the methodology of Jesus.  Let’s not forget he came and walked amongst us before he laid his life down for us.  By laying his life down for us, he displayed his love for us.  He calls us to do the same.  Yes, we have opinions. Lay them down.  Yes, we have desires for our lifestyle. Lay them down.  Yes, we have dreams and wants.  Lay them down.   But, why do we have to lay them down?  That’s the easy one.  So people can see Jesus not “me.”  

Don’t fret about the pandemic.  That’s in the Creator’s hands.  Pray for guidance of how to function for God’s glory during it.  Don’t fret about the political situation.  The Word of God tells us to pray and obey our leaders since they were put there by God.  I find arguing with God not a very profitable position.  Worried about the changed culture?  Follow Daniel’s lead.  Adjust and hold on to Jesus.  Why?  He is holding on to you.  

We were walking through the dark woods, and I was scared to death.  It was so dark.  We were on the path but I had no idea where we were going.  I had dawdled and was lagging behind (seems like my life story), and surely the bears or mountain lions were waiting to pounce on the last one in the line.  Fear was taking hold of this ten-year old.  

I was camping somewhere in Pennsylvania with neighbors from down the street.  It was my first time truly away from my family.  It was also the first time camping.  The camp setting was beautiful.  It looked out over a lake and seemed so peaceful.  That was until the sun went down.  Darkness is the absence of light.  It was very dark.  

The family I was with decided to go to a camp worship service.  All we had to do was follow the path.  That was until the path split in two.  Lagging so far behind, I saw that both paths were dark holes into nowhere.  As fear gripped my soul. I became paralyzed.  Standing in the dark, wondering when my neighbors would realize I was lost, I heard the most beautiful sound.  It was singing.  It sounded so good echoing through the woods, reminding me I was not alone.  The contemporary worship service was singing “A Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  The words touched my soul.  “When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all.  I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bride over troubled water, I will lay me down…” It was like God was singing to me that night.  All I had to do was walk toward the singing.  I found them and was safe once again.  

Recently, events in our world can make one fear.  There is the pandemic that will not disappear.  The elections have left many discouraged.  The fifth storm is brewing in the Gulf of Mexico.  All of these issues join our own personal issues causing much fear, dread, disappointment, depression, and doubt.  Where is God?  What’s going on?

The pandemic has left many with feelings of loneliness and isolation.  Some churches remain closed.  Others have opened, but masks and 6 ft. distancing leaves the body feeling neglected.  So we Zoom.  Thank you Lord for modern technology, but there is something about the touch and presence of another human that soothes the soul.  

The pandemic is like sin.  Sin separates us.  If I offend or hurt you enough, you will choose another way to go, and I won’t be a part of it.  Sin causes isolation.  It’s as if we are alone in the woods stymied by the darkness.

But wait a minute.  Here comes the second verse.  “When you’re down and out.  When you’re on the street.  When evening falls so hard, I will comfort you.  I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes and pain is all around.  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down….”  Walk to the sound of God’s voice.

The elections have caused some to rejoice and others to fear.  We are called to pray for our leadership and to submit to them since they are God’s chosen.  We nod our head but post ludicrous Facebook posts demeaning individuals we know very little about personally.  Why do we put our hope in a man or a woman?  Who is really on the throne?  Or are we paralyzed, thinking unknown evils like bears and wolves will come and eat us?  

Shh, listen.  “Your time has come to shine, all your dreams are on their way.  See how they shine.  Oh, if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind…”. Time to shine for the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords and to be known, as Jesus commanded, “by our love.”  Remember, he said that after he washed the feet of Judas (the betrayer)  and Peter (the denier) as well.  

And, yes, the storm clouds are mounting.  It’s the fifth storm in the gulf this year.  How many storms must man weather?  It’s not about avoiding storms.  They will come often, and sometimes, all at once.  We don’t fear the wind and the rain.  We fear lost relationships, lost employment, failure, disgrace, and busted dreams and expectations.  These storms not only paralyze us, they embed fear for years to come.  It’s a dark lonely world, at times full, of evil and despair.  All we want to do is pull up the covers and hide.  

However, the song is not over yet.  The final words move us beyond the touch, and enter a part of our heart called our minds.  Do you remember them?  Can you hear them?  “Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.  Like a bridge over troubled water, I will ease your mind.”  

That night some 50 years ago, I didn’t hear the people singing a Simon and Garfunkel song.  I heard Jesus using a folk song to remind me of what he has done.  He has already laid his life down for me.  He has conquered the darkness.  I wasn’t well-versed in Jesus at the age of 10.  However, I can honestly say, as I walked towards the source of these beautiful words, I sensed His presence.  He is the Light of the World that drives out the darkness of our fears.  I remember today the words from Psalms that bring comfort, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”. 

I don’t know if Simon and Garfunkel believe in Jesus, but one thing I do know…Jesus can use anything to reveal who he is.  Yes, Jesus can sing a folk song.  “He leads me besides still waters.  He restores my soul.”  Sing it loud.  Sing it long. 

Christmas two years ago I asked my wife for an EGO blower.  EGO is a company that manufactures electric yard tools.  I researched their products from many different angles and decided I was tired of the gas engines and wanted to enter the electric world.  I’m glad I did.  The EGO blower has been fantastic.  The battery holds up and provides plenty of power and time.  

Last Christmas I asked for the EGO hedge trimmer.  I have been known to cut a few extension cords in half over the years.  Again, my dear wife took Caren of my request.  It again has been a great acquisition.  Other than catching my leg a little bit (I have to cut something other than the bushes), it has been a wonder tool.  

This year I didn’t wait till Christmas.  My gas weed eater and edger gave up the ghost in mid-season.  It was my third one in four years.  I was sick and tired of the same old problem.  Weed- eaters are worse then chain saws.  As you can see, I do not get along with small engine equipment.  So, off I went to the store and came back with an EGO weed trimmer and edger.  Again, I love their products and encourage anyone who wants to go electric to consider buying  the EGO products.

I’m not sure I will ever consider an electric chain-saw, but the last purchase in the future will be the lawnmower.  My neighbor got one of the lawn mowers, and he loves it.  He asked me if I would like to use it once to see if I liked it.  I refused his offer.  I know if I use it one time, I will yearn for one a bit too much and purchase it before one is needed.  It is on my radar, but right now it’s a bit out of range.  My gasoline lawnmower is working just fine.  For now.

Eventually, other than needing gasoline for the generator (everyone should have one of those here in the Lowcountry), I will soon be gasoline free.  That says a lot for a guy who loves his tools and used to manage his family’s Texaco station.  Old dogs can learn new tricks.  No gasoline in the garage excites me.  

Gasoline is an interesting commodity.  It is one of those products that is a carcinogen, extremely flammable, and not well respected by the American public.  I have seen people smoking cigarettes try and fill their gas tank.  I have seen plenty of other people do some crazy things around it that would drive a sane person crazy.  I’m a little surprised we actually have self-serve gas stations.  If you have seen what I have, it might change your mind.  

As I emptied my gas can that other day and dreamed of the day I don’t need gasoline on a regular basis in the garage, a weird thought entered my mind.  Gasoline is a lot like the gospel.  Stop laughing.  It’s not all that crazy.  Just give me a few more minutes.

Gasoline is a wonderful and yet a dangerous product.  It has the ability to make your life easy and the ability to make you miserable.  Doesn’t that sound like the good news of Jesus Christ? A friend of mine and I were talking about being a chaplain.  I told him, “After a while people don’t really want to talk much with the chaplain unless the sky is falling in their lives.”  He replied, “They don’t want to talk.”  I countered with, “No, they don’t want their life to change, and Jesus has a habit of changing one’s life.”  My buddy agreed.  The gospel, just like gasoline can be so good but it will cause us as humans to experience some pain.

I know pain from gasoline.  Being around it most of my life till I was 40, I can tell you gasoline in the wrong place (eyes, mouth and other sensitive areas) can leave you in extreme pain.  Not only that, but add a little flame to the mixture and look out, anything can and will happen.  Add some gospel to your life, and there has to be a reaction.

For the most part, we like to control gasoline, and we like to control the gospel.  Put gasoline in an engine, add some fire and spark, and we can drive a car, mow the lawn, and blow the cuttings away.  Gasoline out of control can cause a major disaster. 

We try to control the gospel by putting Jesus in a box.  We make faith more of a controlled pattern of behavior.   Sometimes I feel we treat the gospel like the flu shot.  Get a little bit so we don’t get sick.  There is a song titled “Big, Big God.”  Only we like to give Him minimal effect by staying safe in our controlled groups.  Sacrifice is left to the professional people like ministers and missionaries.  We don’t want gasoline.  We prefer kerosene.   

There is only one problem with this metaphor.  The gospel we like to control, but it was not meant to be controlled.  It was meant to run free.  Jesus said he (the gospel) came to heal the brokenhearted, mend the crushed spirit, and, get this one, set the prisoners free.  Most think the gospel imprisons people.  No, sin creates, as Scott Strapp sang, “My Own Prison.”  It is the gospel that came to set us free from those prisons.  Now that is some powerful stuff.  

Next time you go to fill up your gas tank, remember the gospel.  Instead of trying to control it like we do gasoline, let it control you, and look out for the power it has.  Gasoline can start a car, but the gospel can change a life.  Fill er up?

Those who have a smart phone have a camera with them all the time.  I get a bit envious when someone takes a picture with a phone and it turns out better then the one I took with my Canon T5i camera.  In my world, that is just wrong.  I will admit I have taken a few phone pictures that turned out very well.  It is a matter of luck since there are no settings to worry about.  I do wish phones were phones and cameras, were cameras but what are we going to do?  It’s the new world and it isn’t all that bad.

Being a picture taker and with carrying my camera wherever I go, I have a boat load plus of pictures.  The other day someone was complaining about digital photography.  I had to politely disagree.  Digital cameras have saved me a lot of money and made photography possible for just about anyone. I like to take a lot of pictures hoping to have 10% be excellent.  

I take pictures of just about anything that catches my eye.  I look for the unique picture these days.  Light is the key to all pictures.  The light has to be right.  For those who don’t take pictures, the best time of the day to take a picture, especially if one wants the best colors, the morning hours before the sun washes out the deep hues.  

Lately ,I have been looking at shadows.  That’s right, shadows.  All photographers go through different moods looking for the one picture that makes them proud.  I like birds, sunrises, and flowers.  I forgot, alligators are pretty cool as well.  But, lately, shadows have my attention.  I was hiking with my family in the mountains this summer.  Low and behold, there was light coming through the trees, and it left a shadow of a monster on a tree.  I stopped and took the picture.  That started my journey to photograph shadows.  

The neat thing about shadows is they display the three-dimensional object that blocks the light.  However, the interpretation of that object is in the heads of the viewer.  They allow our mind to run wild.   

Shadows have often been mentioned when referring to the dark side of life.  Shadows have been associated with ghosts and demons.  How many times have you caught a shadow of maybe a bird or something going by and it startled you?  Or maybe we have been in the house alone, and the shadows start playing games with our eyes.  We do not consider shadows in a positive light when that happens.  

At the same time I have been looking to photograph shadows, shadows can ruin a picture. I have been frustrated thinking I got a really good picture only to have shadows darken faces or objects.  I guess we can say a shadow can photo-bomb a good picture.  

The Bible talks a lot about shadows.  The most known verse is from Psalm 23 where it says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me…”  There are 50 some other verses that refer to shadows as well.  Just like in photography, a shadow can have a good inference, or it can be a bad place to be.

In my own life, just like my photography, I have been aware of seeking to stay in the shadow of the Lord.  For some, that may be a very scary place.  As in culture, that shadow can imply doom and gloom, especially for those who are unwilling to submit to the Lord.  His shadow can be a place of his coming discipline and judgment.

For those who are believers and followers of Jesus, his shadow is a place of safety.  The shepherd is to be out in front of the sheep. The sheep should be walking behind him.  With the right positioning, we are safe and secure in the shadow of the Savior who has quite a big shadow.  Outside of the shadow leaves us in a dangerous place.  

Did you know that sheep have very little defense abilities?  Their only defense is to either stay in a circling herd or have a shepherd who will watch over them and lead them, as the Scriptures say, “beside the still waters.”  Jesus said, as the good shepherd, he is the gate.  In those days, the corral had no gate to close, so the shepherd would lay down in the opening, keeping the sheep in and the potential of danger out.  Here we are in a world defined by a pandemic and destruction.  Left to ourselves, we face get suffering.  With Christ, there is no better place to be.  

Psalm 36:7 proclaims, “How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God!  And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings.”