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As a believer in Jesus Christ my heart is heavy this morning. Today we bury a friend, Martin Stevens. Martin was murdered this past week in a Hardeeville parking lot directly across the street from his home. In the last year I had several conversations with Martin concerning the town he loved. We would speak often that the hope was not in a political party, government money, better education and the likes. Martin knew that transformation of a community begins with Jesus.
Late this past week I spoke with two African American brothers who are heart broken over their community. They see the break down in the family. They see our children running around with no idea of respect for God much less other humans. They see people coming into their community more worried about their personal comfort and safety then “loving their neighbor.” They desire to make a difference. They can’t get anybody to go with them. Their resources are thin. But, they have heart. The have the heart of Jesus.
As I turn on the news there is chaos in our nation. We are still to this day in 2017 fighting over the color of our skin. Lives are still being loss in the name of bigotry, racism and hatred. The more we become conditioned to relativism we don’t love each other better we actually only allow those in our lives that agree with us. Therefore, our current cultural makeup actually increases hatred and evil.
Christians seem to be more concerned about what happens in one hour on a Sunday morning than growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ answering the call to be ambassadors for Christ going into all the world including the areas of greater Bluffton/Hardeeville/Beaufort that need the presence of Jesus Christ. Instead, we want our faith to follow the path of relativism and only include those people and things “I” want. We are in the business of making God in our image instead of being made into the image of our Lord who gave his life as a ransom for many.
Throughout history the Christian community tended to be the ones who ran to areas of conflict and disaster feeding the hungry, taking care of the sick and inviting the stranger in. Documents in Rome show a group of people addressing those stricken with the plague. It was the Christians. We answered the call. Of course we should be not because Jesus said to do it. We answered the call since our destiny has been determined by the work of Christ on the cross. The greatest thing that can happen to us is death. We will be present with the Lord for eternity.
Somehow as we rant and rave over songs to be sung, style of worship, and the dress of Sunday attenders as well as other meaningless and trivial pursuits we have replaced the call to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5) with comfort. We no longer gauge a church on the call to sacrifice (don’t use that word if you want your church to grow) but rather on the call to hunker down in ministries that have little to no impact in our communities. But…we are happy!
Somehow as we rant and rave over political correctness, political parties and political platforms we have ended up safe in our Sunday havens instead of responding the call of Jesus as he ascended into heaven to “go.” A recent study indicated that while the modern church does a pretty good job sending many around the globe we tend to miss those within one mile of our church buildings. “Go” may be across the yard. It may be across the town. It might include those we eat with at the local restaurant and do business with at the local store. “Go” means action and movement.
Christians tend to take more time debating the issues, figuring out a response and waiting for someone else to do the work of Christ. Transformation is not going to take place where his people abandon their neighbors. The gospel begins with us. Our love is to bring the message of Jesus Christ. When Jesus said “go” he didn’t give them a game plan, he didn’t tell them to figure out the best operating position and he didn’t tell them to wait for others. Let me ask one simple question. Who have you loved well this past week, month or year with the purpose of the gospel through you to impact a life for Christ?
It should not take the death of a friend to motivate us. It should not take the begging of two men hungry for gospel transformation to move us. It should not take the collapse of a society into reckless chaos and death to cause us to love one another regardless of our differences. What is to drive us is the work of Christ on the cross who laid his life down for you and me. That is enough.

Each year I look forward to our family vacation.  For the past 8 years our children and grand children join us for vacation.  It is a highlight of the year.  Not only do we get to laugh and enjoy one another we recharge our batteries.

Each year we do somethings special.   This year we took the behind the scenes tour at Disney World.  During the five hour tour we learned some “secrets” and plenty of history surrounding the 9th wonder of the world.  We also went down into the tunnel system which is below the entire attraction.  It was quite cool.

While on the tour the guide talked about Roy Disney.  Walt was the dreamer.  Roy, his brother was the doer.  He is the one that brought Walt’s dreams to reality.  Walt never saw Disney World.  He died from lung cancer before they began construction.  Once he found out he did not have long to live he asked Roy to come out of retirement (Roy was 8 years older) and build the Florida attraction.  Without hesitation Roy brought Walt’s dream to life.

As the tour guide continued to talk about Roy my heart was warmed and tears came to my eyes.  Roy loved his brother.  He believed in his brother.  Did you know Walt Disney went bankrupt three times before the age of 30.  Forget for a moment the success he achieves on the back half of his life.  Without a famous mouse we may never know of Walt Disney.  We wouldn’t have if Roy did not vouch for his brother on a a loan from an uncle that actually got Walt over the hump.  Three times bankrupt and Roy still has Walt’s back.  The story gets even better.

When Roy stood up to dedicate Disney World he stood silent for two minutes.  He quietly told those around him to go get Mickey Mouse.  Once Mickey joined him on stage Roy proceeded to dedicate his work to his brother Walt.  Why did he want Mickey?  At that time Walt was the voice of Mickey Mouse.  The mouse was the closest Roy could get to his deceased brother.  Once Mickey (representing Walt) was nearby Roy was able to proceed.

One more little tidbit.  There is a statue of Walt Disney directly in front of Cinderella Castle holding Mickey’s hand.  It is one of the most photographed spots on all the earth.  Do you know there is a statue of Roy.  He is sitting on a bench with Minnie on the left as you walk through the train station.  He is sitting on a bench.  To me personally this was very significant in so many ways.

With Walt long gone, Roy could have stole the show.  Who was going to stop him?  It could have been Roy Disney World.  He could have been the statue in front of the castle.  It could have been Roy and Walt with Mickey making him just as famous as his brother.  Roy didn’t take one single iota of credit away from his brother.  His brother the bankrupt dreamer who at any given time till he hit it big was well on his way to being the laughing stock of the family.  Roy didn’t just build Disney World.  He guaranteed it’s successful future.  By the way, it’s not Disney World.  It’s Walt Disney World.

I believe everybody needs a Roy Disney in their life.  We don’t choose our blood brothers or sisters.  We like to think blood is thicker then water.  Not so!  Being a counselor I have heard way to many sad stories that make Roy and Walt a dot on the screen.  It wasn’t just that Roy did these things.  He truly loved his brother.  He believed in Walt’s vision that at the time were light years ahead.

The Bible talks about these type of relationships.  There was Moses and Aaron. There4 are those who had Roy’s but were not blood related.  David and Jonathon stand out.  Don’t forget Elijah and Elisha.  In the New Testament we have Paul and Timothy.  Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus.  Many believe John the apostle was Jesus’ best friend.  Who is standing at the cross as Jesus takes his last breath?  John with Jesus’ mother.  The others were a distance off.  John was there at Jesus’ worst moments.

While walking the tour I was saddened that I don’t have a brother like Roy.  But then I realized God has granted me more than one.  When I was younger there was Bruce.  He lives in Knoxville and I know he would come to my aide.  When I moved to South Carolina and our family was in deep distress, God provided Bob.  He has moved on, but we still keep in touch with each other.  There are others that I know would have my back…Ed, Tom, Andrew and a few more.  They are all Roys.  Of all these there is one that stands above all the rest.  Charlie is the best of all friends.  He is the one who is closer than a brother.  I know he thinks I’m crazy.  I bet Roy thought Walt had lost his mind at times.  Crazy doesn’t matter.  It adds depth to the relationship when you realize the one you think is crazy is actually the one who sees what you can’t.  Don’t worry, I think Charlie is crazy too.

If there is one element the modern church has failed to realize is the need especially in our world to slow things down and allow Roy and Walt relationships to develop.  I’m tired of church that is more interested in being an assembly line instead of investing it’s time, energy and money encouraging people to slow down and know one another allowing love to blossom.  If you have been at church for a while and don’t have a friend who knows you are crazy and still has your back then your church probably doesn’t value real grace.   That’s what grace really is.  It’s friendship maxed out.  Can’t have grace till it’s actually valued and practiced.  Well, I got to go.  Got to give Charlie a call.

From time to time and yet, not very often, one gets into a deep conversation that actually makes us stop and think.  I don’t mean giving a topic a few seconds of brief air time between the ears.  I mean seriously thinking about it.  Somehow I kind of think Twitter was supposed to work that way.  People write a very short blurb and somehow it is to attract the audience, that is waiting in baited anticipation, either to the actual statement or to the website that moves beyond a few short words.  Maybe I don’t understand Twitter (probably is the sure answer) but it doesn’t persuade me.

Sunday sermons are like Twitter.  The pastor of any given church puts most of his weekly energy in his sermon.  At least, he should, it’s his time to shine.  It’s also his time to make sure he gets the Word of God correct.  He gets up and for approximately 30 minutes talks on any given Bible verse, topic or theme that encompasses volumes of written material.  The Sunday sermon is a blurb.  I can’t remember anytime I have been drawn to a deeper subject by any one sermon.  I’m not sure anyone has ever stopped any pastor I know and told him how his life changed because he went home and meditated on the sermon subject seeking God’s direction in his life.  So, in a sense Sunday Sermons and Twitter are related.

I’m coming across more and more people who don’t read books.  The “blurb” world is taking over.  We have moved from books to article to webpages that condense an article down to one page.  The average stay on a webpage is 10 to 20 seconds as reported by the Nielson Norman Group.  People will stay longer on the page if one clearly communicates the value proposition in 10 seconds.  10 seconds!  Even at that the NNG says the average stay on any page is less then one minute.

We now live in a world that is defined by an action movie…”Gone in 60 Seconds.”  I’m pushing the limits when this article exceeds 600 words.  They now say that most best selling authors should write chapters that are no longer than 5 to 6 pages.  Why?  It gives the reader a chance to stop reading and remember where they are in the book.  Say goodbye to Tom Clancy and Pat Conroy.  Their chapters are endless.

The “blurb” world is changing the modern western expression of Christianity.  On one hand I have grave concern.  On the other hand the movement excites me even as a book reader.  No wonder a 60 second culture has to contend with fake news.  The real deal has to have more than words.

The “60 second Jesus” should concern any pastor since most of the Bible has to be considered under context.  How does a 2,000 plus year old document impact our lives?  How are we to understand it?  It’s more than reading it.  It takes study and time to understand.  I can read a book on Physics.  That will not make me understand Physics.   I have to learn it.  It goes the same for the Bible and the complexity of context.  There are many pastors trying to figure out the right way to go in a blurb world.  Personally, I think we raise the bar.  Don’t make the Bible a blurb.  Many complain we keep taking our education system down to the lowest denominator instead of challenging kids to move up.  The same goes for the Bible.  Jesus never worried about the cultural setting.  He did what was needed to point people to him.  We should hold the same standard.  Hebrews talks a lot about maturity in the Word and our relationship with Christ.  Seek maturity.

On the other hand, a “60 second Jesus” will drive us to consider more than the preaching of the Word for our proclamation of the gospel truth.  That very element excites me.  You know the old saying, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.”  My mother used that one often.  For Christianity, those days are over.  If life is sacred then it must be sacred.  Jesus said for us to “love your enemy.”  Therefore, we must love our enemy.  Jesus said all sorts of hard things.  We should be paying attention to them.

It’s going to take more than words to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.  Words will be given a chance.  It’s going to be a short one.  The words are only a door that needs to be opened.  Did you see what Nielson Normon said?  You have to communicate the value proposition in 10 seconds to get someone to stay longer.  Our attitude, behavior and observable behavior are our 10 second portal.  We can say all we want to say.  I’m not sure anyone is listening anymore.  However, put something behind those words and there will be an audience.  The more we display our commitment to Jesus’ teaching people will be more inclined to listen.  I’m not saying they will like what we have to say, but they will know that we are not full of “fake Jesus.”

Instead of the “do as I say” motif I look forward to the culture of “Hey you got a minute…I want to show you something.”  We are a nosey people.  They will look.  The question is, what will they see?

When I was a kid a song got stuck in my brain.  It was a funny song by The New Christy Minstrels.   I found myself singing “Three Wheels on My Wagon” as I drove down 170 this morning.  It made me smile.  It made me laugh.

Way back in 1961 it was actually a hit song.  The song starts with a 3 wheeled wagon being surrounded by Indians, Cherokees to be exact.  On the second verse the wagon only has 2 wheels and the Cherokees are getting real close.  We know what happens in verse 3.  The wagon is down to 1 wheel and its on fire.  Last but not least the wagon has no wheels and the singer/driver has been captured by the Cherokees.  I can hear it right now, “Three wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along.  The Cherokees are after me, they look mad really mad and I’m singing this happy song…”. I know.  I’m crazy.

The funny thing is this song comes to mind when I feel like the wagon driver.  It’s when the wheels finally come off the wagon and the Cherokees…they got me.  I wish I could be like the driver and sing a happy song.  Their song has everybody including the Indians singing, “I’m singing a higgity, haggity hoggety, high…”.  Usually at this point I’m fried.  No wheels.  Wagon on fire.  Enemies everywhere.  I’m done.

I have come to learn that most people can handle one wheel coming off in life.  Maybe it’s a problem at work.  It might be one of those bad spells at home.  We tend to survive one problem at a time.  We might spend some time in prayer.  We might do our spiritual duties and feel God got us through.  It’s when the second wheel comes off and we are still suffering the effects of the first wheel that  moves us a little closer to falling apart.

When wheels come off they tend to go faster then the vehicle.  I’ve been there.  Hopefully you have not.  Something didn’t sound right.  I looked off to the left and there it went.  The wheel was flying past the car before the rear hub slammed into the ground.

When three come off at once, it’s hard to find our God.  God hasn’t gone anywhere.  He is just as good and gracious as when the first wheel went rumbling by.  What’s really going on?

I’m not sure the New Christy Minstrels knew how accurate they were. When that forth wheel comes off all bets are off.  Crazy things happen at that point.  People do the dangest things when life has them.

Today in church the pastor uttered, “God is drawn to desperate hearts.”  Desperate hearts?  Why is he drawn to desperate hearts?  Probably since that is the only time we actually become dependent upon him.  Any other time we are thinking we can handle things.  The Christy Minstrels diddy gave the excuses.  Verse 1, reads, “a mile up the road there’s a hidden cave…”. So instead of dependance upon God we will try to find a way out.

Verse 2 continues the state of man vs dependence on God.  Instead of a mile up the road it’s down to half a mile up the road.  We just keep going and going.  Verse three has the hidden cave right around the bend.  We think we got the answers only we never make it.

For some reason we don’t turn to God when life starts to turn south.  No, we wait till  our options have run out.  We wait till out spouse is out the door.  We wait till we stand before the judge and hope he’s having a good day.  We wait till our employer has the pink slip in his hand.     When we finally get to the point our ways have failed, it’s then we become desperate for the Lord.  No happy songs (NCM’s didn’t quite have it right).  It’s more like desperate prayers begging God to rescue us.

The pastor was right.  God is drawn to desperate hearts. It’s only then we get out of the way.

This week our grandson turns six.  Some refer to him as my mini-me.  It’s scary.  Two generations later and I can see me in so many ways.  That boy needs prayer for sure.  If he is anything like his grandfather there are tough days ahead.

The boy likes to challenge authority.  Often it’s not so much a mean streak, he is very aware of reactions he gets from people.  He pays close attention to all reactions.  Then he does the craziest imitation of those reactions.  Sometimes it’s quite funny.  Other times one would like to Homer Simpson him.  Homer would strangle Bart when his nerves got on edge.  When the lad crosses the line it’s time for action.

Last night I got the joy of sitting in the backseat with both my grandchildren on the way to eat.  His father asked him to cease a behavior and his reaction was not complimentary.  He was not being inquisitive; he was rude.  I turned to him and quickly reminded him he was speaking to his father who loves him dearly and the proper response was “Yes sir.”  He took a second and thought about challenging me but God must have intervened in that developing mind as he responded with a positive tone, “Yes sir daddy.”  Mission accomplished.  For now.

This morning I was facing myself in the mirror.  An incident occurred that frustrated me to death.  In Proverbs and James the power of the tongue is revealed.  Usually it’s the power to destroy that dominates such a little member of our body.  In my mind was all sorts of words that I wanted and was planning on uttering.  I was not happy.  Those words would not have been encouraging.  They would have been personal.  They were not in the category of encouraging and edifying Jesus.  They were destructive.

Suddenly, I heard an echo deep in my mind.  I’ve heard it before and often ignored it.  I don’t know if that is the past error reaching out to me or the voice of God.  I tend to think it was the voice of God through his Holy Spirit.  Why?  It was in direct opposite of my nature.  The voice said clearly, “Shut up and don’t go there.”  Now my grandkids might argue the use of “shut up” but God speaks in ways we need to hear.

I stood there and tried different methods to avoid such wise counsel.  I tried deflection.  I tried ignorance.  I tried absolute disobedience.  I sounded like my grandson.  I wanted my way.  I wanted to be out front.  I wanted things fixed and I wanted to fix them.  I demanded control!

Again I heard words.  They literally said, “Enough, I got this.”  Quickly my mind was searching for an answer.  It was one of those moments that time had no bearing.  I was on fast-forward.  My guess is that is exactly what goes through my grandsons mind.  I bet we have all had those moments.  My shoulders slumped.  My pride was conquered.  “Yes, sir.”  End of game.

Our culture is moving more and more away from submitting to an authority.  That is the natural evolution of a world based on relative truth.  Eventually the only authority is ourselves.  We pick and choose what we want and what we are going to do.  If it works for me, great.  If something else works for you, great.  Just, leave me alone.  No need to say “Yes, sir.”  The answer based on relativism has to be “Yes, me.”

This is nothing new.  Solomon in his wisdom said correctly, “There is nothing new under the sun.”  The creation struggles with following the Creator and his way.   So we  thank the Good Shepherd who takes the time to come and find us and bring us back to the flock.  We are that valuable in His eyes because of His sacrifice on the cross.

Lord, be that still small voice that has me reply, “Yes sir.”  Remind us who is the Creator.  Remind us who is the King of Kings.  Speak so we can hear you.  Speak  our name as a father would his son reminding us of your great love and care.  Last but not least, be with that grandson of mine.  I’m trying and so are his parents.  He needs to hear the voice of Jesus as I do every day as well.

The elderly gentleman and his grandson lifted the lawnmower to the ground.  There was work to be done.  The owner of the home, a young lady abandoned by her husband, was not home.  It was a good time to get the lawn cut and get back home.  Reaching back into the car for the trimmer a neighbor suddenly appeared.  We all have them.  Neighbors that are always around till you need them.  He asked if they were going to cut the grass.  No, there were going to build a swimming pool (I once again apologize for my sarcasm).  The lawn cutting duo explained to the neighbor that they were there to assist the homeowner who was in need.  The inquiring (see I’m getting better) neighbor replied, “That’s nice” and scampered back across the street.  Off to work they went.

The grandfather and grandson labored most of the morning getting the lawn in decent shape.  Grandma made sure they had plenty of water and kept an eye on them.  She had to.  It was one of the hottest days of the year.  It often amazes me that a neighbor can stop by and ask questions but they don’t show up when there is work to be done.  There was no offer of a cold drink of water or my personal favorite, iced tea; the southern kind.

After all was said and done the neighbor showed back up.  They seem to have great timing.  Again they talked about the family in need.  It had not been a good year for them.  Granddad had the opportunity to turn the attention to our Lord, humbly taking the attention off of himself.  He explained he wasn’t there primarily to cut the grass for the lady.  He was there to serve our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Hoping the neighbor might inquire more about serving Jesus, all he got was a second, “That’s nice.”  Once again the neighbor turned and left quickly.

It was time to go home.  The trio did their “nice” duty of the day.

Their nice story points to a problem we have in our culture.  Jesus is seen as being a nice guy.  Let’s not get into a discussion about the brutal death, burial and resurrection of the nice guy.  We want to leave him as being a nice guy.

Can you imagine if a world wide religion was based on a “nice” guy.  It reminds me of the movie “Talladega Nights.” Ricky Bobby played by Will Ferrell says grace over a meal.   He prays to the “baby Jesus.”  Ricky Bobby and several of the characters discuss how they see Jesus.  Not a one of them saw him as the Son of God.  Not one of them saw him as a sacrificial lamb.  Now, I understand the movie was a satire poking fun at everything.  Got that!  However, it makes the point just like the inquisitive neighbor did.  If we can see Jesus in our eyes and make him what we want him to be, we don’t have to see him for who he really is.  “Nice baby Jesus” has no authority.  Jesus, the Son of God demands our attention, our hearts and our submission.

There it is!  The word we despise.  “Nice” Jesus doesn’t require submission.  Babies don’t demand submission.  The King of Kings and Lord of Lords commands submission to the point the Scriptures say “every knee will bow and tongue confess that he is Lord.”  Whoever wrote Talladega Nights forgot that the Magi from the East “fell down and worshiped him.”  Even “baby Jesus” demands our worship.

I often wonder if we as believers have made Jesus into a “nice guy” more than those who don’t believe.  Jesus said some hard things.  Seldom does any preacher point out the imperative statements of Jesus.  Imperative means “crucial and of vital importance.”  It’s use in literature and speech means “giving an authoritative command.”  Jesus the one full of grace and love spoke in the imperative over 300 times.

His grace called us to Him.  Yes, the unmerited favor forgives but it also restores.  It restores our relationship to God through Jesus.  In that relationship we are not called to be nice people.  We are called to follow (submit) Jesus.

For some reason we keep trying to make Jesus into somebody attractive.  Jesus said, we would be hated because he is hated.  Hated!  That doesn’t sound like a nice guy.  He was hated as he dispenses his grace.  He calls us to life.  It’s a life in Christ with him out front not alongside having a pleasant discussion counting all our nice deeds and words.  He’s guiding us to do exactly what he did.  He laid his life down for others and gave a way of life that demanded (imperative) we love God and others as we would want to be loved.

How are you seeing Jesus?  How are you seeing yourself?  This is an important element of the Christian faith.  Since the Reformation in the 1500’s man has slowly elevated himself and lowered the view of Christ.  We are trying to make Jesus into something or someone we can like.  We are trying to make him into someone we don’t have to follow.  Last time I checked the Jesus said to love him “with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind.”  That’s grace.  It forgives and it calls.  It calls us to Jesus.  Deuteronomy 10:7 “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty and the awesome God…”. Can you imagine if we rewrote it in our non offensive Ricky Bobby manner.  It would read “For the Lord your God is the nice guy, the baby of all babies, the cool one, the cooing one and the One formed in our eye…”. Doesn’t quite cut it does it.  Which one would you follow?

It’s been a long time since a classic Western movie hit the big screen.  Maybe we don’t have an actor (nor actress) that personifies the old west.  We have had a few try to match the likes of John Wayne in films such as “True Grit” or “The Cowboys.”  My personal favorite was John Wayne in “The Three Godfathers.” It didn’t win any awards and was one of the lesser known John Wayne films.  If you haven’t seen it, try and catch it around Christmas.

There is one western released in 1993 that catches my attention when it comes to classic Westerns.  Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer along with Sam Elliott, Powers Booth and Bill Paxton make Tombstone a must see old time westerner.  In my opinion Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday night be Kilmer’s best acting role of his entire career.

There are a lot of great lines in this outlaws vs. gunman American westerner.  Just about everybody who has seen it will remember Doc Holliday standing with his hand on his gun and a tantalizing smirk on his face surprising Johnny Ringo (very bad guy) with “I’m your huckleberry.”  You know right then and there Ringo is in deep trouble.  You got to see it. It’s one of those kind of flicks.

In this shoot em up, kill or be killed movie there runs a deep seated theme that rings true for all mankind.  Wyatt Earp (Kurt Douglas) is talking to Doc Holiday about evil focusing on the evil that makes a man kill, rape and maim.  He asks Holliday’ “What makes a man do the things he (Ringo) does?  Doc Holliday gives one of the best answers I have ever heard when the question of sin and evil is brought up.  He replies, “A man like Ringo has a great big hole, right in the middle of himself.  And he can never kill enough, or steal enough, or inflict enough pain to ever fill it. Man’s dilemma is right there in the middle of Tombstone.  A preacher couldn’t have put it any better.

But wait a minute.  It gets deeper.  Wyatt asks “What does he want?”  Philosopher Holliday replies, “Revenge.”  Wyatt questions, “For what?”  Philosopher turned preacher Holliday hits the nail on the head and says, “Bein born.”  When those words came out of his mouth I dropped what I was doing and raced to replay and record those few lines.  Hollywood once again sets the stage for an answer to man’s on going struggle…sin.

We are all born with a hole in our heart.  Jesus is constantly pointing it out.  He said we are thirsty, hungry,  and sheep without a shepherd.  One thing philosophers cannot answer is our propensity to inflict harm on others.  Don’t think we are goody two shoes.  We might not have a six shooter on our hip but we have a tongue that can inflict enough damage to kill the heart of anybody especially those we say we love.

Johnny Ringo might have filled his hole with evil.  That same hole is often filled all sorts of ways.  We each choose our own way.  That hole is the lost fulfillment of being in perfect relationship with our creator, God.  We all crave Eden.  Add some pain and suffering to it and that hole gets wider and deeper.  On this side of heaven it won’t ever be satisfied.  No wonder The Rolling Stones, who had all the money, women and drugs they could want sang “I can’t get no satisfaction.”  Maybe Holiday had it right.  What we are really rebelling at is “bein born.”  Born into a world full of suffering, pain, brokenness, shame, guilt and fear.

No matter how we try and avoid the effects of sin they’re going to come.  We all will face the tragedy of being born into a world that “eats their own.”  We might delay it.  We might ignore it.  We might deny it.  That is the real shame.  With Jesus we should be running to it instead of away from it.  Why?  With Christ we now have hope and an answer.  That answer might not come in it’s entirety in our lifetime.  But, He promised to send the Sprit to anyone who believes providing Shalom (internal peace) as we wait to be fully redeemed in his presence.

We believe in Jesus to fill that hole.  We believe in Jesus to rejoice in “bein born.”  We believe in Jesus who in a sense is our huckleberry (forgive me if I have sinned).

I despise my office.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice office.  If you like offices.  There are nice pictures on the wall.  The bookshelves are to kill for.  My latest addition, a stand-up desk, is fantastic.  The green/blue hue makes a pleasant atmosphere.  The solar powered bobble figures make people smile.  It’s an awesome office.  The best I ever had.  However, I try to get out of it every chance I can get.

It has nothing to do with my upbringing even though as a child I was constantly outside. It has nothing to do with claustrophobia.  While I like to golf and kayak I haven’t touched the golf clubs in 2 years and the kayak needs a drink of water.  I get out of the office to meet people.  I get out to hear stories.

Our view of life will only be as big and fluent as our exposure.  Stories are the core to the gospel narrative.  Open the Bible!  Go ahead, it won’t bite.  It’s loaded full of stories.  Many of the stories don’t have happy endings.  Sometimes we read the Word of God and wonder what God was thinking.  That’s exactly what he wants.  He wants us to live the story in a way that we keep going to him for explanation.  Once we think we got it, we don’t need His story.  Then we are in big trouble.

There seems to be a drought in the modern church.  We seem to be losing our stories.  I hear success stories but I don’t hear too many stories of brokenness, hurt and loneliness.  We have replaced stories with elements of Christianity.   What happened to the stories?

The modern church is living vicariously through a few stories.  I haven’t figured out if we don’t have stories or we are not allowed to tell our stories.  If there is a church that does not allow the freedom of stories as part of their life blood I wonder how long Bible figures such as Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, Gideon, David, John the Baptist, Peter and Paul would have fellowship with us?

There was a man who felt the freedom to share his story at his community group.  After he relayed the story the weeks of silence sent him packing.  They said the standard “I’ll pray for you.”  However, nobody called him the next few weeks.  At church they gave him a handshake but nobody sat down next to him.  At community group the next week everybody acted and spoke like nothing happened.  It doesn’t take a verbal command to put the lid on a story.  There is a social shunning that is quite effective.

After spending weeks on the road at different seminars and conferences this spring I have come to the conclusion that there are only two types of churches.  There are those driven by legalism and those who practice grace.  There is no such church in the middle of the road.  Before we go any further let’s make this clear:  Legalism is self-worship.  The emphasis is not on the Holy Spirit but man.

A legalistic church gives a hand shake.  A church driven by grace gives a hug.  Church with a man-focus has no stories other than their members financial and employment achievements.  Grace centered churches talk about brokenness, pain and shame looking for our God to write the rest of their story.  A legalistic body teaches and preaches with a fire hose.  When grace prevails nobody needs to say a word.  Legalism has plenty of meetings,  Grace prays.  Grace produces stories and they aren’t perfect by any means.

I get out of my office to hear the stories.  I’m interested in how the stories will be redeemed by the story of a man who knew and experiences all our brokenness and pain. His story hits a low as he is nailed to a cross in nakedness and shame, abandoned by his friends left to die with thieves.  His friends hit the road.  Their dreams shattered.  But the story was not over.  On the third day he rose from the dead bringing verification to his story giving man the opportunity to have his relationship with God renewed.  He wasn’t a god who stands a far off.  He is the gracious God interested in our story so he could answer it with his.

Got a story!  You sure do.  I know someone who is interested.  His name is Jesus. After you tell him yours if you will listen he will tell you his.  It’s the story of redemption.  He is the main character but his story includes you and me.  It’s full of grace.  More than you can imagine.

I quit today.

Yup, I got tired of talking about Jesus with so very little response.  Put in so many hours to preach a sermon and week after week it’s the same old head nod and the polite words ooze out, “Good sermon today preacher.”  It took me a while but I figured out how to interpret those words.  It really means, “I did my duty and you didn’t totally bore me today.”  So, I quit.

Yup, I asked for some help with the ministry to homeless people and got excuses I normally get.  Let’s see.  I got the normal, “I’m too busy.”  Too busy to cook one meal for a few adults and some kids.  Too busy to come by the church for an hour and put a loving on a few kids who have no place to call home.  They can’t sleep in their own bed.  They have no toys to put under their bed.  Nope.  We are tooooooo busy.  Too busy to spend one night on a cot in case of the rare emergency.  Yup, the back hurts.  Yup, it’s not the Ritz Carlton.  Yup, got to get up early.  Yup, we look darn ugly in the morning.  Yup, let somebody else do it.  Who?  Somebody else. Surely somebody else will?  So, I quit.

They did their daily trek in and out of the office this week.  The ones trying to put their lives back together.  I try to lead them to the water but eventually I got to force their head in the water and holler “Drink!”  Most come up spitting it out by then.  So, we try to talk about living by grace one more time.  We talked about everything except how God gets the glory in their mess.  No, we can’t talk about that.  Instead they want me to be like a football official and throw the yellow flag when their mate has offended them.  Don’t they know they are married to a sinner who has not quite reached saint status?  I close my eyes and hear the same stories and wonder where God is hiding.  So, I quit.

The staff meeting was about the same old thing.  We don’t talk about spiritual needs.  No, it’s about schedules, events and dates on a calendar.  We don’t want people to be out of shape about anything.  Who locks the doors?  Who opens the doors?  Who? Who? Who?  Mention “Jesus” and we don’t know what to say.  So, I quit.

Prayer meeting sounded like Jesus in a box.  We pray so all the sick people will get well and  nobody dies.  We pray for all the ministries to thrive and surely somebody can win the lottery and leave a large donation this week.  We could sure use it.  Yup, we tell God exactly how we want and expect him to act on our behalf.  Can’t remember the last time I heard someone pray for God to make us uncomfortable.  Can’t remember the last time I heard a prayer for us to lay down our lives like Christ did.  Can’t remember.  It all seems to be running together.  So, I quit.

My best friend moved away.  He was my right arm.  You can’t manufacture a friend like that one.  It gets lonely.  God, who is the next person to hold up this weary pastor?  God, when will you send someone who won’t make excuses, will be there when I call, and gives a rip about my heart?  It’s lonely.  I hate lonely.  So, I quit.

I went home and told my wife I quit.  Her soft answer I let slide, “Again.”  Yes, again!  When God calls it’s supposed to be different.  Miracles were to happen.  Lives were to be changed.  Hearts would jump for joy.  God’s people would answer the call.  People would believe in Jesus.  The church would grow.  When God calls something is supposed to happen.

She looks at me and reminds me that it’s not about me. She looks at me and reminds me that the work is done.  Jesus took our burdens and paid our price on the cross.  His guarantee was the moment he rose from the dead on the third day conquering death.  We aren’t serving for something to come.  The Kingdom is here!  She reminded me to read Ephesians 1 once again.  “I don’t want to,” I replied in my anger.  “Do it!” She demanded.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that we have already received all the spiritual blessings we need.  He reminds us we are already seated at the feet of the Father through the presence of Jesus his son.  He reminds us that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and our inheritance is waiting.  Need I go on?  Nope.  So I quit today.  But tomorrow I’ll get up and go at it again.  My call is to be faithful to the name that stands above all other names.  It is the name of Jesus.  What ever happens…it’s in his hand.

I found out today how the prophets felt.  I joined Moses, David and one of my favorites, Jeremiah.  I joined the disciples when they ran for their life and Jesus went to the cross.  I joined fellow men and women through the ages who serve the Lord only they want him to do the same thing I just complained about.  I joined Jesus who went to the cross alone.  His own received him not.   Set the alarm for 5:30.  I need to read Ephesians 1 in the morning.  The harvest is plentiful…

It seems our world has become so confusing it’s not worth the time to sort it all out.  Name it and confusion reigns.  Let’s start with politics and the news media.  I can’t figure any of it out coming or going.  If anything the chaos gives each one of us good reason to eliminate Facebook from our daily lives.  Add any and everyones opinion to an heap of confusion and it’s like putting gasoline on a fire.  The easy thing to do is bail out.

Let’s move to daily everyday life.  Each one of us likes to think we got life under control.  Since the weather warmed up the phone has not stopped ringing.  Husbands can’t get along with their wives.  Children running a muck.  Employers think they can work people to death and not compensate them well.  Meanwhile, employees think they rule the roost and don’t show up to work or come in way late and expect the boss to be keep them on for their good looks.  It does not matter, something has gone crazy wrong.  Nobody can seem to get along with anybody anymore. Respect is only a 60’s song.  It doesn’t take much for the gasoline on the fire routine to strike.  The easy thing to do is bail out.

Maybe it has to do with the ability to have a critical opinion in just about every corridor of life.  We can Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat along with many other means to voice our opinion. Remember, our opinion is the only one that matters. Humankind gathers those who don’t share our opinion into a critical mass. Our culture has always done so only we didn’t take the time to demonize anyone that does not have the same ideals.  Today, we throw them under the bus.  Sometimes, literally.  The only way people are allowed into each others life is if they look, sound and think like “me.”  Now if that isn’t gasoline on a fire I don’t know what is.  Again, the easy thing to do is bail out.

Often we hear how the church is a place to come, feel welcome, rest and find peace. It can be.  It also can be a place of mass confusion.  Years ago Thomas Rainer and Eric Geiger wrote “Simple Church.”  That was 11 years ago.  I’m afraid not much has changed.  In a quest to make church attractive to as many people as possible we have made church just as chaotic as our world.  In Baltimore, we used to frequent The Double T Diner.  The menu was easily 8 pages long with over 100 choices.  Often we would sit there confounded by the multitude of selections having no idea what was good and what was not so good.  One day I asked the waitress what was the best thing on the menu.  She replied, “It’s all good.”  After I chuckled, I paid for my drink got up and left.  The easy thing to do was bail out.

Not only is our modern church too chaotic Christianity as a whole is laced with mass confusion.  Take any doctrine and watch us spin in circles.  No wonder the world has just about had it with Christianity.  Why is it the various churches know what we disagree upon and yet we never focus on what binds us together.  And we wonder why the world laughs at us when we say we are known by our “love.”  We love until somebody disagrees with us.  Now, go up a few paragraphs and begin again.  We look like the world.  Guess what, the easy thing to do is bail out, and…they are.  There are days I want to bail out too.

It’s like the latest baseball news.  Aaron Judge has been credited this week with hitting the hardest home run this year at 121.07 mph.  That’s the news this morning.  Does it matter?  Not one red cent.  The only thing that matters is did he touch home plate?  We have become a people who have to know and dissect everything and meanwhile we miss those things that are the most important.

In any church across America this morning we will hear about missions trips, local service opportunities, more Bible studies than anybody can shake a stick at, new stuff, old stuff, along with everything we can do that circles the wagons around the church.  Meanwhile, fewer people give a rip as they look for the exits.

When will the church return to it’s first love?  Can we make it simple again?  No wonder we have a hard time truly caring as Jesus cared.  Our Christian life has got too confusing, preoccupied, and self-fulfilling.  The only way to counter a culture of mass confusion is to become simple again.  Simple in faith.  Simple in practice.