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If you are a regular reader of this column you are aware that I go to great lengths avoiding political and controversial topics that generally leave many in a no win situation.  It is easy to tell which topics fall under this category.  Get a Facebook account and look for topics that end up with opinions that run from east to west, beach to mountaintop.  Those are the ones that have the power to end friendships and split a church.  For me, they aren’t worth the time and type.

The other problem is these issues tend to be ones that have opinions based on the all or none principle.  Either you agree 100% with someone or you are not worth the time of day.  Somehow in our culture we have lost respect at just about every level.  With the loss of respect we have lost the ability to listen and appreciate another persons view even if it does not align with mine.

Often these issues are wrapped tight with a right or left, conservative or liberal, democrat or republican agenda.  It doesn’t take long to get off the main point and follow a rabbit trail that leads to nowhere.  Our opinion is the trump card and we like to use it.  Those opinionated rabbit trails are dangerous journeys these days.  What’s worse is they seldom generate any productive change to a problem, social injustice or blight in our society.

I’m going to break the mold in the next few lines.  I have to.  I was told in ministry that certain events would catch me.  We deal a lot with death.  There would be the one death or funeral that would keep me up at night.  The same goes down the line.  Members would come and go but there would be the one loss that shakes my world.  It’s true.  It’s like God takes a moment in time to bring some things together causing us to see this world for what it is and often it is plain ugly.  For me this past week it’s the senseless murder of 17 students/faculty at a high school in Florida.  This one has my attention.

I prayed last Sunday, “Lord I’m tired of kids killing kids.”  I’am truly tired of this.  At this point I use great caution.  I don’t want to make this a political issue.  I don’t want this to be a whimsical Christian motto or trite answer either.  So where do we start?

It starts with a broken heart.  When the news broke my heart literally hurt.  It hurt for kids who lost their lives, kids who witnessed it, parents in a state of terror and it hurt for the broken young man who somehow decided he would kill innocent people to medicate his own hurt and pain.  There was no moment of peace in my heart.  A truly Christian response begins with brokenness.  Life has been broken for a long time and it will be broken into the future.  Are we broken?

There are no pat answers that solves the problem.  I’ve heard rants about gun control, mental illness, respect, a faithless society and broken homes.  All are true.  The danger is to throw a token response to quell the fury thinking a little water on the forest fire douses the flames.  It’s worse for the Christian community to go silent.

I have heard that the Christian community has the answer.  His name is Jesus.  Again somewhat true.  However, mentally ill, broken Christians are just as capable of reaping death and destruction as a non-believer.  The power of depravity is very strong.  St. Francis of Assisi was known for his attitude of being an influence for Christ beyond mere words and trite prayers.  The Christian community to St. Francis was to fill the gap, respond beyond political and denominational correctness.

Can the Christian community address the gun issue?  Are we assisting with those who are mentally ill?  Do we even look out for anyone in church and the community who is burdened and breaking?  Do we honor our parents and respect our authorities when we disagree with them?  I use the word “respect.”  It involves more then being non-committal.  Do we purpose to minister in our broken homes and communities being a strong influence in fatherless and motherless homes or do we just rant about causes and bad decisions?  Do the broken want to attend your church or is it a place for the outwardly successful?

Jesus is the answer.  The only problem is he calls the Christians to not only have the answer but to be the literal answer.  Check out Matthew 25:31 – 46.  Our other choice is to be like the mass media; wait till the event loses its punch, let our spiritual ADD kick in, and go about our merry lives until the next time the broken  world reaps death and destruction on the masses.  Just as long as it doesn’t happen to me.

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Sitting at the table it was an opportunity to unload all of the burdens the exhausted man carried.  In just a few minutes the sins of the father, mother, brother and sister were poured out on the table like a glass of spilled milk.  If that wasn’t enough a few comments against fellow church members and the pastor were thrown in.  Last but not least it was time to pick on the spouse.  There were few gasps between sentences.  The listener from time to time would try to interject only to have the weary traveler on the path of life in front of him spew more.  So much for lunch.  With all the pain inflicted on the poor fellow it wasn’t worth eating.

As the story teller began to wind down it was clear he carried a lot upon his weary shoulders.  Expressions of regret etched across his face.  Tears would well up in his eyes ever so often when the pain was more then he could bear.  Betrayal was a common theme.  Lost friendships were a close second.  When loneliness prevails leaving each one of us defiant, scared and confused.

It hadn’t been that long ago when the fore lorn gentleman was walking down the hall way and the pastor grabbed him by the shoulders to express his gratitude.  His words were sincere but foundationless.  “I wish we had more families like yours in our church.  I could sure use them.”  The response was prophetic.  “Don’t wish that upon yourself.  You don’t know us all that well.  If you did, you would probably take those words back.”  The surprised pastor was left speechless.  If this was one of the good ones what do the bad ones look like.

Two years later and the family was in shambles, the pastor had been asked to leave and here the burdened disciple was weary from a lack of sleep and doing what every red, white and blue blooded American does (Christian or not) looking to blame everybody else for our problems.  On this day it was no different.  The new pastor could tell he was carrying immense baggage and needed an ear, if not more.

The minister took a bite out of his Subway Chicken Teriyaki sandwich and looked longingly at his new friend.  He wanted to choose his words wisely.  At this point it’s easy to placate the sufferer.  It’s easy to affirm their pain.  It’s easy to blame everybody else.  Surely somebody else is responsible for our sadness, bitterness and anger.

Instead of feeding the blame game the wise and patient man of the Word softly asked, “Are you aware of the pain you are causing those around you?”  Some readers may want to explode at this moment.  Some would think the pastor is mean and cruel.  He isn’t.  Instead he loved the man across from him and couldn’t leave him floundering in the actions and events of his past.  He needed to awaken him .

We can’t change a bit of the past.  One day in a recovery group a young lady stood up and said, “We are the only ones letting our abusers beat us up every day when the events happened years ago.”  We can’t change the hurt and pain from our past.  However, what we can do is look at it differently.

When we need surgery we don’t ask the doctor if there is a pain free method.  When things need changing pain is nearby.  The same goes for our emotional being as well as our physical being.  When the pastor asked about the pain his friend was causing he connected the pained friend to the reality that we are responsible for the pain we cause.  By being in connection with the pain we cause others we can discover that indeed Jesus was right on when he calls us to live by grace.  We live by grace to those who have offended us by realizing how many we have left offended in our wake.

The silence from the beaten down fellow was healing at the same time.  Something connected.  Somehow  he was connected to those who hurt him in seeing the hurt he has caused others.  Broken together allows grace to flow.  Healing grace.  The same grace that comes from a broken Savior who was broken and bled for our trespasses.  And he didn’t even complain.

Branding is a very important element for a successful product.  For some 50 years our family owned and operated a Texaco station.  Texaco was very serious about it’s brand.  I don’t know if you would remember the jingle that went with the red and white star.  I can sing it to this day, “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.”  That was a time in our history when customer service was very important.

Disney is another company that is very zealous about it’s brand.  They have been known to sue tiny, tiny companies who have infringed on their image.  They don’t want anyone or anything tarnishing their product.

One company that has played a bit with their brand is Coca-Cola.  I’m not sure why they keep tinkering with it.  Remember the disaster with New Coke?  Sometimes people don’t know they have it so good.  That might be the biggest brand blunder in the history of Fortune 500 companies.  But they survived by going back to their original product.

The NFL is struggling with their product. They are experiencing declining attendance and television ratings.  Last weeks Super Bowl suffered the lowest ratings since 2007.  For the fist time in my adult life I did not watch the Super Bowl.  The image is very important and the NFL image has taken a hit.

Some brands have held firm over the ages.  M&M’s is one.  Put a little chocolate on anything from pretzels to Carmel with a little “m” on it and it’s gold.  They do a ton of testing before their tinkering hits the public shelves.  They make sure their audience is well pleased.  That’s a smart company.  No use being disenfranchised just to create something new.

There are a lot of companies that have held a strong brand over the years.  Sure, they go through some dips and dives but they always seem to recover.  Right now, I can name a few brands and their image will come right up in our memories.  Starbucks is one.  It amazes me that so many people will pay so much for a cup of brew.  Sometimes it’s not so much the product.  It’s the consistency.  I remember pulling up to an off brand coffee company and ordering a peppermint latte.  Not far down the street I poured it out on the ground.  It was horrible.  For the most part we all know the coffee we will get from Starbucks and my bet is few get poured out on the ground.

A good brand is visible to the public.  It’s consistent.  The customer is very important and for the top brands customer service is a high priority.  Like my dad used to say, “customer first, everyone else take a back seat.”  They tinker with the product from time to time but in the end you know what you get.  The good brands aren’t afraid to admit they made a mistake.  Let’s give Coca-Cola credit.  Once they realize they blew it with the New Coke they didn’t force it on us.  They removed it from the market and didn’t hesitate to tell the public.

The more I read the Bible I see a brand.  Call it the Jesus brand if you must.  The early church called it “The Way.”  Later on it was the nonbelievers that called them “Christians.”  It meant literally “little Christs.”  When people met the Christian they were to met a representation of Jesus.  Fast forward 2,000 years and somehow we seem to have a branding problem.  No one quite knows what they will get on any given Sunday.

Jesus made it clear in John 13:34 and 35 what the Jesus brand was to look like.  He said, “love one another, by this the world will know you are my disciples.”  There it is…the brand.  Later on in I John 3 the apostle John expounds upon the brand by stating straight up, “this is how we know love, that you lay down your life for the sake of a friend.”  Put the two together and Jesus said (Ring version), this is my brand, love one another by laying your life down for each other and this is how they will recognize you and thus me.

Let’s see, Starbucks, Disney, Coca-Cola and Christians;  which brand would you recognize?

He drug himself in the back door once again.  Ten hour days.  Six days a week.  Six years running.  His faithful wife once again had dinner ready.  By this time his daughter was in middle school and the boy was in fifth grade.  The sibling rivalry stuff was in full gear.  Seldom did they look across the table at one another.  If they did it was usually a glare.  Meanwhile, without one single word his wife’s body language yelled at him that it had been another one of those days.  We don’t need to define it.  We all have them.  When they start to string together life turns gray, vanilla, ho hum and the ruts grow a little deeper.

No use upsetting the apple cart at this point.  Let’s see if they can get through dinner without WWIII.  After a little light chatter silence settled in for a few seconds even though it felt like hours.  To break the silence, the tired dad asks his daughter, “How was school today.”  I don’t know what he expected.  “Fine,” was mumbled between bites of food.  I don’t know if Guinness has a record for the most days a dad hears “Fine” from his children but he would bet he was nearing the world record.

Turning to his rambunctious ADD son he hesitated for a moment then let the same old question fly, “What did you learn in school today Buckoo?”  With a gleam in his eye and a smirk on his face the lad responds in glee, “Nothin.”  “Nothin, not one single bit of new stuff learned today?” Dad employs.  “Nope, Nothin.”

At just about every American dinner table they learn what made the ruts in the wagon trails as we moved west.  Running over the same old place over and over again with little movement to the left or right will without a doubt create a rut.  Welcome to dinner.  Rah.

Dad was starting to stew so he looked at mom and let her know he was tired of working so hard and so long to send the kids to private school if all he gets for his effort was “Fine and Nothin.”  He forgot her body language just a few minutes ago told him it was probably not a good time to complain, poke or prod.  We don’t have to go into detail at this point.  Let’s just say mom let it be known that he had no idea what it was like to deal with Ms. Fine and Mr. Nothin over homework before dinner.  Here we go!  The game is on.

Only today, dad was not going to put gasoline on the fire.  Nope, it wasn’t worth it at least not in front of the kids.  Silence once again ruled the dinner table.  It’s a good thing this family was not in the technological age or the iPods, pads or phones would have allowed each one to retreat into their own world hoping dad doesn’t want to have one of “those” talks.

For some reason that only God can say the worn out dad turned to his daughter and asked a different question, “Honey, we are supposed to be a Christian family, have you experienced God lately?”  With mouth agape and the look of complete astonishment she muttered, “No.”  “Well, why not?” He quickly retorts.  Like any middle school student she actually replied correctly, “I don’t know, do you?”  Dad turns to the easily distracted ball of energy to his left and asks the same questions.  The replies were repeated once again.

It was his wife’s turn.  Made as well make it a perfect trifecta.  “Hey Babe, how about you, have you experienced God recently?”  She looked at her two offspring and replied, “Not with these two in the house.”

At this point all three are staring at their father and husband in disbelief.  He got em.  They had no idea what he was up to.  Come to think about it, he had no idea either.  He simply knew they claim the name of Jesus on Sunday but Jesus was hard to find any other hour of the week.  Something had to change.

“Well, I tell you what,” Dad got charged up.  “I’m going to ask these questions at least one day every week until God shows up.  When he does, I want you to share it with us so we can all enjoy God together.”  It took several weeks.  Slowly, the family began to respond.  The first question they started to answer was “Why not?”  The list of distractions began to grow.  All excuses and blames.  Dad didn’t argue.  He affirmed the struggle to find God amidst the hustle and bustle of life.

Eventually, weeks down the line, the youngest responded, “Yeah Dad, I did experience God.”  With a surprised look Dad asked him, “Share it with us I want to enjoy it with you.”  He did.  It was small but it was powerful.  The family began to share.  They began to talk about life.  They began to talk about Jesus.  Jesus showed up and it changed this one family forever.

Sometimes, we just don’t ask the right questions.

This morning I have the grandkids. It’s amazing how much energy they expend at 6:00 a.m. Their energy demands attention. Just the other day I let the 6 year old ball of energy stray a few minutes behind the house showing the neighbor our bird houses and feeders. Within a few minutes he was showing me his cut finger with blood dripping off his elbow. Let’s just say the rest of they night was lost. Life has a way of using up our greatest commodity.
What’s our greatest commodity? It’s not gold and silver even though we desire on financial stability. It’s not wheat and grains even though we do like good food especially those covered in chocolate. Maybe chocolate is the greatest commodity. No, not really. Some think a good spouse and a family is the greatest commodity. It can be in a sense. I won’t argue too long on that one. However, without the absolute greatest commodity we cannot enjoy our families. The greatest commodity in life is time. Time measures our life and we are all going to run out of it.
The older I get the more I realize the value of time. At the same time more and more things are stealing our time. Every relationship, job and element of life puts us on the clock. One thing we all need is time just to function. I no longer count the expense of things in dollars and cents. It’s minutes and hours that cost. At the same time it’s slipping away.
My greatest commodity, time, was stolen from me this very morning. Every senseless email, irrelevant text, and totally unimportant interruptions usually associated with my cell phone steals time. In this information age we think we are getting smarter by having so much information at our fingertips. We actually might be getting dumber since we can’t figure out how to control the thefts and don’t know how to use the information we get. The Bible calls that one wisdom. Smarter doesn’t mean wiser.
We forgot the law that says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. For every second spent in vain and indeed useless response to a not so important beep, tone and blip, we are taking time away from something. Workplaces are clamping down on personal cell phone use. However, we are not clamping down on the usage in our personal life and it is taking time away from what is really important. our relationships especially family time is the debit column and we wonder why so many relationships go bankrupt.
Recently I was told that a family does not come to church because Sunday is no longer the Lord’s day. It’s Family day. I met up with them and asked when did God change his day to our day. They replied like so many in my office. “I don’t have enough time during the week so I feel God wants me to be with my family.” When I asked why didn’t he have enough time during the week I got no response. Equal and opposite reaction is not an illusion.
Why does it seem that God is so far away? It’s not God that is so far away. It’s man who is distracted. Remember the equal and opposite reaction thing. Right now as I write this article something is not getting my attention. Now, take that and apply it down to every email trying to see us things we don’t need, text messages that relate totally useless information, and let’s add the Snapchats, Tweets, Facebook posts and so on. They all say they are free services. Not true. They all have a cost and the clock is ticking.
The number one New Year’s resolution this year was less time on social media. I wonder how everyone is doing with that one? It’s time to come to a close, let me leave you with this…hold on I just got a text…

He sat at the desk and called for his wife. She did not respond. That’s funny. She would always answer him with her squeaky voice. He walked out of his office and peaked in the kitchen. No wife to be found. He wandered from room to room wondering where she could be. Eventually he stopped and listened for her. It was deafly quiet. Maybe she went shopping and he forgot. He was getting up there in age. He looked in the garage. Nope, both cars were in the garage. As he turned to go back into the mud room he noticed the lack of her laundry. He was jolted from his denial. She was not in the garage. She was not in the house. His petite wife with the squeaky voice had succumbed to cancer a few weeks ago. He was alone for the first time in 48 years. His emotions got the best of him as the silence of loneliness penetrated his soul.
Meanwhile, the young girl sat in the counselors office telling her story. Her day started at 5:30 a.m. and finished at 10:30 p.m. with cheerleading and volleyball sandwiching her myriad of classes. She was active at school. She was active at church. She was constantly around friends, classmates and her bothersome little brothers. Something was wrong. Her parents sent her into the office since they couldn’t figure out her moods. As she laid out her complex days tears welled up in her big brown eyes. Her head drooped a bit. Her next words shattered the momentary silence, “I’m all alone. Nobody knows me.” “Impossible” the perplexed counselor replied. “You’re wrong” she insisted. “ I’m so busy I don’t have time for anybody and they don’t really have time for me.” Alone in a sea of humanity.
The 3rd account involved a young adult as sat eating her pasta explaining her guilt ridden Christian family. She had no one talk to. Her mom would have none of her deep and often troubled thoughts. Her dad, let’s just say he was a typical dad. Her brothers and sisters were driven by her parents desire for success. They had no time to hear her heart. All that mattered in her family was money. She was uncomfortable talking to her uncle. He sensed she needed some help. He asked her if she would like to have a lady to talk to. She immediately answered with a first time smile, “Yes, I really would.” He only knew of one lady who had a heart for teenagers. She was 82 years old. As he stammered though the idea of hooking her up with an 82 year old grandmother of seven she shocked him. With tears in her eyes as well she reminded him of the key value, “I don’t care how old they are, all that matters to me is will they love me.” He picked up the phone and made a quick call. She was suffering from the sounds of silence in a world of noise.
The last lonely traveler made a lot of mistakes in his life. His journey hurt a lot of people. His wife left years ago and the kids don’t care to see him. He somehow knows he has grandkids but has never seen them. He sat with his wine and his cats with no one around staring blankly as the television ran reruns over and over. He picked up the phone for the eighth time today. Nobody answered. He even was blocked by his last friend. His lonely drunken stupor made him forget the time. His multiple attempts to reach his old friend violated the man’s family time. His thirst to hear someone’s voice was greater then his thirst for another glass of alcohol. The only problem is he had worn out his welcome. HIs drunken ramblings ends every friendship he had. He couldn’t stop picking up the phone at 4 a.m., 1 p.m., 6 p.m., 9 p.m. and again at 1 a.m. only to hear the endless rings. He heard the words of the Simon and Garfunkel classic…”Hello darkness my old friend.”
All these stories are true. Every one of these individuals had at one time attended church. They sat in the pews. They smiled when they needed to. When asked how they were doing they responded with American triteness, “I’m o.k., you?” No use telling them the truth. They really didn’t care.
There was a guy in the book of Acts who was in the same boat. Saul, a somewhat new believer in Jesus Christ had lost his old friends. In fact, they wanted to kill him. His new relationships did not trust him. He caused them a lot of pain and suffering. He was alone. If a guy by the name of Barnabas had not stepped up and basically said, “I got your back, let’s get going,” the story of Paul, the apostle would have possibly ended right there.
Loneliness is killing the gospel in our lives. Loneliness caused by death, busyness, flawed priorities and sin has become one of the greatest tools of the unholy trinity (the world, flesh and the devil) in a culture that deceives with it’s social media and technology. It’s the heart that is at stake. The future of Christianity is not who will be the next Billy Graham. The question is who will be a Barnabas?

It’s time to get back to normalcy.  Christmas and New Years is over and the snow gave us a few more days to relax.  Hopefully we learned the South has a different way of dealing with a few inches of snow.  It’s called the “wait for the sun to come back out” approach.  I heard many complaints about the roads and sidewalks.  I don’t think the state nor businesses should or can stockpile snow supplies for a 30 year event.  Not only that, but when we expect others to make our way easy we lose any concept of personal responsibility.  I know this is a hot topic in our world.  It gets hotter when we can blame someone else for our lack of decision making skills and get reimbursed with a lot of money at the same time.

As I study cultural philosophies and trends I get amazed at the inconsistency of the current culture that functions in a relativistic mode.  For those who may not know, “Relativism is the philosophical position that all points of view are equally valid and that all truth is relative to the individual.”  In simple terms, truth is based on what each individual considers it to be at any given time and in any given place.   The Bible speaks about relativism and it’s thousands of years old.

In the book of Judges the nation of Israel was without a king.  In other words, authority had been abolished.  When authority is diminished “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”  Relativism!  The problem with relativism is when our personal interpretation of truth, good and love has a foundation in pluff mud.

Today I had a fun discussion about being stuck in the pluff mud.  For Northerners that have yet to enjoy the knee to hip deep experience of trying to defy gravity while “walking” on the dark gooy stuff in our rivers just think one word…quicksand.  It’s mud and it’s as strong as melted butter only it looks and smells really bad.

Relativism says “I’m going to do what I want to do.”  I am the determiner of truth.  Unfortunately with the dependance upon the internet (lack of verification) combined with a cultural lack of trust for any type of authority, truth begins to take on many forms.  Let’s look at it in terms of the recent storm.

I want to go to the store.  It has just snowed four inches and the temperature is about 24 degrees.  Because I want to go to the store I believe I have the right to do what I want and society should make it possible.  Roads and sidewalks are to be cleared. It doesn’t matter that the recent snow is an anomaly.  What matters is my desire to get to the store.

If I wreck the car or slip on the ice I no longer want to live in relativism and take the personal responsibility of making a poor decision based on the truths that surrounds snow in the south since my truth trumps their truth. My truth has to become somebody else’s truth.  When it doesn’t match lets call a lawyer to settle the score.  It does not matter any longer that I made a poor decision.  If I can blame someone else for my inability to drive on icy roads, walk into a store that has an icy sidewalk then my truth has to become societal truth.  It gets worse.  We refuse to pay the cost to prepare for a 30 year event.  No, somebody else has to.  Why?  My financial stability is more important than your financial stability.

Eventually as seen throughout history any society that rejects absolute truth will collapse.  It has to.  Imagine the taxes for a county to be prepared for a 30 year snow.

All we are talking about is one snow storm and inconvenience for four days.  Take the concept and start applying it to the multiple layers of life.  When man does what is right in his own eyes the cost is oppressive.  Not only does it effect the pocketbook it effects something worse.  It effects our ability to love our neighbor and maintain relationships.

I went and saw “All the Money in the World” this weekend.  John Paul Getty is the epitome of relativism gone mad.  His biggest loss…his family.  As it was said in the movie the love of people is replaced by love of things.

What is the cracked foundation?  It is the loss of belief in the Son of God who said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Take away the foundation that says “love God and your neighbor as yourself” (by the way, that’s the 10 Commandments) the only thing left is love of self.  What gets thrown away is our relationships, the very element societies are built upon.

The only way to stem the tide is to believe in the way of Christ who came to redeem.  He was redeeming what he created when man and God were in perfect unity and man and woman operated from that relationship.  That’s a foundation that does not fail.  He is putting us together.  Jesus is so much more than a way to stay out of hell.  He’s a way of life.  It’s about the relationship!

Next time…plan on staying put till the sun comes out and the temperature rises.  It’s not anybody’s fault if you end up in the ditch or flat on your back.  The truth is ice and snow makes life miserable and we don’t want to pay the price to be prepared for that “one” time.  That’s the truth and you can go to the bank on it.  Jesus said the same thing about himself only in different terms.

The coach grabbed the young man by the collar of his jersey and lifted him up off the floor pushing him hard into the wall of lockers.  With his hand balled up full of jersey he was screaming endlessly into the players face.  Eventually the anger subsided and he let go of the jersey turning his wrath against the rest of the team.  The only offense to the young basketball player was a weakness in his left handed dribbling and the inability to read the half court press put on by the aggressive opponent.

This would not be the first time nor the last time number 10 suffered the aggressive anger of his coach.  It happens to be the one he remembers the most.  The coach never mentioned the fact that the center never flashed to the center of the court during the press.  He never made adjustments for the weak left hand of his point guard.  Nobody was going to play in the NBA on this team.  Only one player would ever play one game beyond high school.

The coach had a reputation.  Few let out about his anger and abuse.  His reputation was his ability to win basketball games.  He won games with limited talent.  He won National Championships with talented guys and that’s all that mattered.  It’s funny how when one is of impressionable age what becomes expected and normal when the distance between good and encouraging is a world away.

The point guard was asked to show up years later at a banquet honoring the “successful” coach.  He refused.  He was one of the only men to avoid the event.  He got a phone call.  It was one of his old teammates asking him to attend.  The callers voice went silent when he heard the answer.

Without hesitation the now husband, father and coach replied, “If I want to honor a man for his ability to win basketball games I would come.  However, the cost was too great.  It is only by the grace of God that I remain a Christian.  If his example was what a “Christian”  should be I should have given up on the faith a long time ago.  I can’t honor him.  He won games.  He molded young men to be just like him.   He is not what I want to be nor my kids to be.”

That night they hung a banner in his honor in the largest Christian school in the Baltimore, MD area.  I wasn’t there.

Somehow “Christian” was boiled down to praying before everything we did and obeying the school behavior code which was thicker then a large print Bible.  We weren’t allowed to curse.  The coach could but he won games.  Doesn’t the Bible say to respect authority?  As long as we hung under the line of shame it must have been Christian.  Cross that line and there was hell to be paid.  That was the Christianity I grew up with.  At times when my mind reminisces I wonder how I remained a believer and follower of Jesus.

I think of so many who took the other path.  We all knew what we saw and what we experienced was far from Christ.  When what we see and what we hear does not match up a choice has to be made.  So many chose to run away.  The problem is I don’t blame them.  I wanted to run.  It was an act of God that I didn’t.

There are times I still want to run away.  I don’t want to run away because so many are no different then my old coach.  I want to run away when I find myself being that arrogant, abusive coach fighting for recognition and control in my own abilities.

I told a friend lately that my greatest flaw isn’t my left hand is basically useless or I can’t read the half court press.  I also have no concept of mathematics beyond algebra.  I can’t spell a lick either.  No, my greatest weakness is I think to highly of myself.  Not only is it in the genes as you can tell from this story, I had excellent teachers.

For those who have run away, come on back.  The example we ran from wasn’t Jesus.  Begin by forgiving me for the pain I have caused.  Begin by forgiving instead of condemning.  Now that is the Jesus in the Bible not in the locker room or the basketball court.

Maybe I wasn’t listening.  Maybe I was too hard headed.  I don’t want to blame someone for my own self absorption.  All I know is I don’t want to continue in it.  I thirst for having grace dominate my life even when those who light my fuse surround me.  I’m hungry for Christ to make a difference not so much in my moral behavior but more in my heart.  I want a lot.  Just like staying in the faith has been an act of God, it’s going to take the same to keep me from being just like the guy who could win basketball games.  No different than my salvation, it must come from Jesus.

It was an extremely warm December morning.  The kayakers had been watching the weather.  No need to bundle up for this years Polar Bear paddle.  It would be in the 70’s by the time they returned.  Since they were pushing off at 6:00 a.m. dressing in layers was the key.  It is easier to take a few layers off as they go instead of putting it on.

The weather on past Polar Bear paddles had not been so cooperating.  One year the paddle lasted about 15 minutes.  Between rain, mixed with a little snow, wind out of the Northwest and waves that could easily swamp a boat it was not a good idea to try and find the sunrise.  Sunrise!?  It wasn’t going to happen anyway that day.  This group of guys was not accustomed to backing out of a kayaking challenge.

This year the temperature was not a problem.  There was zero rain in the forecast.  The water looked as calm as could be.  Not sure what anyone can see at 6 a.m. when the sunrise wasn’t scheduled until 7:20.  All indications were for a smooth paddle.

There was only one problem.  Even in the Lowcountry when the temperatures are abnormally warm and the water is a bit on the cold side there is a natural occurrence.  If anyone is smarter than a 5th grader or can look out their morning window they will know the nature of the problem.  Fog!  Thick fog!

Getting into the 14 foot kayak and pushing off into the fogged in waterway is not always the best idea.  A normal flashlight is of no value.  If they kept too close to the shore line they ran the risk of being beached by a boat’s wake.  If they went out into the middle there was no way to notify an oncoming boat of their presence.  The trick was to stay kind of close to the shore but not too close.  Paddling a bit blind it was a good idea to keep the eyes pealed and the ears tuned in to any noises of a boat motor.  If anyone were to go over they better have their personal flotation device (life vest for you old-timers) on and buckled.

Off they went into the dark and ominous fog.  Each of the adventurers had kayaked to Cockspur Lighthouse before.  Leaving the Lazaretto Creek Boat Ramp take a left and proceed down the creek and under the Route 80 bridge.  Right in front of you sits the lighthouse just off of Daymark Island and Fort Pulaski. On sunny clear days there is no problem.  On dark mornings with rolling thick fog it is a different story.

No problem, it was a lighthouse.  The website said the lighthouse was relit in 2007 for historical reasons.  The beacon will guide us right to it.  That’s what they all say.  This morning due to destruction caused by Hurricane Irma there was no light in the lighthouse.  There was no guiding beacon.

Fortunately the group had been there before.  It was there.  As the sun rose (never to be seen on this morning) visibility increased and the Cockspur Lighthouse was shrouded in fog for some outstanding photographs.  One large boat did pass.  It was never seen.  Only heard and felt as the waves pushed the kayaks near the large bolder sea wall.  Nobody got hurt.  Nobody was turned over and everyone was safe and sound.  A few pictures and a few dolphins and the morning was quite a success.  Once back at the landing it was time for breakfast at the Breakfast Club on Tybee Island.

In many ways the short 4.1 trip was a normal foggy kayak run with no real safety concerns.  While the novice may not want to venture alone in the dark fog it was a blast for the seasoned paddlers.

As I paddled out of Lazaretto Creek enjoying the fog effect and the exercise I was amazed at the lack of light.  There was no light whatsoever to keep anyone off the rocky seawall.  We didn’t even see the Tybee Lighthouse light which as only a few miles at best to the south.  Maybe we are reliant on GPS systems and such now a days.  However, the absence of light always makes one wonder.  Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is actually the natural state with light invading it’s domain.  Add fog and you got darkness you can feel.

As I prayed for safety entering the boat channel to the darkened lighthouse I thought of life as a Christian.  Christians are to be the light that shines in the darkness of our world.  Jesus said we are the light of the world.  He didn’t say he was.  He said we were.  We are to be the light to the praise of the Father.

The light was not to be hidden.  Indications are the true light of God living in a person cannot be hidden as a city cannot be hidden.  Jesus said we don’t light a candle to hide it under a bowl.  The candle is lit to guide us and others.  He commands his followers, “let your light shine before men.”  Why?  So that not only can they hear of the grace and love of Jesus; they can see it!

Our world seems to be getting darker.  I’m not sure it is any darker then before.  Possibly it is the lack of light emitting from those who claim belief in the son of God.  Remember, darkness is the natural state.  It is the absence of light.  As we enter 2018 instead of complaining and worrying about the darkness (it’s always there) our purpose is to be the light.  Once there is light others can find their way.  No need to worry.  Keep paddling.

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Australia. We flew into Sydney on Christmas Day. It was a remarkable trip. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was fantastic. God’s creation is incredible below the water. We had our shoes melt in the Outback, stayed right outside the Sydney Opera House, visited Darwin and Melbourne and saw what was left of the Twelve Apostles (limestone stacks along the southern shores). I would love to go back one day.
We saw the Twelve Apostles on a bus tour of the Great Ocean Road. After we traveled as far west as time allowed we cut across the fertile area of Australia heading to Melbourne. This area is farmland and cattle country. It is the opposite of the famous Outback.
As we traveled suddenly someone gasped and asked the bus driver if he could stop for a picture. It didn’t take long to understand the request. In the field to our right stood hundreds of sheep. They were not your ordinary sheep. They wore yellow raincoats. Yes, you read that right. Yellow raincoats that covered not only their body but their heads including their ears. It was a sight to see. The only problem was the bus driver would not stop. Company rules did not allow a roadside stop.
The yellow raincoated sheep quickly became the talk of the bus. Eventually the driver turned on his microphone and gave the Americans and a few Europeans a quick lesson. It seems that virgin wool (the expensive kind) is wool that is unblemished. How do you keep wool from being damaged by weather and the environment? You protect it while it is still on the sheep. Thus, we have yellow raincoat clad sheep.
The lesson did not stop there. It seems that virgin wool has been around before yellow rain coats. The bus driver told of shepherds who would wrap the newborn lambs with a long cloth often covering the young lamb in multiple layers of cloth. As the lamb grew the shepherds would rewrap it. This process went on over and over until shearing day.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
I was watching a video by Rabbi Son Sobel, a Messianic Rabbi. He spoke concerning the significance of the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes as recorded in Luke. It seems that the angels appeared to Levitical shepherds not the ordinary low life shepherds often spoken of this time of the year. The Levitical shepherds were raising the sheep in their care to be the unblemished Temple sacrifices. The lambs would be born in a cave directly in the care of the priests. They were not your run of the mill sheep born in the field exposed to the elements.
The lambs as soon as they were born would be swaddled. In other words, they would be wrapped in “swaddling cloths” since they had to be unblemished to qualify as a sacrificial lamb. Their wool was “virgin wool.”
It was these shepherds that got a message that there was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They would find him in a manger. That manger was a cave. These Levitical shepherds were given more then a message of a sweet baby in a manger that they had to go see. They were given a message and a visual proclamation of the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill the Scriptures coming to be the unblemished sacrifice taking away the sins of those who believe in him..
Lately I have been amazed to see and understand the depth of the Bible that extends Jesus and truth beyond nice stories. We have cleaned up these stories way too much. They go much deep. They are immersed in the proclamation and revelation of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. People have asked me why I believe. I can’t help but believe. Who would have imagined that swaddling clothes had any significance. I have heard all sorts of explanations about swaddling cloths. Some say it foretold of the burial cloth of Jesus. Some point to the custom of the day among poor families. Others say it showed the proper care for a baby. But, it was only the shepherds who were called to go and find the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Of course. It was the Levitical shepherds who would understand the significance. It is this type of detail that confirms my belief in the one they named Jesus.
Tonight we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even his birth clothes details his destiny…to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We do not come to celebrate the birth of a baby. We celebrate the birth of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ. He is worthy of more than a token appearance.

Merry Christmas!