Archive for October, 2018


We carefully opened the front door.  Originally, we tried the back door; however, it would not budge.  The old house was fragile, to say the least.  There were not any “No Trespassing” signs.  Being the picture hounds we are, we thought it was worth the adventure.  It was.  The late day sun barely crept in the windows.  The odd paint colors contrasted as we went room to room.  Like most abandoned buildings we have surveyed, the kitchen ignited the imagination.  The old sinks and tubs in the old houses always invite thoughts of a functional family that many moons ago lived in the old house.

My friends and I have explored many old abandoned buildings together in our various excursions.  While the Sheldon church remains are the top of the list, there have been plenty of other interesting places.  We have been in three old abandoned churches, one middle school, a few barns, various warehouses, and too many houses to count.  The one referred to earlier was built in the 1800’s and was barely hanging on.  

There is something about abandoned buildings.  It doesn’t matter how many “No Trespassing” signs are posted, there is a draw that cannot be resisted.  I have not been to an abandoned town, but I sure would love to.  If anyone knows how to get to one email me.  NOW!  

Recently we vacationed in Disney World.  We caught a show over at the campground.  Next to the campground is the long abandoned water park, River Country.  I remember taking our kids there.  Now, it’s fenced off and left to nature.  I could not just walk by.  No possible way.  With camera in hand, I found holes in the fence.  There wasn’t much to see from that venue.  If only there was an opening in the fence.  Then again, I would not want to be exiled from Disney.  My family would not be too happy, especially my wife! 

Buildings become abandoned for various reasons.  Some lose their usefulness as time and community change around them.  Others become dilapidated over time.  A few are simply left to rot by their owners.  Occasionally, an event of some sort forces the evacuation of the area, and, due to the consequences, no one can seem to figure out what to do.  There might be legal issues.  There are often financial difficulties.

Behind every time-warped structure is a story.  If only the walls could talk.    

Along with abandoned buildings, there are abandoned lives.  We see them from time to time.  They sit on street corners, live in nursing homes, and wander the streets.  It’s harder to find some in rural settings.  They camp out back in the woods hiding from society.  These are, without question, are the “least of these” Jesus referred to in Matthew 25.

There are others right in front of us.  Divorce has created a whole group, mainly consisting of moms and kids struggling to keep their heads above the water.  Addiction isolates and moves many into the abandoned column.  They wear out their families and often live in isolation, some functional, many not.  The depressed, mentally ill, and disabled are often abandoned to their thoughts, building a wall, keeping many at bay.  One of the largest abandoned groups are those convicted of a major crime.  The list can go on and on.  

Just like buildings, their lives often are mired in the past.  They wear their loved ones out as well as anybody else that comes in constant contact with them.  While writing this article, I can see what happens.  It’s “us” and then “them.”  Yet, I have learned we are all one decision, moment, or event away from being abandoned.  Our usefulness and relativity to our community may change.  We age.  Just like the old buildings, forces out of our control, a legal or financial crisis, can move us into the unwanted category.  It does not take much in this fast-paced world to have one looking on the outside in.  I haven’t mentioned sin that always separates and isolates us. 

I find no reference to Jesus being attracted to abandoned buildings like I am.  He was constantly reaching out to isolated, marginalized, abandoned men, women and children.  Instead of demanding they get their act together, he poured his love, grace and mercy out to them.  His call to “Follow me” was one that brought the unclean back into community.  In Him we find our value and purpose.  He doesn’t put on a coat of paint, he redeems and restores us.  The Master architect is at work.

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I appreciate it when someone asks me to write about a certain topic or event.  That takes the weekly guessing game out of the equation.  It also allows me to focus on one topic instead of rumbling around on several hoping one rises to the top.  

There is a men’s study/conversation group that meets on Friday mornings.  We generally open the Word and focus for a few minutes gaining insight from each other as to the Scripture’s application.  It’s an eclectic group.  Most are from different denominational backgrounds.  Nobody hijacks the meeting.  We all come from different backgrounds.  That leads to a discussion that usually has many turns and twists.  Some days, it’s quite challenging.  I don’t say that negatively.  It’s good to be challenged.  As we learn from Proverbs 27, “iron sharpens iron.”  

I was telling the guys a story from my youth ministry days.  We realized that very few of our students were touched, literally in a positive affirming manner.  Few were touched at all.  They lived isolated lives.  Mom’s and Dad’s have become so busy chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole that kids were seldom spoken with, seldom encouraged and never affirmed with anything such as a hearty pat on the back.  

Often we would come across students who did not hear encouraging words.  They didn’t hear them because they were not spoken.  We heard story after story of homes where parents only spoke when they were disciplining.  From time to time they only touched their child out of anger and frustration.  No wonder the word “love” is confusing.  

As a youth ministry team, we learned to touch every child and offer words of encouragement as often as we could without placating them.  The touch might have been a light squeeze on the elbow or a soft hand on their shoulder.  For the guys, patting a guy on the back while we played games in the gym was highly encouraged.  We could tell the new kids.  Their look when we touched them would stop a speeding locomotive.  

Along with a proper touch, we wanted to encourage them along the way.  The Bible talks a lot about encouragement.  The writer of Hebrews (we don’t know who it was) implored the believers of the day to “encourage one another daily.”  Why?  It’s a discouraging world, and don’t for one second think we live in encouraging days.  We live in a critical society.  We now have forums where anyone can be critical of anyone at anytime day or night.  

Proverbs 4 says to be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “You are what you think all day long.”  Live in a world of criticism and that is who you become.  

Recently, I was with a group discussing ministry.  I asked, “Is your ministry a place of calm or chaos?  Do you purpose to energize or deflate?  Do the people around you find ways to encourage or micro-manage life to the point where nobody can do anything?”  I don’t have the space to write their answers, so I will sum them up in a few words.  They hoped they were positive in nature but when we went to the next level and asked them to give examples the room went silent.  

Sometimes when an individual stands up and leads with the purpose of encouraging the troops to move forward they are seen as an extremist. The words are muttered that I have heard way too often over the years, “You are too passionate.”  

Jesus walked into a very critical culture.  The basic laws set forth in the Old Testament had been misused and multiplied.  Last time I checked ,the law was not encouraging.  The law is critical, and we think making more laws will make a difference.  The law separates people instead of binding them together.  That was Jesus’ world.  So what did he do?

Jesus focused on his love, grace and mercy.  Against those, it says in His Word, “there are no laws.” 

Touch a life with encouragement.  Touch a weary soul with peace and patience.  Provide a sense of calm in a world of chaos.  Bring hope where there is fear and doubt.  Be a peacemaker when war breaks out.  Be kind when everything in your mind roars to be critical and mean.  Practice self-control in a world that has very little.  Against these characteristics of God…there is no law.  They also have a way of driving criticism out the door.  It’s amazing what a smile can do, a touch can calm, a word of encouragement can energize.  

What did the AT&T jingle say, “Reach out, reach out and touch someone.” 

This past week I had the honor of attending a training on Critical Incident Stress Management.  Sounds complicated, doesn’t it?  Not really.  We all face stress.  I personally believe that all the technology we have does not alleviate stress.  It probably adds to it.  We do not have to personally experience a major event to be stressed.  Watching a shooting, terrorist attack, or anything that disrupts our personal shalom (I love that word) causes stress.  Right now, reading this article on stress can cause stress.  

We were made to be at peace, or better yet, shalom.  In shalom with God, man, and creation.  Well, that didn’t last all that long.  Man chose to go his own path, and shalom was totally disrupted.  Now we wrestle with God instead of walking with him, hate our fellow man instead of loving him, and cannot seem to be in harmony with the creation God gave us.  Shalom is more like STRESS!

We often associate stress with certain events.  Avoid them or make changes in our lives and we can be functional again.  If we can’t avoid it, we medicate it.  I don’t think we can stay isolated, nor is there enough medication to bring us shalom.  It’s a state of being we were made to have but will not find  this side of the glory land.  We might think we can obtain such a state, but we really can’t.  Don’t let a preacher tell you otherwise.  In fact, studies have shown that the three professions with the most stress are:  1. Military,  2. First Responders, and 3. Ministers.  If they are not stressed, they aren’t doing their job.  

Talking about all the stress, the teacher made a profound statement.  He said, “Hurting people hurt people.”  I knew that desperate people do desperate things, but his statement hit me like a ton fo bricks.  

The person screaming at you is expressing his hurt, and it might not have anything to do with you.  The individual who constantly is a thorn in your side is either poking you where you have past hurt or is expressing her hurt by poking somebody else.  The one pulling a gun, wielding a knife, bringing death and destruction is hurting others in his own hurt.  We know this!  We don’t know what to do.

The more I read psychology, I see a diagnosis of hurting people who have adapted to their pain in certain consistent forms.  We aren’t necessarily plagued with brain damage.  We are finding ways to find a sense of shalom.  Add relativism to it and the only peace we are concerned with is our own.  Add more stress avenues than ever before and it’s a mess.

No wonder people don’t want their doorbell rung once they enter their peaceful home.  No wonder moms want help.  No wonder dads are stopping to get a beer or escaping on their smart phones even when it isn’t very smart to do so.  No wonder no one wants to engage anyone anymore…they are trying to survive their own stress in their vain attempt to discover the long lost shalom.  

Jesus talked a lot about unity and shalom.  I love the story of the disciples thinking they were drowning when they had the Prince of Peace asleep in the boat.  They wake him, and what does he say to the creation?  “Peace, be still.”  Look at it another way.  The word “peace” is translated in some versions as “silence.”  Silence.  Peace.  Shalom.  There isn’t very much anymore, especially when we carry a source of noise, chaos, and destruction right in the palm of our hands.  

So what are we to do?  In some respects there are ways to minimize some stress.  We can exercise, turn off some of the external sources of stress, and studies actually tell us to drink more water.  Some need to take their preferred lifestyle and drop it back a level or two.  We all tend to live over our heads.  But with all the “answers,” we will still have stress in our lives.  This is where the church comes in.  

This is where Jesus instructed constantly, and the disciples carried it forward.  He taught us and encouraged us to “Love one another.”  That love was to be expressed with great grace and mercy.  Instead of inflicting more pain, we were to be the givers of grace and mercy, knowing that the love of God is the only thing that can truly help mitigate the stress of this fallen world and fallen people.  By incarnating Christ, we extend a hand, offer an ear, give a shoulder, and offer words of shalom.  It’s kind of interesting.  When we purpose to walk with another in his or her hurt and stress, it softens ours as well.  

Jesus said, “Come to me all who are stressed and I will give you shalom.”  As we go to Him, we, as his people, incarnate his teaching.  Are we bearers of calm or chaos in these crazy days?  

I came across an article by Dr. James Emory White in which he listed the top 10 books that helped shape his faith.  I’ve written that one before.  I must be a slower learner.  My list of 10 is really about 18.  

At about the same time I read Dr. White’s article a dear friend dropped off a worn copy of Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son picture.  He and I are constantly discussing the amazing story Jesus told to give a picture of his great redemption.  We talk about how we often demand our lot from God and run away squandering it.  Rembrandt’s rendition catches the attention of  both of us.

I don’t want to list the top 10 books that almost everybody reading this article will not read.  If you want to know email me.  I don’t want to list my favorite verses.  Why?  They are mine not necessarily yours.  I would like to talk about the Prodigal Son story.  Tim Keller, author and theologian, calls the story the Prodigal Father.  He’s right.  Prodigal means “wild.”  It’s not about the wild son.  It’s the wild nature of the Father who welcomes his son back to the family with no questions or demands.  The Scriptures are fulfilled in this story where we read in Psalm 103:12, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us,” and Hebrews 8:12, “For I … remember their sins no more.”  

Rembrandt’s picture details the love, grace and mercy in such forgiveness.  It is consuming and mysterious at the same time.  Henri Nouwen, author, had an opportunity to sit for hours with the original painting.  It humbled him and inspired him at the same time.  

The hands of the father bring comfort to the weary son whose shoes and feet reveal his troublesome paths.  We like to think we can hide the paths we have taken.  If only our feet and shoes could talk!  So often those paths are far from a loving God.  We like to think we know better than the young boy.  But, it’s the hands of dad that bring safety, drawing the smelly, stained and broken boy to his bosom.  

The eyes of the Prodigal Father look downward with compassion at his long lost boy.  He isn’t looking for a response from the onlookers.  He isn’t rolling his eyes as if to say, “What do I do now?”  No, they look to his boy.  His son!  Yes, “all we like sheep have gone astray.”  But, He, as the Good Shepherd welcomes the wayward one home.  No questions.  No demands.  The safety of His embrace is all that is needed.

Meanwhile, the onlookers are watching every move.  The older jealous brother of the prodigal is shadowed in the darkness that surrounds the embrace.  Their faces speak volumes of questions.  Those questions often like ours are not ones of redemption but rather ones of judgment.  

Can you hear those questions?  Where has he been?  What is wrong with the father?  Will he not have to give account?  They go on and on.  All questions whose answers cannot satisfy the one asking.  After the questions come the comments.  We have all heard them.  He must pay!  He is not allowed in the house smelling like a pig!  He needs to take a bath?  His father is out of his mind!  

From the Father come no words. His actions are more important than his words.  Few understand it is not the actions of the son that are the center of this story. It is the actions of his father that are the emphasis!  For his actions say more than words can.  Anybody can say, “I love you.”  What they do in the name of love will reveal them as true or not.  

Of course this picture and story reveal the nature of our faith in Jesus Christ.  Christianity has forgotten that the faith is not about the Christian.  It is about the Christ.  HIs love transcends the expectations of a fallen people.  HIs grace is limitless.  HIs mercy is so profound a wayward son can’t help but be on his knees.

Left in the shadows is the brother.  His attitude and words reveal that he doesn’t understand the heart of his father as well.  He thought it was about obedience.  His love of the law kept him as well from the love in the heart of his father.  So, he stays in the background.  He should be on his knees as well.  

Our world is full of questions.  It’s full of condemnation and criticism.  What will it take to turn it’s focus as in the Rembrandt masterpiece, to the love, grace and mercy of the Prodigal Father?  We know the answer.  In the end of the Good Samaritan story, when mercy was given,   Jesus gives a simple command.  He says, “Go and do likewise.”  As we embrace the love of the Father, the words echo again, “Go.”  There’s more.  “Go and do.” Nope we are not there yet.  “Go and do likewise.”  Like whom?  His name is Jesus.  We can’t be known for our obedience.  But we can be known for our love, grace and mercy of which the Father through Jesus gives immeasurably to us and desires for us to give to others.  

The recent events politically and culturally have left a very divided society.  Adding social media to the mix, where anyone can offer a critique at any given time leaves us with a critical spirit and a divided nation.  This cultural phenomenon has occupied my thoughts for some time now.  Maybe I can share a few since it potentially has a tremendous impact on all of us.

Back in 1973 Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson wrote what we know as the Humanist Manifesto II.  The Church did not pay much attention to it.  The movement actually began in 1933 with the writing of the 1st Manifesto.  We paid no attention to it since Christianity dominated the scene.  However, it was a religious humanism that began to infect the education system and even the church.  

It is important to take notice of this movement.  In 2003 the humanist expression went from individuals to groups with Humanist Manifesto III.  It’s not a movement.  It’s a faith expression.  It is a faith in man and science.  Man is assumed to be basically good.  As Wikipedia says, “humans are the integral part of nature and working to benefit society maximizes human nature.”  These two elements fuel dissension with the Christian faith.  Unfortunately, the Christian faith has been influenced with a man -ocused expression dominated by a prosperity teaching that is far from the Biblical Jesus.  

Am I boring you yet?  I have stated often that Christians like to talk “what” and don’t pay enough attention to “why.”  The humanist movement has dominated higher education.  Man is good, and getting in with the crowd for the betterment of society is the end result.  If you are not with the in- crowd you are ostracized.  Who between the ages of 16 and 25 wants to be ostracized?  And we wonder why our children and grandchildren raised in the faith walk away in their late teens and early twenties.  It is that age when the philosophies of the world that we paid little attention to become practical life.  

On the other hand, Christianity says man is basically evil, and the hope for a better society is by faith in Jesus Christ.  That doesn’t gel well with the humanist movement at all.  For a young believer in the college scene it doesn’t take long to grasp that the two don’t mix.  Few are prepared and fewer survive.  

The religious humanist movement has been patient and quiet.  They don’t need big people.  All they have done is influenced young minds since 1933.  That is 75 years.  To understand the mess consider the impact.  The last generation dominated by Christian morals and beliefs was the Baby Boomers.  With the generations past them (Gen X,Y, and Z) came the tsunami of humanist educational faith.  That is correct…faith.  Everyone believes in something, and our culture now believes in man as our hope.  Religious humanism is now a practice not a philosophy.  With the last general election Baby Boomers (the last faith-based generation) have lost the voting block.  They are now outnumbered.  The religious humanists are now not only in control of the education system; they now have the popular vote.  God is out in education.  He is out in our politics and barely alive in our families.  

No wonder we are at odds in our country.  The belief in separation of church and state from the humanist view (no God anywhere and anytime) has now impacted all aspects of culture.  Remember, they believe the only hope is man to be working together for the benefit of society.  The question is “Who determines what is a benefit?”  The voting populous does.  

I have just scratched the philosophical and historical basis of an anti-Jesus society.  We didn’t think it could happen in good ole America did we?  It isn’t a coming tsunami.  It’s here.  

So what do Bible believing, Jesus based people of the faith do?

Some are in a separatist mode.  They are isolating and ruing the day all hell breaks lose.  

Others have compromised.  They have allowed religious humanist beliefs to impact their expression of the Christian faith.  In one aspect they have tried to meet the enemy half way.  It doesn’t work.  The Scriptures say we are battling an adversary who is a “roaring lion seeking who it will devour.”  The enemy takes no prisoners.  Compromise will lead to being devoured with anti-Biblical thought and practice.  Again it’s not coming; it’s here.

Jesus entered the same type of world.  Nothing has changed in the history of man.  We either depend upon man or God.  Take your pick!  The methodology is not what we tend to think as well.  Jesus said to love your neighbor.  He didn’t give us an out.  He included our enemy as well (Matthew 5:44).  Christianity is not a spectator sport, and you won’t hear the bugle sound retreat.  As Jesus encouraged, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” All is not lost.  Love well.