Archive for April, 2019


When in high school, I had a best friend.  If anyone asked me today the name of my best friend he will still be at the top of the list.  It’s not because we have done amazing things together.  It’s not because we talk every week.  In fact it’s been years since I’ve even seen him.  For some reason, we are brothers.  Yes, there are two other guys that are right up there, but there is just something that makes my high school brother one notch ahead.  

His parents moved to California my senior year and his junior year.  He decided not to move with them and instead moved in with us.  That was a magical year.  We did just about everything together.  It created a union that is beyond explanation.

We were separated for a long time.  We had committed to being in each others weddings.  He was in mine.  I found out via a card that he even was married.  I thought our friendship had come to an end.  That was until our paths crossed years later.  Every time our paths cross, something happens.  Just this week my phone rang.  It was him.  He left a message and asked me to call back.  He wanted to talk.  Without hesitation, I called.  I’m glad I did.

Bruce is a medical doctor.  He has been practicing for years.  No, let me rephrase that; he had been practicing for years.  He had an established practice in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.  He walked away from it all.  He no longer wanted to run a business.  He wanted to talk about Jesus.  

His wife was all in.  He is now a medical missionary taking medicine to the “least of these.”  We use those words, and yet they don’t come close to describing the poverty he walked into.  He packed his backpack with medicine and walks the streets of Guatemala, Mexico, and in the very near future, will walk in Beirut, Lebanon.  He isn’t worried about retiring.  He is no longer worried about making more money than he could possibly ever use.  He wants to talk about Jesus.  He said he loves using medicine to talk about Jesus.  The “least of these” will listen about Jesus.  He was tired of talking to people about Jesus who really didn’t think they needed Jesus.  

Amazing.  What makes a 58-year-old man with life set walk away to walk the impoverished streets caring for men, women and children with not only medical care but with the name of Jesus Christ as well?  

Sometimes when Jesus puts things together, it’s down right scary.  The past few weeks I’ve been mulling over Matthew 4:19 and 20.  It was Jesus calling his first disciples.  Here they were, adult successful fishermen.  In those days, if you left your family business, you were at great risk.  Your identity and success were based on your heritage.  Jesus called them to follow him to become fishers of men.  Say what?  Fishers of men!  

They followed, but I love verse 20.  It says they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  My brother dropped his nets.  He answered the call we as believers are all called to.  It’s a three part harmony.  “Follow me,”  -Jesus called.  He defined the calling, telling them to be good guys and wait around till he comes again? Wrong!  He called them “fishers of men.”  The third part was not a command.  It was their response.  They dropped their nets.  

We can’t hold on to our nets and follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It’s a false teaching of the modern age.  So, Bruce and I shared thoughts and stories for a few minutes.  Stories of the calling sometimes I find hard to find.  My personal calling was to reach people the church tends to miss.  I thank God the leadership of my church understands the calling.  Little did I know it would take me to prisons, half-way houses, and rooms full of addicts ,and more broken people than we like to admit.  

The only thing that gets in the way is the same thing that got in the way of my friend for so many years.  We were raised in an era where the gospel was more about being a convert, hold a moral code, and wait till one gets to heaven.  We somehow missed the same call at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry that was similar to the first calling.  He said, “Go and make disciples.”  He did not say “converts.”  He said disciples.  Disciples follow.  Disciples fish for men.  Disciples drop nets.  

Jesus often leaves me speechless.  I needed Bruce’s phone call.  I needed to be reminded of my own calling.  It’s not who I am.  I can’t be a fisher of men on my own. I needed to drop some nets once again.  Those nets are tempting.  Even the disciples ran back to their nets after the resurrection.  It’s where Jesus found them once again.  Jesus has a way of finding us.  When that happens ,we have to drop the nets.  There really is not a choice.

 

Advertisements

It is hard to believe that I have had the privilege of writing a weekly article for the Bluffton Today for close to 8 years now.  It all started on a kayak trip.  The then editor of the paper was part of our kayak group called Lowcountry Unfiltered.  

One day I told him the spiritually-based articles were so heavily minded I didn’t find them any earthly good.  Little was I prepared for his response.  He said, “I agree; how about you write one weekly?”  Since my mouth often works faster than my brain, I told him I would.  It has been an interesting journey.  From time to time, I look back on some of the early articles and wonder how the Bluffton Today kept me on.  

Over time, I have been honored by various community members mentioning they read these articles every week.   I am often surprised.  I have learned a lot over those years about the readers.  They tend not to be church based.  They tend to have pain and suffering in their past that is hard to get over.  Often that pain and suffering hasve come from their church experience.  

When we are suffering and the wounds are fresh, I have learned that Sunday morning just doesn’t do it.  When I mention this to most weekly church goers, they seemed surprised.  A word that I heard today from a past church-goer is “real.”  Those suffering don’t find church to be “real.”  The issues that cause pain and suffering are minimized, and the idea that Christ followers are to have a happy life is wrong as wrong can be.  So they feel marginalized on any given Sunday morning.  

What happens over time is that nobody in the church reaches back out to them, and they don’t want to go back to the scene of the crime.  That is totally understandable.  The problem is we need the “church.”  We don’t need the expression, but, rather, we need an “authentic” church experience.  It can be hard to find our current expression in the Bible.  The suffering church struggles to find significance and its place.  

Something has to change.  

For the past 8 years, I have avoided using this column for self-promotion of my church or ministry.  There have been a few ministry ventures I have mentioned, such as Family Promise of Beaufort County and ACTion Mentoring at Hardeeville Elementary School,, as well as the Backpack Buddies sponsored by Crossroads Community Support Services.  These programs reach out to those in need and need as much print as possible.  However, today I’m going to talk about a new venture that I would like to invite readers to consider.

On Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m. starting May 4th Grace Coastal Church has supported me in sponsoring a service called “Come as You Are: Healing for the Broken-hearted.”  It is stripped of most elements of Sunday and focuses on an authentic experience based on Acts 2.  In Acts 2, we see the early church devoted to 4 elements.  They are:  the teachings of the Apostles on Jesus, Prayer, Fellowship, and Breaking Bread.  That’s what we are going to do.  

On Saturday nights, we want to BE the church, not just attend church.  We won’t leave Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We want to be focused on Christ and Christ alone.  Who needs the gospel? I do, and so does everybody else.  There will be a lot of prayer.  Without question, prayer is a game changer.  So, let’s pray and let’s pray a lot.  The church is not about weekly attendance.  It’s about people.  As we gain traction, we anticipate having many participate and share their lives and their Jesus.  That’s fellowship.  After the 45 minute meeting time, our service does not end until we enjoy a simple meal together.  At that time, I will entertain a Q and A time for issues that come up during the service.  No use having a service and sending anyone home confused.  Let’s walk through this journey together.  

I don’t think of how we are going to make this work.  I’m not even sure what it means to have something “work” in ministry.  All I know is it’s Biblical.  It’s real.  I know many people who are hurt, struggling and broken and need a place to heal their broken hearts.  

If you are broken hearted and just can’t seem to find Christ on a typical Sunday morning, I invite you to Grace Coastal Church on Saturday nights at 6:30.  Talk to me when you come.  Wherever Jesus went, he touched and healed people.  Hearts need to be healed.  We don’t know if we are aiding healing unless we talk about it.  That had to be the end result of Acts 2.  Looking for an authentic expression?  So am I.  

I know without question a lot of readers are nursing broken hearts.  All I can offer is an opportunity to walk together looking for Jesus to provide his healing touch.  He said he came “to heal the broken-hearted and set the prisoners free.”  It’s time we did so as well. Let’s keep it simple.  Let’s look to Jesus.  He is our only hope for sure.  

Today is the most important day in the Christian faith.  Some consider Christmas to be.  It is an important one for sure, but the day we remember the resurrection is the exclamation point to the Christmas proclamation of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man.”  For that reason, Christians around the world will gather  not only to celebrate but also remember the importance of the day the angel proclaimed, “He is not here; he has risen!”  

The claim of virgin birth was not a new one in ancient times.  Various “gods” claimed to be born of a virgin.  It is somewhat of an easy claim.  Once birth has taken place nobody can affirm or deny it.  It is quite remarkable that since the virgin birth of Christ no “religious” figure has ever claimed it again.  There are somewhere around 32 other claims.  In some respects Jesus’ virgin birth was not so “extraordinary” as we consider today.  

However, N.T. Wright  notes that there is not one claim to resurrection.  Homer could not fathom a way back, and Plato taught that even if there was a way back, no one would want to do so.  The Egyptians thought resurrection was possible.  This was the reason their queens, armies, and others were buried with them.  When Augustus conquered Egypt, they tried to show him their resurrected kings.  Wright went on to write that Augustus said that, “he wanted to see kings, not corpses.”  

Our current culture tries to address resurrection in terms of zombies and cryogenic freezing.  There was an article in USA Today last week about an advance in spinal cord repair in hopes of attaching a head to a body.  Neither of our current fascinations is actual resurrection.  They are man’s wish to live on as promised by the one who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ.

The major religions of the world have no claim to resurrection.  In all their teachings we find man having to live up to a certain standard to achieve God’s favor.  The resurrection destroys that concept.  We don’t achieve God’s favor by achieving some standard that isn’t even established in the Bible.  I would think that if God had a standard by which man could make it, he would have given it to us. Actually, he actual did.  It was perfection.  We spend time trying to figure out how to attach a frozen head to a body, but we don’t spend much time trying to figure out how to achieve a God-like standard of perfection.  We don’t because it is clear; perfection is not possible for us.  

So we take perfection and decide the best we can do is be “good” enough.  So, our quest to live with God is to be good enough?  How good?  If God is so good, why didn’t he give us the equation of “good enough?”  It’s because we missed the real standard to live eternally.  The real standard is holiness.  Holiness is where we are body, soul and spirit in complete 100% unity with the mind and will of God.  Anybody want to take a shot at that one?

Jesus is the only one who even an atheist would say is the  one who could be the answer.  Is it a myth that he was crucified and was our sacrifice for our sin?  That is what it all comes down to.  No other theological debate is necessary if Jesus was not the Son of God, the holy one who in the form of a man died for our sin.  All he asks of us is to believe and follow Him.  That’s it.  No perfection.  No standard of goodness.  No demand for holiness when the one who makes us knows it is impossible.  The only thing is faith.  

It’s a faith that looks at the big picture and has to answer one question,  Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?  If it is true it satisfies any question and silences all debate.  The resurrection brings the rest of the teachings of Christ together.  We celebrate today the truth that defines all other “truth.”  

I’ve heard some say we have to determine whether Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord?  That distracts from the foundation that affirms all other claims of and by Jesus…the resurrection.  

Before anyone puts Jesus in the myth category or thinks it’s a crazy zombie story, do the research.  Decide for yourself.  There is only one question that has to be asked.  Is the resurrection true?  What do you believe?  

As I walked into the room,I sensed something was wrong with my dear friend.  He had a look on his face I had not seen before.  After four years, I was surprised!  He had handled just about everything thrown his way.  I asked him what was up.  His answer surprised me as he broke down into tears.

“John, there is going to be one that will get you,” he muttered.  “I wish I could say to look out for it, but you can’t.  You just don’t know which one will get you,” he continued.  At this point I had no idea what he was talking about.  ‘It’s Jim,” he said.  “Jim’s death has got me deep down,”  he finished.”  That was all I could get out of him as he sat at the table and wept.

Jim was a member of the church.  They did not have any special relationship.  He was an elderly man who suddenly died of a heart attack.  For some reason, this was the one that caught my best friend deep down.  Later, when he was able to talk about it, he said that while he was in seminary, they talked about the one death that will get your attention.

A lot of people don’t realize how much pastors are around death.  For me as a police and fire chaplain, death scenes have become the norm.  I had no idea I would see as much death as I have.  Sometimes I take some time off to process after a critical scene.  In a sense, I try to cushion the blow.  

That was until yesterday.  Little did I think the death of our 15-year-old Papillon dog, Jake, would shake my world.  It was a bittersweet day.  On the one hand, my new dog’s birthday was yesterday.  On the other hand, we had to say goodbye to the happiest dog I have ever known.  We have seen a lot of pets come and go.  Sure it tugs at our heart a bit.  Usually after a good cry we are able to get up and get going.  This one has me.  

I’m tired of death, suffering, and the pain of living in a fallen world.  Maybe it has me since we have lost three long time dogs this past year.  Perhaps, it’s the pending loss of my mother, who the doctor informed us after her latest hospital visit  is “on the clock.”  Her brain is dying.  My sister and I agree; she is already gone but her body remains.  

It’s more than that though.  I’ve seen the death of the young and the old.  I’ve seen death that takes a long time.  I’ve seen it happen real fast.  Too fast actually.  It’s not just the death.  It’s the veil of death that covers our existence.  

I so much want to stop all counseling and just say, “Pick one.”  Either choose life or choose death, but you can’t have both.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red, played by Morgan Freeman,, and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, point out we either “get busy living or get busy dying.”  I think it’s at that level Jake’s death has ventured in to my soul, like Jim’s death touched the soul of my dear friend.

I understand why we are so attracted to Disney World, drugs, alcohol, and anything that can numb the reality.  In Disney everyone lives happier ever after.  With drugs and alcohol, we like to think we can live happier ever after.   Only, we don’t.  Actually, we cause the death of a lot of relationships along the way.

As another friend texted yesterday, death just leaves us empty.  So does divorce.  So does the moving away of a friend.  So does the slow loss of our young abilities.  So does a member of the church who slowly drifts away.  So does dementia.  It’s a side of life we don’t want to look at.  But it’s that world in which Jesus enters.

Believing in Jesus is not only a way to get to heaven.  We have over emphasized the Jesus of John chapter 3.  Jesus also comes to give us life through his death and victory over the grave. He crushes death!  When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just waiting to go to heaven, even though that will be real nice.  No, we are to be carriers of life.  Everything outside of a life in Christ is death.  

Here it is April ,and we are going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is important to celebrate.  It’s also important to grasp that life in Christ is indeed life that is to produce more life.  It is to redeem a broken marriage.  It is to heal the broken-hearted.  It is bring hope to hopelessness.  It is to be that person who remembers those who mourn weeks and months after this world steals from us.  It is this life that reminds us this is not home.  It is this life that is to be infectious.  

Fellow believers in Christ we don’t have a choice.  There is no “get busy dying.”  We have been given a new life.   A new life in Christ that in its very essence gives us victory over the forces of death in our world.  Instead of complaining, encourage.  Instead of demanding, lend a hand.  Instead of remaining silent, share the good news of the risen Lord.  Instead of shying away, step forward and lend a hand.   Yes, loss hurts, but there is more to come.  

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden!”  Matthew 5:14

This past Sunday was a day of rest.  Literally, I was tired and decided to take it easy doing something I haven’t done in a while.  I watched sports all afternoon.  Golf and NCAA basketball and NASCAR.  I had hoped to catch a little bit of the Yankees/Orioles game.  A rain delay knocked them off the air.  It would have been nice to watch since I don’t know most of the team.  They let most of the veterans go and are working on a total rebuild.  

Channel surfing was fun.  Every time a commercial came on it was off to the next sport event.  Sure I missed some of the action, especially the NASCAR race.  Since they mostly go in left turn circles over and over again, how much does one really miss?  

Half time of the basketball game gave me a chance to get caught up with everything else.  As of right now Michigan St. is beating Duke.  Kyle Busch is leading the Texas race.  I’m not sure who is winning the golf event.  They are in match play this week.  Even the O’s are leading the Yankees by 1.  Half time might give the teams a chance to catch their breath, but it gives the sports enthusiast a chance to roll through the entire lineup.  

Each sport has its “break” time. Basketball has half-time.  NASCAR has pit stops and caution flags.  Baseball has the 7th inning stretch.  Hockey has 2 intermissions.  Golf might not have an actual break, but there is enough time between shots to run and grab a snack.  Often I wish life had a half time or a pit stop.  It would be nice to have a 7th inning stretch.  

More and more, it seems that life will not give anyone a break.  Maybe it’s the area where we live.  It’s an expensive county, and many have to work multiple jobs.  Kids seem to be involved in a ton of extra-curricular activities.  Moms are running the kids everywhere and anywhere.  I don’t find too many people who have a time to catch their break.

Even at church it’s hard sometimes to catch a break.  I’m not sure I even know what that looks like.  In the 1980’s, community or small groups sprang up as a reaction to a transient society.  One more thing we expect people to attend.  In Acts 2 we see where the early church gathered daily for teaching, prayer, fellowship and breaking bread.  Daily!  Daily?  Did they really meet every day of the week?  The last time I checked that is what daily meant.  If I mentioned that to my church body I’d better go look for a new job.  It seems hard enough to make it to church on Sunday and attend a community group consistently.  Times have changed for sure.   

I meet a lot of people who literally need a half time.  Wouldn’t it be neat if we turned 40 and were told to take a month off with pay?  We seem to wait till retirement to take a break.  By then we don’t want to take a break; we want to quit.  Quit everything.  

So why do they take these breaks in sports?  They do so to make adjustments.  Adjustments against the opponent and adjustments since what a team may be doing might not be working for them on this particular day.  Wouldn’t that be sweet?

I think it can be.  I think we can have pit stops and seventh inning stretches.  I’m not sure we know how valuable they really are.  We are working on developing “Silas” relationships at a group for men called Pirate Monks.  We want a “Silas” to call the other person once a day to encourage them.  Not a one said they could not take the phone call.  A pit stop can make a ton of difference.  

We can take half times.  Turn off the television.  Silence the phone and be still.  Be still so we can know God and get our priorities sorted out.  When life gets going so fast, there is no time to think, so we become complainers and blame shifters.  A half time gives us the opportunity to see what we need to change to make it  throughthe second half.  

I love having dinner with my family.  It’s my personal half time.  We are working harder and harder at putting the cell phones away, turning off all electrical gadgets, even for the little ones, and engaging in conversation.  A question that may get asked from time to time is “What do you think God wants in such a situation?”  Instead of the answer being about how everybody else needs to get their acts together, we talk about how we are to get our acts together.  We can’t change people who are not in the room ,but we can change our attitude and thought processes.  No wonder few “think of others better than themselves” like the Apostle Paul said.  We need to take the time to get ourselves straightened out. 

God knows us so well that He put in His word the actual instruction to “be still.”  If He were with us today He would be saying, “Half time,” or “Time for a pit stop.”  It’s for our good.