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I remember having kidney stones several years ago.  There I was at three o’clock in the morning groveling on the bathroom floor begging my wife to take me to the hospital.  I thought I either had appendicitis or was dying.  Death would have been the better option at the time.

They tell me a kidney stone is the closest thing to having a baby.  If that is so and I will believe it to be then I gained much appreciation for the female species that day.  Not only that but God must have made having children real special.  To forget that pain and birth more than one has to be a gift from God.

Once I passed the stone I was amazed.  I was amazed that something so small could cause so much pain.  When they told me I had kidney stones at the hospital I imagined a bolder in my body.  Once it came out, I was disappointed that a stone the size of a sand pebble was the cause.  Just goes to show you how wonderfully we are made.  

I haven’t had a bad attack since.  A few kidney pains came and went over the years.  I figured they were small stones that didn’t need a lot of attention.  That was until we were away recently on a long weekend vacation celebrating our granddaughters eleventh birthday at Disney World.  It wasn’t a three o’clock attack.  This time it waited till four a.m.  I knew what it was as soon as I turned over.  Welcome back you little devils.  I didn’t want to wake everybody up, nor did I want to worry anyone.  Mitigate the pain.  Drink lots of water and keep walking.  That would do it.  Only the room was not big enough to walk.  So…outside I went.  Guess what?  There are not very many people moving around, even at Disney, at four a.m.  They is sleeping. 
It took about three and a half hours for the pain to become bearable.  We will have to wait to see how long it takes to have this bolder pass.  Now to drink as much water as possible.  Hopefully, it won’t take too long and sleep will be possible tonight.  

I believe I have found the reason for pain in our lives especially the life of a believer.  It’s clear in the Holy Bible that suffering is associated with the life of a follower of Jesus.  The prosperity teaching is a lie.  Comfort is addictive.  Often when we are too comfortable in this life, we become myopic.  We live to protect the comfort we have created.  That does not gel with the Biblical teaching.

Pain connects us.  As I walked around and around the hotel I became suddenly aware of things and people around me.  I also began to think of others who suffer.  As I thought of them there was only one thing to do.  Pray.  

The true connection in our world is not through happiness.  Here I was in the happiest place on earth, andI was miserable.  As I looked around, I saw children who had been out in the hot too long being dragged kicking and screaming to the next thing the parents believed will bring them happiness.  I saw wheelchairs and handicap scooters with people who struggled to smile since they are limited.  Happiness is relative, and pain is very real.

There is a verse in Proverbs that basically says, “Don’t sing songs to a heavy heart.”  Why?  Our thirst for happiness in the state of a broken heart only brings more dread.  As I think of my physical pain, my mind wanders to those who suffer emotional pain.  They hide their suffering with a smile and a hearty handshake.  But, their pain is oozing out of them, often behind closed doors.  

Those suffering from clinical depression often can’t get out the front door.  When they do, it’s a struggle to paint a smile, be joyful and sing songs.  They are suffering no differently than my kidneys.  I want to just cut it out.  They often want to end their lives.  

The suicide rate continues to move steadily upwards in our society.  We look around and wonder what drives someone to do such a deed.  It’s their suffering in a world that often does not allow them to suffer.  Recently, a mega-church senior pastor took his own life ,leaving many to wonder.  I’m sure some asked the age-old question, “Was he a true believer?”  Sure he was.  He had reached a point of no return.

A wise teacher once told me, “Everybody has a breaking point.  You don’t know what and when they will get there.”  I have found in seventeen years of counseling ministry the one relative factor is their sense of loneness.  Don’t kid yourself.  They can have a ton of people around them just like I had thousands walking past me at the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs.  But, do they have any idea of the pain?  

I have had a lot of people ask me how to reach their neighbor or their community.  I believe Jesus showed us.  He connected with people.  He connected with their pain and suffering.  But, he had an answer.  A daily relationship with the Lord is the only answer.  So, why does a minister end his life?  When the fellow believers only want to judge their faith by how much joy they have.  We are missing the boat.  A friend of mine told me once to go out and find the “need” or “pain” in our community and find ways to address it.  I’ve been trying to do so for 14 years. Maybe next week I start the Kidney Stone support group.  Don’t laugh too hard.  You might be next.  

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As you are well aware, I continue to walk my dog, Vader, every morning before sun up and every evening after sun down.  Sometimes I’m not so sure I’m walking him.  He walks me most of the time.  

Vader is half lab and half hound.  He has the head of a lab but the body and muscle structure of a hound.  Usually, the morning walks are uneventful.  Usually.  Every so often the hound part kicks in, and, instead of a nice morning exercise, we are tracking something.  That’s because his nose has caught a scent, and it’s time to hunt whatever it is down.  

So, back and forth the hound dog that looks like a lab goes.  Left and right he sweeps.  Nose to the ground and ears ignorant of his owners commands.  Sometimes he finds what he is looking for.  There was one morning he caught a scent, and it was all I could do to hold on to him.  I was scared I might need rotator cuff surgery after the walk.  Sure enough, down the street and off to the right stood a doe with two fawns.  The hound won out.

It’s sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The classic was dead on.  In case you never read the book or watched the movie, Dr. Jekyll is trying to find a potion to address his bad impulses.  The only problem was he created a portion that left him with no conscience.  Thus, Mr. Hyde the evil animal is born.  Robert Lewis Stevenson, the author, believed there was two sides to a man.  There was a good side and an evil side.  

As a believer in Jesus Christ not yet residing in heaven, we do have two natures battling inside of us.  We have our fallen nature defined by our propensity to sin, and we have our redeemed nature that desires to be more like Christ.  They do a battle royale.  

Recently during a meeting, a friend said, “You know, it is not our redeemed nature that governs our first response.  Our first response is often not very good.”  She is right.  Whenever we get cut off driving, do we think, “Hey that person might be on the way to the hospital?”  Do we think, “They are late for work and need to get going.” Nope!  We think and say, “You idiot, where did you get your license, the five and dime?”  

Our first response, since it is so quick, is governed by our fallen nature.  Even when we might respond with kindness, most will admit they are trying to avoid a conflict and seek peace not so much Jesus, the peacemaker.  If we don’t overreact, then our redeemed nature is given the chance to kick in.  Otherwise,  just like Vader, the hound in us tends to take over.

There are some that like to think that as a believer in Jesus Christ they have become a good person.  That is dangerous ground.  The moment we don’t think we need a Savior is the moment we are in the greatest danger.

The same goes for Vader.  If he puts his nose to the ground and begins to take off, and I let go of his leash,  where will he go?  He will run like the wind to fulfill the desires he is born with in that hound nose.  Don’t get me wrong, as long as his nose is not activated, he is a good dog.  Right now he is curled up in the sun at the front door being a good dog.  He obeys pretty much except for the “Come” command.  He loves to lay next to you and lick your hands.  He is a blast at fetch.  Got a ball and he will run till he drops.  But, engage the nose and look out.  Off he will go without question.

The stories in the Bible pretty much show the same pattern.  Man thinks he’s good to go only to discover he falls pretty hard.  Somebody asked me why the Bible is so thick.  It shows the endless story of man trying to be god only to discover he needs God every second of the day.  Even the best intentions are pretty much driven by our desire to be declared “good.”  We are only declared “good” by the Lamb of God, Jesus.

 It has been said that the more we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus two things occur.  We become more aware of our sin nature in light of the Light of the World.  We also become aware of the tremendous nature of the gospel of Christ, which is necessary in our salvation and our sanctification.  Any true good that magnifies Jesus and not the doer is only due to the work of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the gospel.  Man can’t.  God can.  And he does.  

Next time your nose takes over and you are tracking down your own desires, just remember one thing:  Jesus still has ahold of the leash, and he promises not to let go.  He is a patient God.  He calls our name.  He gives his commands.  He waits and knows we will turn to Him.  The faster, the better.  

Birthdays don’t seem to bother me.  Some people freak out when they turn 40, 50 or 60.  I like to look at it like a fine bottle of wine.  It gets better with age.  That is until you have to get up off the floor or climb a ladder.  Forget running.  That was over some time ago.  

I do think the athletes that turn 40 and seem to get stronger and better have to be taking an additive.  The body changes and it usually is not for the better.  I want to know one thing.  Why are they printing newspapers and books with smaller print?  My wife is laughing.  Hold on, let me see what is causing her to laugh so hard.  Oh, it’s not the print.  It’s my eyeballs.  I don’t think that is funny.  See, things do change.  Basically, they wear out.  

Turning 60 this year still doesn’t bother me all that much.  I don’t remember my 50th, but I do remember the 40th birthday.  I was in youth ministry, and there was a huge afternoon party.  My friends and family celebrated all day long.  I figured out how to avoid big parties.  We vacation during my birthday week every year.  It just so happens that my wife’s work schedule has that week off, so we go away.  I might be getting older but I’m getting wiser (I think).

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much has changed in the last 20 years.  It would take the entire newspaper to write about all of them.   I’ve obviously referred to some of the change the human body goes through.  Other than that, let’s laugh or cry a bit about some of the changes that have occurred.

The biggest one is in most peoples hands.  The cell phone now dominates our lives.  I was looking at a news report, and, in the background, a lot of people were holding up their cell phones.  I’m not sure when the cell phone became a camera, but it just looks funny to see everybody not so much paying attention to what is going on but making sure they get it recorded.  Remember the big camcorders? Now, our cellphones are a camcorder.  Crazy if you think about it.  

Automobiles are close to driving themselves.  My Toyota truck will blare at me if I go out of lane without using the blinker.  It will brake for me and tell me to brake.  It will dim the high beam headlights and release the cruise control if a car is going slower in front of me.  They are real close to not needing a driver.  I really don’t know what I think about these things.  On one hand it’s intriguing .  On the other it’s a bit scary.  All I can think about is the Terminator movies.  Man against machine.

Medicine and medical care has changed drastically.  Anybody notice you have to be very sick or hurt to see a real doctor in the emergency room anymore?  I think general practitioners are going in the same direction.  

On the good side, more operations are done with little holes in our bodies instead of gigantic slices.  Cancer is battled better than ever before.  It seems like they are discovering new treatments and medicines weekly. 

Politics have changed.  I was talking last week to a friend who pointed out the biggest change that we may not be aware of.  He pointed out that politics used to work well when everybody played by the same rules.  As an example, whoever was elected president was respected and honored for being in that position.  Not anymore.  Now nobody is playing by the rules, and it is total chaos.  Respect and honor are gone.  Don’t point fingers.  It’s everybody.  There seem to be no rules in the political world anymore.  That only means it’s only a matter of time till no rules disseminate down into society.

Shopping has changed big time.  Today I ordered a weed-wacker over the Internet from Home Depot.  Mine died today.  It has numerous attachments.  I discovered on line that the replacement is only available over the Internet.  So I ordered it and will pick it up at the store next week.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in something called a shopping mall.  Amazon does me fine.  

How about television?  It was not that long ago we had five channels at best and had to hold our mouths right to get certain UHF channels.  At that it was going to be fuzzy.  Now we have hundreds of channels available, and at times we are still bored.  This might have happened longer than 20 years ago but one of the changes is that we actually pay for television.  It used to be free.  That’s right!  We can pay for radio if we want to as well.  What will happen next?  We will probably have to pay for water in a bottle, and it might cost more than gasoline.  Never mind.  It’s already happened. 

  Church has changed too.  We can live broadcast with an I-phone now.   We can get church without ever being there.   We talk more about music than we talk about Jesus.  

Who says we hate change.  Change is the norm.

There is one thing that will never change.  His name is Jesus.  The Bible says he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He doesn’t change the rules.  His grace is always sufficient.  Count on it!

I am so glad God did not gift me with enough talent to end up in professional sports.  That might sound a little odd if you know me.  What sports nut wouldn’t want to hit a home run to win the game, catch a touchdown pass, or hit a three pointer at the buzzer to send the crowd into a frenzy?  There was a day I thought I would trade with the devil to be able to play in the big leagues.  If I had to choose, it would be baseball.  But no.  Johnny wasn’t tall enough, fast enough or talented enough, to even think about playing in college.  

So, what makes me so glad God didn’t give me these gifts?  The professional athlete lives under a microscope.  There is no room to fail on or off the field.  If your opinions don’t match up with the philosophies of the media you don’t stand a chance, even if you are of all-star quality.  

On the field you can’t drop the ball when the game is on the line.  Just ask Bill Buckner.  You can’t call a non-existent time out.  Just ask Chris Weber.  You can’t strike out with the bases loaded.  Just ask all the living baseball players.  Any of these incidents and plenty more will make you a goat and that doesn’t mean “Greatest of All Time.”  

Off the field you better have your act together as well.  You have to be politically aligned with society or the media (choose one).  Just ask Curt Schilling.  You cannot get injured while at home.  Just ask Ken Griffey Jr.  You can’t make a mistake.  It’s not as much a forgiving world as we thought.

The defeated man walked in my office with his head down.  Strange.  He is usually upbeat and quite congenial.  Not today.  With tears in his eyes, he told a story I’ve heard way too often.  He made a mistake.  His reasoning wasn’t all that bad, but, his final decision was a mistake.  With no history in his file he was fired.  One mistake after 10 years of faithful service, and he’s gone.  Due to his age, he has not been able to find a comparable job.  Now he has to work two jobs just to break even.  

When it comes to the law, look out!  Seriously.  Look out.  When I was in youth ministry, I drove the kids crazy at times.  Whenever I went to an 18-year-olds birthday party I would give them clear advice.  “Don’t get in trouble with the law,” I’d say with a smile.  “Because,” I went on, “you are now an adult and will suffer adult consequences.”  I have visited too many people in prison.  As I talked to many behind bars, it is clear that there are a lot of one-time offenders locked up.  One major wrong decision can cost us big time.

How many times do we eat at a restaurant and get good service and good food only to have one bad meal cause us to forget the 99 good ones?  Apps like Yelp give us the opportunity to rip someone to the core even though at the same time, we don’t know them.  Maybe at the restaurant the cook didn’t show up.  Maybe, the health department was in the business at the same time causing all sorts of disruption.  Maybe, the boss’ spouse was in a major car accident and everybody was distracted and worried.  Instead of being full of grace, we can be full of ourselves, looking to declare our goodness and everybody else’s failure.

I talk to too many husbands and wives who say they forgive their spouse but keep an accurate record, bringing it up every chance they get.  It also amazes me how much the negative erases anything positive.  

There is a case I’m familiar with where a young man was a steller employee.  Everyone sang his praise.  He had a bad case of “people pleasing” and went way over the top to make people happy, including his boss.  But then he totally screwed up.  He made some decisions that were not sound at all.  Sure he lost his job.  He did deserve that.  But what surprised him and his family was the total abandonment by friends and family.  

His boss decided to review his entire case file.  With over 400 cases in the file he found 3 errors.  His boss used them to bring judgment and ridicule upon him.  397 to 3 ,and, meanwhile he was a no good bum.  

We live in a critical world and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.  It’s what makes Jesus stand out.  It says in the Scriptures that he “spreads our sins from the east to the west.”  Better yet, it says he “remembers them no more.”  That’s grace.  No, it’s grace on steroids.  With Jesus we can fall and get back up.  The only ones Jesus was harsh with were the Pharisees, who had the responsibility in his day to find the law breakers and bring judgment.  If you hear of a faith that is based on man being good, run.  If you hear of one named Jesus, who heals the broken hearted and sets the prisoners (law breakers) free.  Run to him.  It’s true.  With Jesus, we don’t have to be perfect.  He was the perfect one.  Perfect in the law.  Perfect in love, grace and mercy.  My faith is in Him.  Get up off the floor.  Let’s take a walk together as we learn and grow in His grace.  

It has been about 10 days since Hurricane Dorian visited the Lowcountry.  Here in Bluffton, God shined upon us as the rain did not come, and the winds remained below destruction levels.  As chaplain for the Bluffton Police Department, I found it relieving to venture out on Thursday morning and to find very minimal damage and no loss of life.  

While the hurricane itself did not pack a big punch for us, the waiting process was unnerving.  Somebody joked that it was like being stalked by a turtle.  For others it was pure misery.

The Bahamas took the full force.  As well as remembering them in prayer, consider how you or your church may assist in any way possible to meet  needs of the battered population.  They will need assistance for a long time to come.  

While we did not suffer greatly from the winds, rains, and tides, we suffered from anxiety and worry.  The many spaghetti models will drive a sane person completely crazy.  One thing for sure about Dorian…it was unpredictable.  Only the living God knew where it was going and how fast it would get there.  As we waited we worried.

The general population surprised me with their response.  Of the last 4 hurricane scares, I believe on this one we had the least amount of people evacuate.  Even when the predictions called for a worsening situation, possibly on the level of Hurricane Matthew, there seemed to be a bit of malaise with this one.  

I went to Old Town Bluffton to take some pictures and became amazed that none of the businesses on Calhoun Street or the Promenade were boarded up.  On the other hand, half of my neighborhood shuttered, and some even put sandbags around their doors.  We are a community that has never seen high water, even during Hurricane Matthew.  Some left as soon as the evacuation orders were given, and some won’t leave no matter what happens.  It would be an interesting social behavior study.  

Stress causes all sorts of issues.  Jesus said that worry does not add a day to our lives.  We now know it not only doesn’t add a single day to our lives, but, it probably takes a few off.  Without question, the name “Dorian” will cause anxiety for some time.  On top of it all, we still have at least 6 more weeks of hurricane season.  

Our hurricane scare resembles life.  We can’t avoid the storms of life.  They are going to come.  There is no evacuating life.  Storms come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Sometimes they get us all worked up.  The big storms like Dorian might not cause much change in our life. Other times a small storm can pop up and cause tremendous damage to our soul.  It’s life.  

How anyone reacts to a life storm is unpredictable.   We like to think we have life all planned out like our evacuation plans.  However, we don’t really know what might go on inside of us when the pink slip comes,  when our closest relationships fail, when the doctor gives horrid news, when the stock market plummets and recession sets in big time,  and when we face the forces of death.  Will we respond with a sense of “who cares” or will we be sandbagging our hearts and egos?  

Jesus and the disciples were in a storm while traveling by boat to the next town.  It was pretty bad.  The disciples were anticipating death.  Jesus was asleep.  When they woke him up, Jesus called out, “Peace (Shalom), Be Still,” and the waves and wind went calm.   Everybody focuses on Jesus calming the storm.    His response was classic.  He asked them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Believing and following Jesus is much more than buying hell insurance.  It’s about losing our lives and literally putting them in the hands of Jesus, even when we feel we are going to die.

We all have our favorite news station.  We all have our trusted weather man or service (mine is Ventusky).  We do the same with our health.  We actually do the same with the critical issues of life.  Instead of putting our lives in the hands of people, Jesus wants us to put our lives first in his hands.  That does not mean we don’t board up our windows.  It doesn’t mean we never go to the doctor.  It doesn’t mean we don’t seek a new job.  What it means is to call upon Him when the storm clouds begin to appear instead of waiting till we are on the roof, waiting for the helicopter to pull us off the roof. 

Jesus calmed the storm ,but who he really calmed were the excited disciples.  They went from screaming for Jesus to wake up to whispering to one another about Jesus’ ability to make good out of bad.  As a believer, shalom.  The good news is like the disciples, we are in the boat of life with Jesus.  He didn’t promise no storms.  But, he does promise to be with us through the storms.  With him ,we can claim the same as King David in the Psalms.  “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  Why?  Jesus is walking right ahead of me.  That’s the place of the Good Shepherd. 

Recently we had two foxes patrolling our yards.  One was a beautiful gray fox with an all black face.  My neighbors thought I was nuts.  It’s amazing what you can see on long dog walks when the sun is not up.  He would sit on the fringe and observe.  He never made a sound.  My son-in-law finally saw him as well.  I was not smoking the crazy weed after all.

I tried to get a picture of him but he never showed up when I carried the camera.  It’s like he knew.  He was stunning actually.  I miss seeing him or her.  

The other fox was a small red fox.  That one was a pain.  He like to bolt out of the wooded areas and bark continuously at the people who walked dogs.  Have you ever heard a fox bark?  It is horrid.  It’s a mix between a dog’s bark and a crying woman.  He never attacked anyone.  He seemingly was protecting his territory to the dogs.  He too is gone.  Probably moved on looking for food.  

It did make me think that there tends to be two types of people in our various walks of life.  Take Facebook for an example.  Half of the people on Facebook don’t post very much if anything at all.  They might not have the time.  They might not want anyone to nose into their life.  My wife is one of those persons.  She is on Facebook but Facebook doesn’t have her.  

On the other hand there are those who post and post a lot.  They post what they have for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  If a baby is born get ready for a deluge of pictures.  I’m not sure the theory behind the massive posters but, one thing is for sure, they have to be heard.  Maybe that is just it.  It’s a group of people that need interaction of some sort.  

I used to think there were three types of people.  We in America love the third group.  It’s the middle grounders.  They aren’t too low and they aren’t too high.  They are not too far right and not too far left.  They live life in the safe zone.  Can’t blame them.  Life is hard enough without living in the extremes.

However, if the middle walkers were to be pressed we would find they tend to lean one way or the other.  

Name it!  We really do tend to fall into two groups of people.  Answering, “I don’t really care,” puts one in the negative category.  In the end of the game we are just like we are made, right or left.

Football season is heating up.  I have to admit I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan.  It’s a long story how I became a Cowboys fan without ever stepping foot in Texas.  It doesn’t matter, I’m a diehard blue and white fan.  Now if you want to see something that makes my point ask about the Cowboys.  People will either give you a high five, “How bout dem Cowboys!”  or they will walk away mumbling  as fast as possible. 

So, maybe you are one of the supposed middle group that doesn’t care for football and maybe you don’t even know what a Dallas Cowboy is.  That puts you in the “I don’t like the Cowboys” column even if you don’t care.  How one cannot be a Cowboy fan is beyond me.  Somebody told me they don’t mind the Cowboys, they can’t stand their fans.  I’m one of those fans.  We think we can win the Super Bowl every year.  Sorry.    

It’s the same in our relationships.  Just this week I was in a conversation about a person both of us knew.  My friend said, “One thing is for sure, you either like him or you don’t.”  Yes, that is a pretty strong statement.  It’s true.  Let’s be honest.  It’s that way with all our relationships.  There are people we will let in our inner circle.  The rest may be acquaintances and we may actually act like we are friends but we will not let them get too close.  

Jesus spoke often of only two options.  He said we can’t have two masters.  In very clear and strong terms he said, “You will love the one and hate the other.”  That kind of talk makes us cringe.  We, who have been baptized with Western culture, mindsets and philosophies want to avoid the extremes.  

Jesus in many places only spoke of two positions.  When telling three parables in a row in Luke 11 it was clear.  One was either lost or one was found.  It’s life.  We are either alive or we are dead.  It’s pretty clear.  Our hearts are either beating or they are not.  There is always a line that separates the two.  

It gets a little personal when we see the 10 lepers healed by the Lord Jesus.  They ended up in two classifications.  Nine were not very thankful and took off as soon as they were clean.  Only one was a thankful post-leper.  

It’s not that I’m trying to be judgmental or contentious.  When we create classifications especially in relation to people we confuse the response.  The more we get confused the more we become stuck in life.  Confusion creates apathy.  Maybe that’s a bit harsh.  Confusion keeps one from moving right or left, forward or backwards, and up and down.  It is then that we are at our weakest.  

There is one position that is the most important.  Is Jesus, Lord?  Yes or No?  There is no middle ground.  

As I walked the dog this morning, I realized it was trash day.  Even if I were blind, I would know it was trash day.  The smell was obvious.  Did you know there is a local company that will contract with you to clean your trashcan?  You heard it here first.  If you keep your trashcan in the garage, you might want to give them a call.  

As we walked, it was interesting to observe the trash.  Before you laugh too hard, remember my brain is not wired in the normal way.  Usually I talk with Jesus as I walk the dog at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m.  Today, trash had my attention.  You can learn a lot about people by looking at their trash.  It makes sense that law enforcement looks into the trash.  It’s loaded.  Literally.  Is this making you paranoid?  I hope not.

As I observed the rubbish in my neighborhood, I can tell you who has a healthy, or should I say unhealthy, intake of alcohol.  I can find the smokers.  If we pause long enough, we can tell diets and other habits as well.  It is getting easier to tell the choice of soap or shampoo as well.  It’s not buried in the bags.  The plastic bottles are sitting on top in the recycle bin.  

If the average home has 1.5 bags of trash per person per week (I read that somewhere; just don’t ask where), it would be easy to figure out how many people are living in each house.  Some of the cans are so full each week, forget getting the lid down.  

One thing for sure is we create a lot of garbage.  It is hard to fathom the amount of garbage the entire town of Bluffton creates in one week.  I’m just talking normal bags of trash. Oh, by the way, if I was a thief, I would be able to pinpoint the homes that have new televisions, computers, and sound systems.  Add the “extra” garbage, and our little town creates mountains of trash.  

The Bible talks trash.  It really does.  I feel bad for most of the Bible heroes.  Their trash is out there for generations to observe.  It smells bad too.  Adam and Eve get slammed for being the founding couple for the ultimate trash.  They had to feel horrible as they were escorted out of the garden into a world defined by its smelly refuse.  

David had plenty of family filth.  How would you like to be known as the man after God’s own heart, who first pursued another man’s wife and had him killed?  We will give him credit for killing Goliath, but, then again, as a father, his family comes completely apart.  David is just one of the many men and women whose rubbish defined them.  

I don’t need to go through the list.  It’s pretty ugly.  I realized the other day as I was preparing the topic for our new Saturday night “Come As You Are” service that every person in the Bible that Jesus engages is a representation of me (all of us actually) at many levels.  I’m a leper.  I’m the adulterous woman.  I’m a Pharisee.  I’m the blind guy.  I’m the paralyzed man who needed friends in order to be touched by Jesus.  Every person is a representation of humanity.  The worst one to be is the rich man who wouldn’t sell his possessions to follow Jesus.  I’m him at times.  What makes that one so hard is Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters.  His word use hits this world hard, when he says we love the one and hate the other.  The other night as I conversed with some faithful friends, one of the guys said he hates it when he is hostile towards Jesus.  My first response was “I’m not hostile towards God.  How can he say that?”  But I am hostile at God when I choose to serve this world.  My trash is stinking bad.  

I had to sort out my hostility for a few days.  Makes trash day look good ,doesn’t it?  Just like our physical life, we all have trash.  It’s funny, actually, that we show up on Sunday acting like we don’t have any.  I don’t know about you, but my trash-can tends to be full and overflowing, and boy does it smell.  That company would have to come to my life every day to clean my can it’s so stinky.  

I am reminded that my cleaner does come every day.  In fact, he never leaves me.  Jesus doesn’t look at my trash.  He’s already taken care of it.  I used to wonder why he asked us to confess our sins when he already knows.  It’s not for him.  It’s for us.  It reminds us how amazing his grace really is.  That’s my hope.  That’s my faith that gives me great confidence that no matter how full and stinky my trash can, my Lord Jesus has it covered.  I love the old hymn when it says, “What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”  He doesn’t clean my outward container.  He covers my wicked heart.  No need to recycle.  It’s been taken care of.

I love the “Secret Lives of Pets” movies. Illumination Entertainment produced this animated speciality.  They must have put a lot of effort into learning the movements of different pets.  I often wondered what my dog was doing when I was away.  So, I got one of those spy cams.  He does not have a secret life.  He sleeps.  

Our world is getting more and more revealed.  There are driving cams everywhere.  I would tell you some secrets about the cams and what they can do but, I am sworn to secrecy.  I can tell you that they are everywhere.

Any wise businessman will have a video security system.  Just this week, a local business was robbed and then broken into a few days later.  It’s all on video.  Many owners have installed video cams to catch their own employees in the act.  Whenever you go shopping, smile.  You are on candid camera.  

I’ve actually heard of people who video their journeys in the car.  I recently saw a bicyclist with a video recorder on the top of his helmet.  I had the opportunity to ask him about it.  He replied, “I was run over once.  I will not be run over again without video evidence.”  I thought he might have it to record the beauty around him.  Who ever would have thought such?

It doesn’t stop there.  Our cell phones may be one of the best recording devices we will ever own.  Not much goes on that is not recorded by someone, somewhere.  We no longer have to carry heavy equipment.  It’s now in the palm of our hands.  My grandkids use it a lot.  I would, only it does not cross my mind to video things like most do today.  

Our church staff has been talking about live streaming the sermon.  It is not uncommon for a church to do so.  In a sense, you can see the church before you have to be the church.  I probably got that one turned around.  One can be the church before they have to see the church is probably more of a Biblical truth.  It’s no different than keeping an eye on the traffic cams, the baby cam, the doggie cam, and any other cam you can come up with other than Cam Newton.  

One would think with all the video feeds, security cameras, and cell phones our crime rate would drop.  It doesn’t.  It’s like we are not paying any attention that someone is watching.  Red light tickets from traffic cams keep coming.  Recently, a local restaurant was held up and broken into a few days later.  It’s clear the individual knew there was a camera.  He hid his face.  Cameras seem to be for the good people.  

I was reading in Revelation the other day.  It’s like we are on a life cam.  It says in chapter 20 that everyone is going to be judged according to what they had done.  Everybody!  If everything is a heart issue it is probably going to be more than a video cam.  It’s going to display our thoughts and motives as well.  I hope everybody is taking a nap when it’s my turn.  I wonder if the volume can be turned down.  On the other hand, it might be some good entertainment.  Here’s John trying to be a good boy.  Everybody will be laughing for sure.  It will be ugly.  

I think it’s amazing how many people think they will get into heaven because they are good enough.  When those videos are shown, I don’t think anyone will be thinking they are good enough.  Since the Bible says perfection is the only standard, I’ll bet every penny I have that those videos will show how woefully short we all fall.  

There will be an editor for the believers.  According to the next few verses, there is only one thing that edits the ending.  Is your name written in the Book of Life?  The only way it gets there is to follow Jesus.  Our editor will have scars in his hands, feet, and probably on his brow from the crown of thorns.  His back will show the marks of the vile whipping.  However, his embrace will be all that is needed to set the record straight.  

I don’t know about you, but I do know my life video showing all my public and private life will show a need for a Redeemer.  The good news, the gospel, is that Redeemer lives.  I put my hope in Jesus, the Redeemer and editor of my life video.  According to the Scripture, all other ground is sinking sand.  

Even though it is the middle of summer and we have many more days to go till fall, there is change in the air.  The change has nothing to do with nature’s seasons.  The change is for the modern day church ,and it has nothing to do with the type of music sung or which version of the Bible is used on Sunday.  Its cultural change, and it’s coming fast.

Unless you have paid no attention to the news and live in a cave, we should be aware that our culture is not changing but rather has changed.  News flash!  There is more change in the air, and we are not going to like it.  

It is a fact that the voting base will shift to the younger generations in the next election. The baby boomer generation, which is the most conservative and “Christian” of the existing generations, will lose its political clout.  Let me rephrase that.  It has lost it.  There are more people of age that we would classify as “millennial” who can vote than baby-boomers.  As the Eagles sang in 2007, “It’s Your World Now.”  Honestly, we of the baby-boomer generation don’t like it and are scared about it.  

I’m not so sure we are scared for gospel reasons.  I personally think we are scared for life-style reasons.  That’s a discussion for another day.  It will probably have gospel implications.  I’m not being a prophet, but these are some changes in the next era we will probably see, barring a revival unparalleled in our history.  Again, I don’t think they are all that bad.  It all depends on how one looks at them.

One of the first changes coming will be the loss of tax exempt status and possible taxation on certain things we never dreamed would be taxed in the church.  It doesn’t even have to be due to religious reasons.  Our government is running out of money.  If there is a pot of gold out there somewhere, they will get it one day.  It has already happened to a certain extent.  By raising the exemption level so high, fewer “givers” are able to claim their gifts and tithes as a tax exemption.  It’s only the beginning.  

As I said before, that’s ok.  We will be called to give our gifts and tithes by God’s calling not the tax deduction.  If the government taxes our properties for the right of holding religious services, then we will find out where our hearts lie.  That happens often throughout the Bible.  Look up the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.  Their heart was not with God but rather how they looked before man.  Everything really is a heart issue even if we don’t realize it.  Giving our offering is a heart issues as well even when we don’t get a tax deduction.    

I do believe a day is coming when bi-vocational pastors will be the norm instead of the oddity.  Most churches in America are small in size.  There are more pastors serving in churches under 200 than in those over 200 in attendance.  With the financial situation and the already aging of American congregations, along with the decrease in attendance by the younger generations, there will be fewer and fewer churches able to support the pastor much less have a paid staff.  If these churches want to continue, they will have to sort out the issues that will arise with a bi-vocational pastor in place.

Again, that’s ok.  I see two possible benefits.  Pastors might make better decisions since their main pay check is no longer dependent on keeping the members happy.  Along with that, members may realize they cannot replace the pastor they have so easily and therefore extend grace more than ever before.  

Along with bi-vocational pastors comes churches with less or no paid professional staff.  The burden of ministry will fall to the attenders.  Did I just hear local pastors say “Amen.”  All of this will probably put many things back in their right place.  Instead of putting on a show, we might just relate to one another.  Instead of depending on the youth pastor to show our kids the way, they will have to get it from us (of course they still do, we just don’t realize it).  Instead of being a busy church, we might become missional churches.  Paying less staff leaves more money for “the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the stranger, the imprisoned.”  (Matthew 25).  See, it’s not all that bad.

The biggest change ahead is already happening.  It is not going to be popular to be a Christian ,much less a verbal Christian.  The shift has happened.  It happened when Generations X and Y (by the way, they are close to retirement now) walked out of the church instead of staying with their spiritual family.  Their children are growing up with very little God influence.  Therefore, it’s simple math.  It’s a spiritual war.  The apostle Paul said we are “wresting with principalities of the air,” meaning there is a constant war against the name of Jesus.  It’s coming fast.

That’s ok.  We don’t have to pay large sums of money to go on mission trips.  Our mission field lives right next door.  It is a great time to be a Christian when the lines get drawn.  It might hurt.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians about two graces given to us by Jesus.  One is the grace of salvation.  The second is the grace of suffering.  We all are aware that if something has great value we will suffer for it.  As far as I can tell, there is nothing more valuable than the name of Jesus.  

That is OK! 

We sat in the upper level section 3 every game that we attended.  The Baltimore Clippers (American Hockey League) were competitive and a constant force striving for the Calder Cup.  This particular year they had a shot at the cup.  I remember a stifling defense, a goalie who did not wear a mask (not mandatory at that time), and just enough offense to win close games.  For a ten-year-old boy it was hockey heaven.  

This particular game was right before the playoffs.  The place was sold out.  We had to sit in section 11 instead of 3.  It didn’t matter.  We were at the game.  Only things didn’t quite go as planned.  Here we were down by 3 with six minutes to go.  The defense was weak that night.  The offense was nonexistent.  

In order to beat the rush we headed for the exit.  This one was over.  Since we sat in different seats, the exit was much farther away.  As we headed for the lower level, the crowd broke into a sustained cheer.  A goal had been scored.  It was now 5 minutes to go and down by 2.  Had the tide turned?

There was a buzz in the crowd.  It could be felt in the hallways.  We decided to cross the stage to catch the #3 bus home.  As we hit the stage, the crowd burst into maddening exuberance.  With 2 minutes and 30 seconds left, we scored to only be down by 1.  Nobody sat in silence.  Everyone who was headed for the exits, including us stopped dead in our tracks.  Not only had the tide turned, the tsunami was overtaking the entire coliseum.  The Clippers were alive and so were their fans.  Enthusiasm reigned.  

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.  The entire place was electric.  The Clippers skated circles around the Hershey Bears.  The crowd was plain nuts.  They tied the score within seconds of the faceoff.  Maybe we could win in overtime.  We contemplated returning to our seats.  

No need.  With 35 seconds left on the clock, the Clippers had succeeded in tallying the winning goal.  That’s right! four goals in less than six minutes.  I have never experienced such a scene.  Electric enthusiasm was contagious.  Everybody yelled and screamed and jumped for joy.  The players were grinning from ear to ear.  Once the final horn sounded, the place almost collapsed due to the noise.  At least it seemed like it.  I can verify because I was standing on the stage.  The bad boy was vibrating.  

The electric wave proceeded out onto the streets and onto the waiting buses.  I don’t remember all the details, but as for me, I was a-buzz as I laid my head on the pillow that night.  Something had happened that few will ever see.  What was lost, was won!  

I’ve met a few people over the years who live in constant ecstasy.  There is something about life that they are tuned into that few find.  It doesn’t matter what’s going on; they seem to have that winning grin the Clippers had that night.  My father-in-law was one of those persons.  As my mother would say, “Come hell or high water he would still be dancing all night long.”  Trouble wasn’t a downer.  It was an opportunity.  

Now, 50 years later since I witnessed one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history (at least I think so), I sit in many religious meetings wondering what happened to the enthusiasm.  Stages are not vibrating.  We seem to have to purposely generate any excitement to make it look like we are happy.  Strike up the band.  Shout from the pulpit.  Do something to awaken the masses.  

We have come to believe that Jesus came to this earth.  As the Son of God, he walked with us and didn’t catch the next plane back.  He sacrificially bought us with his own blood as he was beaten and nailed to the cross of shame.  The only righteous one we murdered.  Instead of remaining in the grave, he conquered that as well, rising from the dead the third day and showing himself to a large amount of people.  He ascended into heaven, preparing to return for us, and, in the meantime sent his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times.  

Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot more exciting than a come from behind victory by a minor league hockey team that is now defunct and has been for a long, long time.  So we come on Sunday with drudgery and solemness.  Not only was He who was dead alive, but by his sacrifice we as believers were once lost but now are found!  

Let the stage vibrate from our enthusiastic reply.  In Luke 15 Jesus talks about the celebrations in heaven when we who are lost are found.  So, where is the celebration?  Where is the enthusiasm?  Let’s not make for the exits.  That’s for those who think all is lost.  Our hope is not in our ability to score one for Jesus.  Our hope is in the one who beat death.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  It’s time to celebrate!  Party on!