Tag Archive: Christian


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?  

Advertisements

I was walking the dog the other day and things got quite crazy.  I’m serious when I tell people I’m learning more about me than anything with this crazy lab/hound mix.  God has a strange way of making the light come on in our lives.  If only we would pay attention.  

I was using a harness that buckled under his chest.  When he expanded his chest in an extreme situation (other dogs, birds, butterflies, etc.) he would from time to time literally pop the buckle.  The first time was over another dog that he wanted to meet.  

The good news is he did not run away from me.  Instead, with the other dog and owner standing idly by, probably quite amused as well, Vader ran circles around us over and over again.  I know not to chase him.  That is a total waste of time.  Instead I waited for him to run out of gas.  Do you know how long it takes an 11-month-old hound to run out of gas?  It took quite a bit.  Eventually, as he lay exhausted on the ground, I was able to grab his leg and gain control.

The second time was over a lady jogging down the street.  He didn’t want to bite her.  He wanted to meet her and make her his friend.  Again, once I got his attention, I sat on the ground trying to convince him to come to me with imaginary treats.  He is smart.  I looked stupid.  After a prolonged time of running like a wild dog in circles in some stranger’s front yard, I was able to get the upper hand on him.  

It was time to retire the harness.  Enough was enough.  He is very strong in the upper body, and it was going to take a much stronger harness to handle this one.  The third time was a totally different situation.  With the new harness firmly around him, I bent over to tie my shoe and, for a moment, let go of the lead.  He figured it out quickly and again ran wild circles around me.  It didn’t take as long this time.  I was able to jump on the lead to corral the wild beast.  

I’m glad the third time was at 5:00 a.m.  There are not too many people awake that time of the morning.  I’m glad also, because it had rained the night before, and, when I jumped on his lead ,I came up completely soaked.  I was wondering what possessed me to get a puppy.  Those thoughts quickly left when he looked up and gave me a big old lick on the cheek.  He knows how to sucker his owner.  

As we finished our walk that morning, I remembered his rampage interrupted my prayer time.  Walking the dog for about 2 miles has given me time to pray, and, boy, do I need it.  It’s actually been great.  Being outside in nature gives me a real sense of presence with my God.  All I have to do is remember to hold on to the leash.  Anyway, I went back to prayer as my heart started to beat at a reasonable rate.

I asked the Lord, “What do you want of me today?”  At that moment, I looked down at the mutt.  The light went on.  I could almost hear God say, “What makes you think you are any different when you walk away from My lead?”  I looked up at the moon and uttered a humble, “Touche.”

I was then contemplating how many times I ran circles around Jesus without following his lead.  I never really run away, but I don’t follow Him.  I want to have my life walk my way.  I don’t really want to be on God’s lead.  Best yet, I want to be close enough to him to enjoy the life he has given me.  Just let me lead!

It doesn’t work that way.  Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd is out in the lead.  The sheep follow.  Why?  Sheep are no different than my dog.  Let something of interest fly by, walk by, stand by and any other “by” you can find.  Off we go.  It’s our nature.  Every one of us in the human form have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to some extent.  It really doesn’t take much for us to bust out and run circles around God.

Now, here’s the incredible point.  He doesn’t leave us to our own way.  His love is so great we really can’t fathom it.  Jesus said he was the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.  In those days the corrals did not have gates.  The shepherd would lay down and sleep in the entrance way.  The sheep couldn’t get out, and the wild beasts and thieves could not get them.  What a love!  If one happens to slip away, he will go and get the wandering lamb.  It’s His nature.  

Let’s take things a step further.  The love of Jesus is all he needs.  Jesus doesn’t run out and get a better harness.  He doesn’t double down on the leash.  He doesn’t get so mad he is ready to give us away.  Not at all.  His love is what brings the wayward sheep home.  It’s his love that draws us to his caressing hands.  And those hands have the nail marks in them.  

As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the resurrection, consider his love.  After we have run circles around the idols of our hearts, he simply says, “Come unto me you who are tired, and I will give you rest.”  No beatings.  No displays of dismay.  Nothing but the caress of his great love.  Let’s walk again.  And again.  And again.  The soothing message of the cross.  

Got to go…it’s time for Vader’s evening walk.  It should be interesting.  I wonder what God has in store tonight.  

A member of our church recently asked me to get rid of the squirrels that roam around on Sunday morning.  The look on my face must have given away my confusion, as he began to get a big grin on his face.  He told me they come out every Sunday when the preacher begins his sermon, and all he can do is follow the critters up and down the tree.  

It’s been that kind of week. Maybe it’s been that kind of month.   The squirrels are winning.  Often when there is a lot of confusion, it leaves us exhausted.  There is another effect as well that few of us acknowledge.  Confusion paralyzes.  It not only takes our attention away from important people and issues, it leaves us dead in our tracks.  We don’t live in a vacuum.  When two forces are working against each other, it’s like a tug-of-war; it doesn’t move anyone very far in either direction.  

It’s been that kind of season.  Recently I told a friend it will be the first year in over 25 years that I will not be playing fantasy baseball.  He was surprised.  I love baseball.  I love competition.  However, I have become disconnected from the game and don’t really know the teams or the players anymore.  Not only are there squirrels in my life, I feel I am slowly getting disconnected from the world around me.  Tug-of-wars and squirrels are paralyzing.  

It’s hard to tell what’s important in all the mess.  That is another one of those other issues of a world gone nuts.  I personally love our modern technology.  However, one thing it has done is put more squirrels in my life.  Most of those long tailed creatures do not improve my life at all.  They take a valuable commodity with them.  They take time.

Recently, I went to a seminar on stress.  I learned a lot from it.  The teacher talked about his stress issues.  He realized he needed to purposely take some things out of his life to lower his stress levels.  So, he has divorced himself from the news media.  He removed all news apps from his phone and does not watch the news at night.  He talked about how it allowed him time to get his priorities in better order.  He talked about being calmer.  His PTSD condition has improved greatly.  He eliminated the ever intake of information that is totally out of his control.  He not only lowered his stress levels.  He gained time back.  

You know what happens when we purposely eliminate useless elements of our lives that have sucked us dry?  We gain time.  That time allows us to get perspective back.  It allows us to see the squirrels that are running around gaining our attention and pulling us away from the important things like God, spouse, family, and our neighbors.  

I saw a report that volunteerism is decreasing across America.  Some of it could be the aging church population.  However, much has to do with the ever-increasing squeeze in our lives.  I don’t think I have met one couple under 50 lately that feels they have things under control.  Most are trying to survive the work climate that changed in the early 2000’s where, due to technology less people are expected to do more work.

I ran into a truck mechanic the other day whose boss has instituted a time management system that makes him accountable for every minute of his work day.  There is no time to take a bathroom break or simply pause to have a conversation with his fellow mechanics.  Got to make that buck!  If he misses his times too often he has to write a report explaining his failure to meet time demands and/or run the risk of losing his job.  He has become so task conscience he told me he feels he is on the verge of anxiety attacks.  He also talked about losing touch with his fellow employees in the shop.  The squeeze is on.  Did I mention they used to have 4 mechanics in their shop?  Now they are down to 2.  More work.  Less people.  Make the bucks for someone else.  Have no personal life.

The big squeeze is on.  I am concerned.  Eventually it all has to implode.  There are only so many hours in a day.  An individual can only pay attention to so much, and the much is increasing daily.  And we as church leaders wonder why younger generations come into the building (if you are lucky) and hope they can get out without feeling guilty about not volunteering.  

Keep everybody doing something.  Throw more squirrels out there.  Confuse the masses.  Get them either disconnected from the important things or so grossly over stimulated they have no idea what is important.  Paul, the apostle, talked about this when he warned us of the philosophies of the world.  One of the biggest false philosophies is that our worth and greatness are wrapped up in our business.  

It is that kind of season.  We as believers in Christ may have to be very conscious of this cultural phenomenon.  We may have to purpose to take a few steps backwards.  Jesus often said, “Peace, be still.”  Purposing to bring stillness and peace to our lives limits the squirrels, and it gives us a chance to wade through the confusion. 

Ask a really good mechanic what he values most in life and he should reply, “My toolbox.”  There is something about a mechanic and his toolbox.  Yes, the tools are important, but what we kept them in was more important.  Don’t mess with a mechanics toolbox.  Your life might be in danger if you do.

When I started out working in the family business (automotive repair), I purchased a red Snap-On box.  I could go home looking like I got run over by a car with leaks from every system, but my box, she was clean and polished.  Eventually, I traded my big red for a smaller black Snap-On toolbox with a wood top.  What does a mechanic do with his toolbox when he decides to hang it up?  He takes it home.  The two are inseparable.

We would leave our toolboxes unlocked at night.  Why?  If a thief broke in, they could have the tools.  Don’t pry open the box! That would be a disaster from which no one recovers.      

It made its way to South Carolina with me.  Eventually, it was time to let her go.  Since we don’t have basements on the coast and our garages are small, there was no room for Black Beauty.  Not only that, but I had no real use for the tools that graced her shelves.  

One by one, I sold the tools.  Now, if you own a Snap-On box you must have Snap-On tools.  There is a little room for some “other” ones, but not much.  It’s a man thing.  I loved Snap-On tools.  They fit my hands well.  Not only that but they carried a lifetime guarantee.  I have to admit, I do miss some of the tools at times.  Not that I would use them much.   I think it’s an ego thing.  

Eventually I auctioned Black Beauty.  I admit, it was hard.  If she could talk she could tell you all sorts of stories.  Maybe it’s best she couldn’t speak.  

Honestly, while a mechanic will judge his place in the shop by his toolbox, the value of a mechanic is in the tools.  Tools make the mechanic.  If you don’t have the right tools, nothing is going to get fixed.  There are some tools that only go with certain vehicles and certain models.  Crazy, isn’t it?  That’s why I decided to auction my beloved box.  It wasn’t worth having if it was empty.  

The center focal point of being a believer in Jesus Christ is grace.  Without God’s grace as expressed through Jesus Christ, it would be like having the toolbox with no tools.  As Jesus pours his grace out to us, we are called to pour grace out to others, especially the weak and underprivileged.  

As I, from time to time, think about Black Beauty and the wonderful tools she held, I have come to understand grace a lot more.  It came through my relationship with my dad.

Dad and I were in business together.  Personally, I don’t think that’s a good idea.  We didn’t have a bad relationship, but we didn’t have a good one either.  Being in business together brought out both of our weak points.  Dad and I struggled to be on the same page.

When father and son aren’t on the same page, the relationship gets strained.  Again, it wasn’t like we didn’t like each other.  We just kept our distance and worked more to avoid conflict than actually enjoy one another.  Dad wasn’t a big talker.  I was.  Over the years, I would hold on to some things I should have let go along time ago.

Eventually, as I was packing up my office getting ready to move to South Carolina, Dad, suddenly, without warning, appeared.  He asked if I had a few minutes.  “Sure,” I replied.  Our interaction didn’t take long.  Dad sat down in the lone chair, and with head slightly lowered and almost in a whisper, said, “John, I’ve come to say I’m sorry.”  He caught me off guard.  I was a bit of a jerk (and still am at times), so I asked, “Dad, what are you sorry for/”  wishing I could get details.  He looked up and honestly answered, “I’m not sure; all I know is I didn’t do things right with you.”  “Dad, you are forgiven.”  At that moment in time, I saw my dad in a different light.  Grace came alive.

Dad had a toolbox.  His tools were not my tools.  Too late in my life I realized Dad did the best job he could with the tools in his toolbox.  He was raised by a sheepish mother and one of the worst alcoholic fathers I have ever met.  He wasn’t raised in a Christian environment.  He didn’t have the tools for this model of son.  And for the first time, it was o.k.  

We all have a toolbox.  Sometimes, we, like the longtime mechanic, wrap our ego up in our toolbox.  We think we can fix anything.  Only, we don’t have the tools.  On top of that, some of those tools are broken.  Grace means realizing life isn’t about the size and make of our toolbox.  It isn’t about the tools in the toolbox.  It isn’t even about our ability to use the tools we have.  Grace is about realizing its o.k. even if we don’t have a toolbox and about not expecting someone to have the right tools.  Only Jesus had ‘em all.  

He was on his knee declaring his love for her.  “I would do anything for you,” he declared.  Of course his plea was followed up with “I love you.  You know I do.”  He knew the words.  He knew her weak point.  She was caving and he knew it.

Of course his words were all lies.  He would not do anything.  He didn’t love her.  He loved himself.  He was lying to her.  Not only was he lying with his spoken words, he was lying by omission as well.  Only later when more information sneaked out behind the curtain of manipulation and deception would she realize its often not the words one says that are important.  It’s the words they don’t say.  

Our world is full of lies.  We often wonder what has happened to the younger generations.  What happened?  Just about every aspect of life lied to them.  Moms and Dads said their family was built on love, only to have it all crumble when one of them declares they want a divorce.  The politicians lie constantly, and we reelect the liars over and over again.  They declare what they are going to do and stand for, only to compromise when money, ego, and reputation stand in the way.  Education not only has failed; it has lied as well.  “Get a college degree,” they claim, only to find out four years later their major was obsolete.  

Recently, I have run into 3 college graduates, all whom I encouraged to get a college degree.  They were working low paying jobs, hating life, and wondering where they went wrong.  A college degree did nothing for them. The market was saturated within their field.  All they are told is “Good luck.”  

Parents have lied.  The government lied.  The schools lied.  The only thing left is the church.  With sadness in my heart, I must admit, “We lied too.”  

Right now I’m reading a book titled, Ten Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe by Larry Osborne.  He did an excellent job explaining the 10 points.  He was right.  We believe things we were taught to be true.  Open the Bible.  Study it (just don’t read it). It won’t take extremely long to find the 10 points.  Basically, we lied to sell a happy Jesus to a culture that doesn’t want a Jesus who says things that are tough to swallow at times.  We also put man in the center of our circle instead of Jesus.  When we do that, it is easy to manipulate the meaning of certain Scripture to be what we want it to be instead of becoming the people God wants us to be.  It doesn’t take much.  

On a missions trip, we became engaged with some Muslims.  Nobody pulled out a gun.  We had very meaningful interactions.  I was actually asked to convert to Islam.  The reasoning; “We believe in the same God,” the learned man declared.  “Instead of us becoming a Christian, you become a Muslim,” made sense to him.  As we debated his statement, one thing became clear.  He knew the Bible better than 95% of Christians I know.  Of course, if basically all we do is have a 5 minute devotional and attend on Sunday mornings for the preachers sermon, we are not going to “know” the Bible.  Truthfully, I’m not sure many can catch when a preacher drifts off of Biblical truth at any given time.  It’s easy to sway the unlearned.  Just ask the politicians; they are experts.  

A friend once said in a group meeting he feared that he has been lied to as a believer.  I didn’t have the heart to declare he probably has been.  The lie I bought hook, line and sinker was the idea that if I believe in Jesus, everything comes out o.k.  I’ve heard it preached.  I’ve been taught it.  Just obey and watch your life get better.  Tow the line, and, how does that one song go, …”everything will be o.k.”  Not true at all.  

Some days I wonder what has made me stay in the faith.  Why don’t I get out of church work and go back in the business world?  For some reason I can’t.  

Belief in Jesus is not about what I get.  It’s not about having hell insurance.  It’s not about quoting misapplied and out of context Bible verses to give me or anyone else hope.  Belief in Jesus as the Son of God is based on it being true.  That is the bottom line.  

It is the issue that was common through out the gospels.  Everyone loved the good and cool things Jesus did and said.  Till he declared, “I and the Father are one.”  They ran for the hills and crucified him.  Little did they know he would rise again.  Is this true?  If it isn’t ,anyone declaring Christ has been lied to once again.

Is it true?  Only you can answer that one.  If it is true, it’s a life changer.  Literally.  A friend of mine who never read the Bible was given one in college.  He was encouraged to read the book of John.  He did.  His roommate asked him what he thought.  He replied, “If this is true, I’m screwed.”  Well, he wasn’t, as he determined under careful analysis that indeed the declarations and work of Jesus were true.  Hold on to that one.  It’s all we need.  Don’t worry about changing your life; it will.  Jesus declared it, and it is true.  Now read the Bible with Jesus as your lens, not man.  It makes a lot of sense that way.

Every Christmas of late there seems to be the group that insists on emphasizing “keeping Christ in Christmas.”   Bumper stickers appear.  Buttons are worn.  Sometimes, at church, if one happens to mention “Happy Holidays,” he may be treated  as if he violated the 11th commandment.  It can get intense. 

We should not be surprised; the non-believing world has no intention of keeping Christ in anything.  If we are surprised we have bad theology.  We also should not be surprised since reliable faith-based pollsters have been telling us for years the percentage of Christians in our society is decreasing at an alarming rate, especially among the younger generations.  We recently learned the older generations (baby boomers and the silent generation) are now outnumbered by the younger generations (millennials), who are no longer defined as “Christian” influenced.  All the numbers point to a secular society.  

I decided to check it out in my own neighborhood.  I take the dog for a walk every morning and night.  So, I wanted to see what voice the meaning of Christmas has in a neighborhood that has many church-going Christians as residents.

As of December 10th the following numbers have been verified: 

32 Santa Clauses

54 Reindeer

51 Snowmen

39 Trees

8 Mickey or Minnie Mouses

12 Soldiers

3 Wolves

7 Penguins

4 Yeti

3 Trains

2 Unicorns

2 Grinch

2 Bear

1 Snoopy

2 Ocean Creatures (Whale, dolphin)

14 Other (I have no idea)

and 4 manger scenes

That is 223 other representations of Christmas to 4 manger scenes.  Jesus doesn’t stand a chance.   Now, I will admit, it’s early.  We are 2 weeks away from Christmas.  The Christians can make a come back.  We need to put on the Christmas rally caps for a big inning.  Maybe a Hail Mary is the call of the day sort of like the one the Dolphins pulled off against the Patriots last Sunday.  Sounds a bit crazy doesn’t it?  

The only person that has to worry about Christ being taken out of Christmas is the Christian.  We get all upset that the government bans manger scenes from public property; however, traveling to Asheville last weekend and looking around town the last few days I don’t see too many churches putting out symbols of the Christ in Christmas either.  How we get so harsh with the secular world and don’t hold ourselves to the same standard is one of the very reasons the world looks at us and laughs.

Hold on for a minute!  The very message of Christmas is the grace of our Lord Jesus who leaves the kingdom of heaven to rescue us from ourselves.  Instead of being critical of the Christmas expressions, we should be engaging our neighbors with the love of Christ more than anything else.  Manger scenes say I honor the day.  The love of Christ brings Christ to life the other 364 days of the year.  

It is so easy to get critical.  After John 3:16 comes John 3:17.  Jesus said, “I came into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through me will be saved.”  The lights are beautiful in honor of the one who is the Light of Light.  The decorations all display the joy we can have when we sing “Joy to the World.”  

Christian, be concerned more with the lack of love and grace than the lack of manger scenes.  If one wants Christ in Christmas…put him there.  Do so with great grace and love.

Now, after all that I have one question, “When and how did unicorns become associated with Christmas?” I googled it, and Mr. Google says it is a millennial expression against tradition.  On one hand, I can’t say I blame them.  A manger scene without the expression of Christ’s love is a tradition that needs to end.  But unicorns?  Somethings I don’t quite get.  Oh well, Merry Christmas anyway. 

Once again I scan the various stores on line and can’t seem to find the right gift for my wife.  She is not easy to buy for this time of year.  She doesn’t wear makeup (she’s naturally beautiful).  She is not a big jewelry person.  I used to buy almost all her clothes, but since styles changed I have no idea. 

Black Friday came and went with no ideas hitting home.  Cyber Monday was full of gifts that hold zero interest.  It’s going to be a very hard Christmas gift-wise.  I could take some guesses.  I’d buy her one of those light up Cowboys sweaters I see on T.V., howeve,r I enjoy being married.  I’m about ready to give up!

I did get an idea last night. We were at our community group meeting.  We are reading and discussing a book titled Caring for One Another.  Chapter 6 talks about building personal and prayerful relationships.  It is almost a lost art these days.  It was a great discussion.

We were talking about the obstacles to a personal relationship.  One of our members boldly proclaimed, “Nobody knows each other anymore.”  He was right!  

It was right at that moment I got my idea for Christmas.  I know it sounds strange, but, as I Iistened to the conversation, it became clear.  Instead of gifts, my wife and my family need time with each other.  With our fast-paced society and many working long hard jobs, the amount of quality time we spend with each other is getting less and less, and we don’t need research to prove the point. 

When husbands and wives come to the office for some work on their marriage, I guarantee every time there is a deficit in quality time together.  There is a little exercise that has the couple actually say how many hours a week they spend doing various activities during the week.  Let’s consider sleep.  Eight hours a night times seven days a week has an individual sleeping 56 hours a week.  With 168 hours in a week after sleep, it leaves 112 hours.  Add 8 hours a day for work and we are down to 72 hours.  We work this exercise.  Without fail families end up in the deficit, and we don’t even get to time spent dedicated to one another.  The worst one I saw recently was a negative 22 hours.  Something had to change and change quickly.

My family is no different.  Ministry is not a 40-hour a week job.  Both my wife and I are in ministerial positions.  We have double trouble.  Some weeks I spend more time with my dog than with my wife.  That is not good.  

In our world there is another element stealing our time together.  Other people no longer have to knock on the door to interrupt the family.  All they have to do is text.  Ministry might be the worst of all occupations.  Church members will text any time of the day or night about non-essential topics.  We talk a lot about grace.  If only it could be applied to a non-answered text at 10:30 p.m. about the topic being covered in the morning Bible study.  

Even if we choose to not answer, we then disrupt our lives with thoughts and feelings about not answering.  Sometimes it’s just easier to answer the text.  Meanwhile, our family time has just been lost, and those moments lost will not be recoverable.  

The more I talk with my friends I find this is the norm.

This Christmas, instead of giving a nice gift that, over time loses its value, consider giving your loved ones what I believe is the most important commodity…time.  We can make more money, but we can’t make more time.  Only so much time is allowed to all of us.  There is no such thing as a “time” bank.  

So, this year there will be one present to open.  The other ones are dedicated commitments to spend quality time together.  That means saying “no” to others.  It involves making decisions with the other person in mind.  I won’t remember the many Christmas presents I have received over the years.  I will remember the walks on the beach, the laughter as we talk about our crazy family, and the times we turn our phones off and enjoy each other’s company no matter where we are and no matter what we are doing. 

Two weeks ago the Bluffton Book Festival held its annual fair.  Does anybody remember what a book is anymore?  Just kidding.  E-books are a great way to build a library without the cost and cramped conditions.  Being a bit old-school, I admit I love to have the book in my hands and turn the pages one-by-one.  

This year I had the opportunity to attend the V.I.P. book signing event the night before the Festival.  A very good friend provided the tickets.  We got to hear from a few of the authors.  While the festival focuses on local authors, we had the opportunity to meet a few of the invited premier guest authors.  They also signed books for the attendees.  While a lot of attention was on Misty Copeland, the first African-American woman to be promoted to principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, I was interested in Kenny Leon, a Tony award winning director.  He wrote the book, Take You Wherever You Go.  It is his memoirs, focusing on the main influences in his life.  He is quite intriguing and winsome.

I just finished the book.  It got me thinking.  Who were the main influences in my life?  What stories would I tell about them?  What wisdom have they imparted in my life, even though I have not achieved the recognition and prestige of a Misty Copeland or Kenny Leon?  Who are the people who have made me who I am today?  

Sometimes we think about the negative influences in our lives.  The unique feature of Leon’s book is the lack of negative influences.  We all have them.   I’m sure he did as well.  However, Leon made the point that all the influences and experiences in his life molded him to be the person he is.  

In the Christian faith we would take such a thought and relate it to the will of God bringing people in and out of our lives.  Therefore, who we are has been shaped by God.  His son, Jesus, has God accepting who we are, as we are, by his grace.  Too bad people can’t get that one.

Leon’s grandmother was the influence for the book and its title.  She loved her grandson enough to inspire him to be who he was instead of trying so hard to be someone he was not.  Often, when we try to be someone else we fall flat on our face.

As I read his book, I again was brought back to the nature of God’s grace and how much we need to grow in that grace.  The influence of Western Culture has our mindset directed to being the best at whatever we do.  There lives a “got to be first” mentality that often fails to celebrate those who don’t fail but rather finish just a few steps behind.  The difference in a race is fractions of seconds.  The difference in a baseball game is often found in the numbers “1” and “2.”  Move into other life situations and the difference is one choice or one chance meeting.  Yet, all we tend to do is honor 1st place and forget all the others.  

The gospel of Jesus Christ does quite the opposite.  It welcomes in those who would never win a race, hit a homerun, score a touchdown, write a book, or even be in position to take a leading role.  That’s what really attracts me to Jesus.

All other religions I have studied say man has to ante up.  Our only chance of redemption is to do better, be better, and so on.  Some institute strict guidelines and rituals.  Deviate one hair from them and you will not be in God’s favor.

Jesus welcomes all the other’s in.  Why?  Man is and always will be incapable of reaching the standard of “holy.”  We will always fall a little short.  In fact, if we were honest, man will always fall way short.  

If Jesus accepts me as I am and fills in the gaps, why can’t we accept those around us?  I loved Leon’s book.  I’m not Billy Graham and never will be.  I’m not anybody in the Bible.  I’m John Ring and you are who you are, formed by the many influences in your life.  My hope is not in being anybody different.  My hope is in Jesus.  

How do we then live?  With grace.  Always with grace.  I am and always will be the prodigal son.  I will always fall short of the glory of God.  My only hope is in the One who gave His life so that I may live.  So, you might not like what you see.  If you ever hang with me, you will discover my shortcomings, and they will add up.  All I ask is that you see me through the eyes of Jesus because, no matter what, as Leon’s grandmother said, “Take You Wherever You Go.”  

By the way, that person that’s getting under your skin,  he is taking himself wherever he goes as well.  Go in grace. 

Here we go!  Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on our way to Christmas.  Not counting Christmas Day we are 29 days away.  That’s right…29 days.  I don’t know what is or is not a shopping day anymore.  I think they all are. 

I wish Thanksgiving could be more than one day.  It is our family’s favorite day of the year.  There is no pressure of gift giving or expected custom other than to be at the table when mom told us to be there.  No schedule other than the Dallas Cowboys game.  I’m not sure anyone was awake at 4:00 p.m.  That’s the joy of Thanksgiving.

We are going away for a few days.  With the grandkids we have tickets to go on the Polar Express Train.  It is inspired from the popular book by Chris Van Allsburg about a magical train ride on Christmas Eve.  I think it’s quite funny we are going on a train ride when Christmas is like a locomotive going full blast through our lives.  All Aboard! 

As the train called “Life” gets going we can get caught in the rush and miss so many and much around us.  Yes, it is a time for family and friends.  Yes, we buy a present to show our love or admiration.  We might do some special things for special people.  However, in the process we can get caught in the rat race of the holidays.  Sometimes it feels like the rats are winning.

Our lives are crazy enough without 3 back-to-back holidays.  I meet so many people who are working hard just to keep their nose above the water line.  I meet many fellow weary travelers on the exhausting road of life.  Now, with the season it gets ramped up.  I’m concerned we are over stimulated and some will break under the pressure.

As a chaplain for the Bluffton Police Department we are very much aware the holiday season can be rough.  Some have experienced loss and grieve their loved ones.  Others have serious  struggles and cannot relate to the “joy” of the season.  It leaves them feeling isolated and alone.  For a few the season propels them deeper into their depression and hopelessness as thoughts of suicide deceive them into grievous actions.

As we hustle and bustle though the season slow down a bit and look around.   There are plenty that not only need to hear of Jesus, they need to see him.

Consider:

  allowing someone to go ahead of you in the long lines

  asking a waitress how you can pray for her as you say grace

  saying “thank you” to everyone who fills our many needs

  actively forgive someone this season you hold blame against

  inviting someone to a meal or a cup of coffee

  being a bearer of peace in times of chaos

  do something out of the ordinary for someone in need

  baking an extra pie and give it away

  buying a few Walmart gift cards, stand out front and give them away to someone who 

looks like they are in need

  doing the outrageous

  making it a point to talk to people instead of walking by them every day

  giving double tips (I’m sure they could use it)

  being gracious, extending mercy and loving others including your enemy (Jesus   

didn’t give us an out)

The greatest gift you can give those around you is to slow down and enjoy them.  Even our kids have enough stimulation from outside sources.  They don’t need more.  They need us.  

There was a young man who I knew many years ago who at the ripe age of 15 was already wound around the axle.  We were walking in King’s Dominion and he was so bent on not being able to ride certain rides for the 3rd or 4th time.  I looked at him and with his parents around bellowed, “Dude, you need to slow down and smell the roses.”  I didn’t realize we were actually in an area with beautiful red roses everywhere.  

This holiday season, slow it down instead of speeding it up.  Say “No” to some parties.  How many do you need to go to anyway?  How many useless gifts litter our shelves?  Instead, make time to look someone in the eye and talk with them.  

Impart good tidings on them.   Let the hustle and bustle of consumerism be drowned out by the love, grace and mercy we can bestow on others as it has been given to us by the one we celebrate on December 25th.  

We sat across from each other discussing various facts and philosophies of life.  We meet weekly, sharing ideas and thoughts with great freedom.  As we sat there I asked what I thought was a simple question.  “What is your dream?”  He surprised me with his answer, and then he knocked me out with his question.  He asked me, “Are you living your dream?”

I wanted to lie.  But I resisted.  “Honestly,” I began, “No I am not living my dream and my dream is closely connected to my calling.”  I began to tell him my story that I would like to share with you.

I didn’t go into ministry till I was close to 40 years old.  I do not consider what I do a job.  In fact, I have had a lot of heated discussions with fellow ministers over the topic.  We are called.  Money should be the last question not the first one.  Once a minister looks at his position as a job, he loses the calling.  I believe the calling to be serious and important.  

I spent my first few years in youth ministry.  For some reason, I was either attracted to the “least of these” (Matthew 25) or they were attracted to me.  Since I spent my first career in education and business, I think I do not approach ministry like the professional pastor.  Anyway, the attraction to the troubled, non-church kids created problems.

The church I was at actually started an alternative Sunday school class and youth group for the church kids.  They didn’t like their kids hanging out with gang members, those with bad reputations, drop-outs, and others that tend not to be welcome in the local church.  It’s kind of funny if you think about it.  If we understand the Christian faith, it is the Christian who should be impacting the world instead of the world impacting the church.  Amazingly, we believe that, but practicing it is a different story.

Let’s just say the conflict caused constant friction.  One elder told me he liked me but not the kids I attracted.  I asked him if he knew any of the kids he was talking about.  He replied, “No, I don’t.”  With my blood boiling, I probably said some things I should not have.  I regret that.  Grace for the wayward is grace for the Pharisee.  I learned that over the years.  I think.

Anyway, it reached a point I decided I wanted to reach people the church tends to miss.  We tend to miss modern day lepers.  It isn’t necessarily the fault of the Christian.  Lepers struggle to find comfort in the church as well.  It’s not about blaming anyone.  It’s about taking steps to touch the lives of those who seldom get touched by the redeemed.

In this short version, let’s just say it is with this desire I ended up in South Carolina instead of sitting comfortably in Maryland.  God provided a way and eventually a church that wanted to reach the unreachable as well.  The stories are incredible.  I wish I had the room to tell a few.  They include federal inmates, adulterers, single parents, the homeless, addicts, the mentally ill and more.  Their stories are not mine.  I have no right to tell them.  All I can say is I’m the lucky one, if there is such a thing in the Christian faith.  I get to see God at work in places most people don’t even get to see.  I get to see love, grace, and mercy win the day.  

Now, this is where the dream can disappear.  Let’s be honest.  The situation in Maryland is the battle all churches face along the line.  Instead of givers we become takers.  The needs, often assumed instead of real, move outreach into in-reach.  Often it’s hard to see.  We wake up one day and realize we spend most of our ministry time inside the church walls and very little outside.

Lives cease to change and we somehow role into making the parishioners happy instead of challenging them to forfeit themselves for the sake of others.  When we focus inwardly, our contact with those whom we tend to miss diminishes greatly.  And we wonder why church growth ceases and we lose our voice in the community.  

I’m there right now.  So my answer about living my dream is honest.  I spend most of my time with fellow Christians who struggle to admit their sin, brokenness and pain and have less and less contact with the truly broken and hurting.  Church people hide their issues. The only difference I can see between a Christian and a non-believer is God’s grace of which I am the most unworthy but the most fortunate.

  It is nobody’s fault but my own.  The prophet Jeremiah never got off point as he ministered to a people that wanted compromise and feel good ministry.  He held the line.  He rested in the promises of God instead of the desires of the people.  I have to make some changes.  Not because I have to.  It’s my calling.  Anybody want to join me?