Tag Archive: Christianity

Americans like to fix things.  We struggle with the idea that something can’t be fixed.  When something reaches that state, if not before, we throw it away and go looking for a replacement.   

If we deem an item unfixable or, better yet, too expensive to fix, we throw it away.  I was told by a car sales manager that they design most sales campaigns for the desire to own the next model, not obsoleteness.  Few wait till their car is on it’s last legs to purchase their next car.  Not only are we bent on fixing things we can be quick to throw them away as well.

We like to think we don’t don’t function that way with people. When it’s people, there are issues that cannot be fixed. There is this group of men I meet with on Tuesday nights.  It’s called Pirate Monks.  Pirate Monks is for men who are struggling in life with anything at all to come and participate with our #1 goal in mind.  That goal is to speak honestly from the 1st person perspective.   

Every meeting we remind the participants to allow someone to get their words out, and we are not there to fix them.  We remind each other to only ask questions after someone speaks.  It doesn’t take long for the men to go down a rabbit hole.  The questions turn into statements.  The statements are directed to the “honest” participant in order to fix them.  We will deny it, but we really do value our own opinion.  

This past week I had to turn to one of the guys and state, “Ask a question!”  Eventually it all kicked in, and we began to ask good questions.  A good question is not for the speaker to gain information.  A really good question makes the responder think.  A great question will stick with someone a long time.  

Jesus asked great questions.     From time to time, those he asked questions to could not respond.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t.  The answer penetrated the heart.  In the old days we used to call it “meddlin.”  However, a good question from someone that loves us isn’t meddling but rather great love.  

Some of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked stick out.  He didn’t need the answer.  He needed others to see the answer.  Some that stand out to me include:

“Why do you doubt?”

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

“Where is your faith?”

“What are you looking for?”

“If I am telling  the truth, why do you not believe me?”

These are just a sampling of what I call “questions of the heart.”  My favorite is, “Who are you looking for?”  While this piercing question was directed at the soldiers who came to arrest him, it is a question we can ask every day.  We all seem to be looking for someone, not so much something.  We are looking for someone to love us, care for us, encourage us, validate us, and stay with us no matter what.  Oh, there are plenty of people that speak enticing words to us.  We get so easily seduced with words. When we get tired of empty words, we tend to resort to things to fill our yearnings.  The sense of peace doesn’t last long.   

I was reading a book the other day that revealed the first recorded words between God and man.  It was something I didn’t think about.  The question can be found in Genesis 3.  God asked, “Where are you?”  I have not been able to get that one out of my brain since.

God knew the answer.  Man was hiding from him.  God wasn’t waiting to hear the answer.  His question was for Adam and Eve to hear their own words.  From the beginning we see the amazing art of a good question.

As Christians we live in a world that is sick and tired of us telling them what they have to believe and what they have to do.  I can’t say I blame them at all.  We often expect others to live like Jesus, and, when they don’t, we act surprised.  Once, someone else reveals his or her issues, we think have to fix em.  Do this.  Do that.  All you need is my formula.  The list of fix-its go on forever, and we become god.

God didn’t show up in the garden and say, “I know where you are Adam.  Come on out and get what’s coming to you.”  Not at all.  He needed Adam to grasp the situation.  He wanted Adam to hear his own words.  It was Adam who needed to figure out where he was.  It was Adam in his relationship with God that had to say, “I’m afraid.  I’m naked.  I’m hiding.”  Ahh, the right question reveals the heart.  It’s the heart that needs change, not the behavior.

Next time your spouse is in a bad place, try a good question and don’t expect an answer.  Next time your kids got your blood boiling, ask a really good question and look out for the answer.  Next time a friend is running crazy, ask a great question and be prepared to walk that extra mile.  Till we learn to ask a good question, let’s try shutting up so we can hear their heart.  A little prayer seeking the right question goes a long way as well.

So, where are you?  What are you looking for?  Who are you looking for? 


This past week I traveled to Wake Forest, NC for training.  Honestly, I hate driving long distances.  It bores me to tears.  I used to like it.  Things change.  Anyway, as I drove up and down the road my mind began to race.  When it races anything is possible.  

I became transfixed on the idea that my trip resembles society.  Here I was driving past towns, through cities with all sorts of people around me.  I had a general idea where I was at all times.  There were places that stood out.  How can anyone miss South of The Border?  The billboards are so silly yet so funny.  I wonder how many of us have stopped just to check it out.  I bet it’s more than most want to admit.  

Driving up and down the road is no different than living in my neighborhood and even going to church.  We all whiz through our daily lives passing people on the left and on the right.  When we slow down a little bit, people pass us without looking back.  We know where we are.  We stop and look at things, especially those that get our attention ,just like South of the Border.  However, we seldom have the time to talk with anybody.  If we can’t talk with anyone, we don’t have the chance to know them.  They don’t get to know me either.

Just about every person I have counseled, including many teenagers, somewhere along the line talks about being lonely.  Some have more friends than anyone can count.  Some are involved in everything under the sun.  They run from one event to the other with little chance to catch their breath.  Surrounded by a great crowd, they declare loneliness.  How is this possible?  It’s very possible.  Being known and knowing someone is not a priority to anyone.  Yet it’s something that is a necessity for a healthy and intuitive life.  Left on our own is not a good place to be.  We grow when we engage others.  The biggest thing we grow in is grace and love.  They are attributes that need personal engagement.  

I can understand why hurt and discouraged people leave the church scene.  I don’t believe it is good, but I get it.  What good is time spent attending if the people are no different than those driving to the next event up I-95?  We see them.  We might even follow them for a while like I followed a driver for about 75 miles.  We were driving in tandem, following the same tract and going the same speed.  We acknowledged each other with a nod of the head and a slight wave at times.  But he got off an exit where I was not headed, and our relationship ended.  All we had was a nod and a wave.  

At church we are often in a hurry to get somewhere and only get a nod and a handshake.  I heard of a gentleman who was trying out a church his friend attended.  He liked the church and reported that it really was a nice place.  However, for 6 weeks he stood in the narthex or vestibule (hallway for non-church goers) and shook all sorts of hands.  In those 6 weeks nobody invited him to their house, out to lunch, or even to invite him to grab a donut and cup of coffee in the fellowship hall.  Like he said, “the church was friendly but not too warm.”  They were in a hurry to get to the next thing on the schedule.  Off the exit they went.

Jesus was constantly on the road.  He walked roads and crossed seas in boats.  As I look into the gospels, I see Jesus stopping to engage people.  Many were people that most avoided.  They were outcasts in their society.  Unclean and untouchable.  But Jesus stopped to engage them.  He asked them questions.  He touched their lives.  He knew their names, and he knew their story, and he still stopped.  

In today’s world I’m convinced more than ever the Children of God must purpose to stop and touch those God puts in their path.  Leave living like your home is in the fast lane of I-16 headed to Atlanta.  Those in our culture are done with the church that invites them in and leaves them to fend for themselves.  They’re also done with people who say they love, only to be abandoned.  

Too late in life I get it that the gospel is for the ones I used to avoid in life.  I get it now that the idea of Jesus to make me bigger and better is a false gospel.  John the Baptist had it right when he declared, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  It’s not our nature unless we stop and look to the one who laid his life down to engage us with his love.  

When we sinned, the first recorded words of God to man are found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.  God asked a very interesting question.  He asked, “Where are you?”  That question is very applicable today.  Where are we?  We tend to be either head down, forward ho, or we have our heads up, looking to touch those in need with the love and grace of Jesus.  The person who needs our touch is probably right in front of us. 

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?  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is an old desk sitting in my garage.  It’s old.  It’s worn.  I’m not sure of it’s purpose but it does holds all the papers that come with the lawn mowers, chain saws and more.  It also seems to be the depository for anything and everything.   Better to have it in the garage then in the house.  We tried to move the old desk in the house.  Due to it’s age and size it didn’t fit well in a small house. The roll top was not designed for modern day computers.

It was my dad’s desk.  I’m not sure why I wanted it.  There are no fond memories associated with the desk.  It’s just a desk.  For some reason I can’t seem to get rid of it.  Oh, I’ve researched it.  It might be worth a hundred bucks.  Maybe.  But, I can’t seem to let it go.  Is there a subconscious attachment?  I really don’t think so.  Mom asked me if I wanted it.  I said “sure.” That was the total extent of the conversation.

I don’t think it has anything to do with our relationship.  Dad and I didn’t have great moments to share.  I was the only one of four not to speak at his funeral.  I didn’t have anything to say and I was not going to make dad out to be bigger then he was.  We didn’t talk long walks together.  We didn’t play games either.  I never rode a bike with him.  I’m not sure he could.  Dad wasn’t a bad dad.  He wasn’t a great one either.  He didn’t have to be.  He was just dad.

Before it was dad’s desk it was my grandfather’s.  I know for sure it holds no sentimental value with him.  He was a bigoted drunk.  At his funeral the rent-a-pastor was giving the eulogy.  I turned to my dad and asked if we were at the right funeral.  Whoever the slick talking pastor was talking about, wasn’t my grandfather.  He made Pop out to be someone he was not.  Dad didn’t scold me.  He chuckled.  I wasn’t imagining things.  

So, what makes it so hard to get rid of the old family desk?  I’m sure some readers are thinking I need to go to a psychiatrist on this one.  No, not really.  The old desk reminds me it’s o.k. to be an old desk.  

In the Christian faith we get this idea that faith in Christ should make us giants for Jesus.  How many times are we politely reprimanded for failure at morning devotions, Bible reading, prayer and other church disciplines?  The expectations we have created in the Christian community are often impossible to achieve.  It doesn’t seem be acceptable to be an old desk.  

When dad died we had to go through his things. We were surprised at the tokens the old drawers held.  There were random birthday cards.  There were a few notes from the kids and mom.  There was no rhyme or reason as to the different momentos he kept.  We sat for hours trying to figure them out.  We couldn’t.  The old desk held the mystery of a life in it’s hiding places.  We don’t know the reasoning behind each one.   We never will.  We don’t have to figure it out.  It was for dad and the old desk to know.  

As I looked at the old desk this morning it holds my momentos.  To anybody else, it’s junk.  But it’s not junk to me.  It’s my life.  The desk doesn’t fit todays world.  It lost it’s varnish and luster a long time ago.  There are scars all across the top and front.  There are missing bolts as well.  It looks sturdy.  Truthfully, half the bolts are missing and it wouldn’t take much to have it crumble.  However, if anyone looked at it they would know it’s purpose.  It’s just a desk.

Maybe, I’ve passed the line where I look more towards death than life.  Maybe, I’ve finally realized all the world has to offer doesn’t satisfy beyond a few minutes.  Maybe, I’m now the old desk.  Maybe.

Or maybe I’ve spent too much time and money trying to be something I’m not.  Maybe I thought Jesus would propel me upwards and onwards.  Maybe I finally figured out it isn’t so much a leader Jesus wants me to be but a follower.  He wants me to be content to be a follower of Jesus Christ.   Jesus didn’t take the brightest, smartest and most equipped.  He wasn’t born into royalty and his death was far from royal.  He doesn’t have us climb mountains that some have told us to climb.  No, he climbed it.  It’s called Calvary.  And He takes in old desks.  And It’s o.k. 

Well, we got through one crazy week with Hurricane Florence knocking at the door.  She would not let us sleep, would she?  It seems like every time we got comfortable she came a knocking once again.  Whether one evacuated or stayed, we lost a week for sure.  The good news is that is all we lost.  

Let us remember to keep in our prayers those to our north whose lives have been turned upside down with catastrophic flooding and destruction.  Along with our prayers, some may consider going with a relief group offering a hand or maybe a shoulder for someone to cry or lean upon.  Others will purchase necessary products for the days ahead, providing supplies at local drop points.  If you think about buying one case of water…buy two.  Others will need to write a check to agencies and groups who will have feet on the ground as soon as the water recedes.  Take a few moments this week and consider how the Lord is calling on each reader to help a neighbor in need.  

As the clouds head north west and the winds diminish, we offer our thanks to the Lord for sparing us.  As I was contemplating His grace, events during the lost week have impressed upon me once again that we don’t need a literal storm to have needy neighbors.  There are storms in many lives that need a lot of attention and support especially from the Christian community. 

Maybe in all the hustle and bustle we forget to truly remember those who still suffer from the events on 9.11 seventeen years ago.  We have a generation in their 30’s that is sometimes hard to understand.  They sat in their classrooms and watched their world change right before their eyes.  Any sense of safety and security was dashed.  Their interpretation of life and life events changed dramatically that one day.  Let us all consider how the grace Jesus gives us then to be on display for them.  

Maybe we missed the recent shootings that have erupted in Bluffton and Hilton Head.  One young life was lost, and families were greatly disrupted.  Our neighbors are settling issues with guns.  How do we love them well?  How do we display the gospel to them instead of sheltering ourselves within our own walls?  Sometimes I don’t know.  I do know we, the Christian community, have an answer to these storms, and yet I hope we don’t evacuate.

This week, while most of us were worried about our roof and windows, I know of people who got really bad news from the doctor.  A young lady was still suffering the effects of a brain tumor.  Her storm clouds were building rapidly.  An elderly woman needs medication that costs $2,000.00, and that’s with insurance.  The winds were gathering velocity as she melted under the pressure.  A young man made a bad decision and lost his job.  He didn’t lose it.  He was fired.  His wife and kids were engulfed with the flood of emotions and fear.  Another needed a serious operation.  A young man whose life spiraled out of control entered detox.  A dear friend became a ward of the state and was placed in a group home living the remaining days of his life amongst strangers.  He lost his freedom.  He lost his home.  What troubled him the most is he lost his cats.  

All around us are people trying to weather the storms of life.  While they need help of a different kind they first of all need someone to care enough to engage them.  They need someone who won’t forget them.  A lot of times the storms we create will tend to ostracize us from our own family and community.  Who will help those who suffer silently while the world is transfixed on the Weather Channel?  Who will let them know it’s safe to come home?

In the past, it was the church that responded to the destruction left by hurricane divorce, or hurricane addiction and hurricane job loss and the others that begin to form.  Jesus did.  He came to redeem but he also took the time to touch lives that were spiraling in the tornados of despair.  

It’s more than a check for a few dollars.  It’s more than one week on a work crew.  Eventually the work relief crews will leave, but the destruction remains.  The next great event will take our ADD attention span away from North Carolina as well as the neighbor who might live 15 feet away.  

It’s a way of life.  All we have to do is look around.  Sometimes others are touching us as the woman suffering from bleeding touched Jesus as he walked by.  Are you aware that someone might be reaching out to you?  In a few days it will be easy to drive north on I95 and not see the towns and people affected by Florence.  Jesus walked the streets and never ignored the destroyed lives around him?  Neither should we. 

Have you ever been tired and you don’t have any idea the cause?  That defines me today.  It seems to define me more often these days.  So, I decided to go to the doctor.  Basically, he gave me a clean bill of health .  He said my blood tests looked good, and, after l lost 26 lbs., he was greatly encouraged.  

I’m not diabetic; that’s good news.  According to the good doctor, I’m not pre-diabetic either.  I’m not anemic, of course, that depends on who you ask.  My cholesterol is a little high but nothing to lose any sleep over.  If I’m such a specimen of good health, why am I so tired?  The question of the day.

I meet a lot of tired people.  Lately, when a few counselees have come into the office, my first question is, “Would you like for me to step out for 20 minutes so you can catch a quick nap?”  They laugh.  They laugh because they know it’s not all that bad an idea.  

We all know the look.  No smile.  Bags under the eyes.  No spring in the step.  No emotion in the voice.  Maybe it’s me, but I think the relativistic consumer-driven world philosophies in a post-modern and post-Christian era are possibly imploding our culture, and people simply cannot keep up.

We used to talk about trying to keep up with the “Joneses.”  It’s the mindset that whatever my neighbor has I have to have one and possibly the latest model.  Just last week I was asked if I had an iPhone X.  I said I had the eight.  Without missing a beat, the young lady, with an attitude of disgust, informed me she had the iPhone X and was going to get the next model as soon as it came out.  I have to say, I was not impressed.   

I used to think the pace of life was going berserk.   I don’t think so anymore.  It’s the cultural expectations causing each individual to think they need more.  The instant access to information on the phone feeds the idea that no one should be a step behind.  We submit to the mindset and it doesn’t take long till we are distracted consumers spending time just trying to keep up.  

A few weeks ago, I heard of a family that took all electronics away from their young son.  He was having issues using them.  Eventually, the parents realized things were not going well, including his attitude.  They have been put away with no timetable for their return.  Did I hear a collective gasp?  Yup, no cell phone, tablet, or computer use unless necessary for school.  It was time to break the addiction cycle for a very young child.  Everybody expected withdrawal and anger to dominate.  They were wrong.

The opposite happened.  The young child’s pleasant attitude returned over the next few days.  He began to return to life.  His acceptance of his siblings sweetened.  His parents reported that he said, “It’s amazing, I’m enjoying all of life once again.”  They are not sure if the electronics will ever return.  

I asked another set of parents a few hours ago why they felt it was necessary to give their 11- year-old daughter a cell phone.  No, let me change that.  I asked why they felt it was necessary to give their child a smart phone at such a young age.  They said, “So she can get a hold of us at any time.”  The young child gave the better answer.  She replied, “Well, everyone has them.”  Does anybody realize that the young child is having access to a lot more people (good, bad and evil) than her parents?  Are we blind to the fact that the good does not necessarily outweigh the bad? 

I didn’t even mention that when we put more and more people into our life, including electronically, it eliminates time for family and God.  We don’t live in a vacuum.   Time given to one person takes away from time with another.  The word that replaces God is “I.”  I need a phone.  I need to be just like so and so.  I want it.  I have to be important.   I have to be relevant. 

There is nothing necessarily wrong with any of this stuff.  It’s the user.  The problem is they are all user-friendly.  I am concerned.  Tired people do tired things.  Suicide rates are up, especially among the young.  Evil is only a few seconds away, and we might not even be looking for it at times.   It’s not just the young.  It’s everybody.

My grandkids came over the other day.  I asked them if they wanted to take a ride to the Savannah Wildlife Refuge.  They happily agreed.  We talked the whole way there and back.  We laughed looking for gators and birds.  They are probably the source of my tiredness.  It’s worth it.  No.  They are worth it. 

Last week I traveled to Hot Springs, Arkansas to officiate a wedding.  It was my first time in Arkansas.  While it was a quick trip, it allowed enough time to check out Hot Springs.  Two things were hot.  The water coming out of the ground was between 135 to 160 degrees.  No wonder they named the town “Hot Springs.”  They could have named it the same since the air temperature was hot as well.  There wasn’t a breath of wind the entire weekend.  

Hot Springs is not only known for the water temperature but also the Bathhouses.  Enterprising individuals built bathhouses mainly for the rich and famous to enjoy the renewing elements in the hot water.  They didn’t know at the time that there is very little mineral content in this particular water.  It didn’t matter. The warm baths attracted the mafia and baseball teams for spring training.  What a combination!  Bathhouses, mafia and baseball teams make quite a mix for such a small town.  The history is rich.  The water is hot.  The town is small.  There it is…Hot Springs, Arkansas.  I might have left out that it is also the hometown to President Bill Clinton.  Now you know a couple answers on Jeopardy.

While there I was reunited with an old friend from Maryland.  When we get together, we love to talk philosophy, religion, and life for hours.  He challenges me to think beyond the norm, and I challenge him.  We don’t argue.  We sharpen.  Everybody needs someone to sharpen him or her.  Without people like him in our lives we can easily become dull.  

We both agreed that a key element to a church we consider “alive” is outreach to the poor.  Jesus said to take care of “the least of these,” naming various people groups (sick, convicts, homeless, and others) in Matthew 25.  Growing churches tend to look beyond their walls and call their church family to care for the poor.  Often we think it’s the governments responsibility.  Not according to Jesus.  

As we were talking, he made a statement that has preoccupied my thoughts for days now.  He said, “The poor are those who are outside of their established community.”  He actually made me pause.  I asked him to define his statement.  He took about 10 minutes explaining that some element of depravity, especially sin, tends to separate us from family, neighbors, church and work.  Once separated, we suffer, and, since we are made by God to be in community we will seek community.  Those secondary communities are often destructive instead of supportive.  

Consider the alcoholic.  His addiction tends to destroy his community.  Looking at Matthew 25, we see that each people group Jesus mentions is out of community.  The “hungry, thirsty and naked” defines those who are homeless and without family.  The sick cannot enter community.  In Biblical days they were unclean and purposely exempt from being connected.  The alien or stranger is outside of community simply by being new in town.  When a visitor comes to our church, is he immediately welcomed into the family?  The Bible says they are to be given the best seat in the house, fed, and welcomed into a place of rest.  The imprisoned were already mentioned.  Did you know that only 10% of all federal prisoners received visitors during their internment?  And we wonder why they become repeat offenders.  

As Jesus came to welcome us into the Kingdom of God called the church, we are to welcome in those outside of the community of God.  If not, they will seek community elsewhere, and I don’t mean another church.  We were not made to be alone and isolated.  Love, grace, and forgiveness are given us by God to come back into relationship with him and with our brothers and sisters.  Reach out to the poor.  It is those who are outside.

They have their issues.  They have their sin.  So do we.  Meanwhile, Jesus still welcomes us home as the Prodigal Father welcomed the Prodigal Son back into his family without question, without payment, and without judgment.  Now that is Christianity.  Only by grace are we recognized as members of His family.  Go and do likewise.