Tag Archive: FAith


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.

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Last week I introduced the concept of being a healing Christian, ministry and church. Since my buddy Dwayne informed me he wanted to “heal” in 2019, “healing” has been coming up over and over again.

Remember, I’m not talking about physical healing.  It is more of a healing that comes from the inside out.  With that in mind, Jesus didn’t separate the body, mind and soul.  He actually kept the three together since they are so vitally linked together.  Let’s face it.  If the body hurts, our mind and soul will hurt.   If our mind is constantly depressed or preoccupied, our body and soul will suffer.  If our soul is sour what makes us think the other two won’t be?  Jesus kept the three together since we are such a delicate creation.  

We do not believe in Jesus to get an easy life.  If that were sound theology, then the poor apostles were given a bum deal.  They all died a horrible death except for John.  Even with John, it is believed he was placed in boiling water and later exiled to the island of Patmos.  At that time there were no resorts on the island.  It was a hard life.  

Paul, the apostle, in Second Corinthians says we suffer so we can minister to fellow sufferers.  Our world says we should not have to suffer.  They are wrong.  This world is suffering.  I have yet to meet anyone who has not had to suffer real pain in this life.  There is the pain of broken bones and surgery.  The pain that sears the soul is broken relationships, betrayal, abandonment and lies.  Best friends can be the worst friends.  Family pain is brutal.  Our bones will heal.  Our bodies will mend.  But our minds and souls hurt for a lifetime.

Recently, I came across a lady who though no fault of her own experienced the death of a child.  While functional, she could not get the feelings of guilt and failure out of her heart.  She will probably die a broken person.  Now here is where we have to take a hard look.  What is faith in Christ at this point?

Some will say the broken lady does not have enough faith.  Some might say she has a false impression of who Jesus really is.  Others might say she never had faith.  I talked to her.  Without question she believed and believes in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So, what is the problem?  Does she not pray enough?  No, she prays daily.  Does she not read the Bible?  Nope, she does.  Did she quit on the church?  Every Sunday she is there.  So, what’s the problem?  She is a human being, just like you and me.

Sunday is not a day to put on a front like we have it all together.  Quite the opposite.  It should be a place where broken people can come and find their hope and healing in Jesus.  It is a healing that takes a lifetime.  

This gets us down to what it means to be a soul healer.  First and foremost we must embrace the human condition.  It has been a long time since I have come across anyone that doesn’t have a sense that we are broken.  I once had an on going conversation with a psychology teacher.  In the middle, he asked if I was a Christian.  Of course I responded in the affirmative.  I asked him how he figured it out.  He replied, “You know something is broken, and we have not come up with the solution.”  I asked him if he could give an answer to the human sin issue.  He replied, “No, and all our science fails to answer it as well.”  Of course it does.  What’s broke is broke.  

I don’t have to point out brokenness when someone comes for counsel as a believer or a non-believer.  Moral goodness is relative.  When brought under the microscope of God’s holiness, we are in big trouble.  We know it.  Our own arrogance doesn’t want to acknowledge it especially in this critical culture.  

While it seems like a hopeless condition there is healing.  It isn’t healing that takes away the pain or the memory.  Not at all.  Actually pain is a great reminder of the need.  That’s the problem with great prosperity.  We can insulate ourselves from brokenness to some extent.  It causes us to avoid the truth.  Once realized, the healing is the ability to get up the next day and find a new normal.  

Jesus never promised the same old, same old.  No, the gospel says there is a new beginning.  We take with us the scars and yet-to-be-fixed brokenness and find a new normal based on the hope and the truth that God allowed us to suffer to bring healing to someone else.  In the meantime, we can get out of bed the next morning since we are in the hands of the Lord Jesus who gave us the example of suffering to bring healing.

How do we get out of bed?  Dependent upon grace that God has already granted us and the grace we turn around and give to fellow sufferers.  A healing church allows God to do what God does instead of rescuing the hurting and becoming their little “s” savior.  To do that involves truly walking in the Spirit.  Love the unlovable.  Have joy in the rain and the sun.  Be peace among the chaos.   Exercise patience. Practice meekness to conquer the self-serving pride.  Be kind.  A gentle touch heals a bitter wound.  Encourage self-control for the hurting,  as they tend to hurt others in their suffering.    

To heal we rest on God’s path and timing.  In the meantime, let’s walk together.  My name’s John.  What’s yours?  I have a story and I would love to hear yours. 

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. 

We walked though the exhibit looking to land the next deal in our quest to obtain the next piece of memorabilia linking our dreams to reality. Maybe an autograph was in store. It might have been a rookie card. We took our time looking over the vast amount of items with eager anticipation. We didn’t have unlimited resources.
I’ve had the pleasure to attend many autograph sessions and memorabilia shows over the years. Shaking the hand of Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench, Brooks Robinson was always a moment to remember. We didn’t have cell phones in those days. The autograph and the memory stand the test of time.
Over time, we either hand the items down to our children, or, when tough times hit, we sell them. A few years back, I needed to sell just about everything…even the Ted Williams autographed baseball. Off to the auction house it went, one box at a time. The last thing to go was the Mickey Mantle/Ken Griffey Jr autographed Upper Deck card. All that is left is the memory.
Before the items went to auction, they had to be certified as authentic since baseball autographs can be easily forged. I paid for each piece to be certified if I did not have a certificate of authenticity. Experts would compare the signatures to the real deal. They had to pass the test. If any item was deemed a forgery it instantly became valueless.
Last week in this column I spoke of the millennial generations who are hard to reach. All of us struggle in our world today as we search for authentic anything. Christianity is no different. I have found that we tend to build up walls to people we don’t understand. The younger generation has lived in an era of fakers. Fake news. Fake love. Fake everything. Their walls are up, and I don’t blame them.
They will listen to someone talk about Jesus. In fact many are hungry for an anchor in an anchorless world. What do you have faith in these days? Politicians? Government? Church? The last election I heard a candidate say, “Let’s make America great again.” We have a generation that does not even know what that means. Their America has lied to them. Their America has conned it’s way into every aspect of their life. You name it, it has failed them. The church is on the list as well.
But they will listen and have a relationship with a Christian who they deem authentic. I have asked a few of my friends to give me a definition of an authentic Christian. The answers have been across the board.
There are those that see authentic to be those who take their faith seriously. They go to church. They study the Word of God. They have something they struggle to define, a walk with Jesus.
Most of the responses focused on the moral behavior of a Christian. That strikes me as funny. Christian theology has this thing called total depravity. It still exists even after we “know” Jesus. Total depravity says we are all still very capable of sin, sometimes horrendous sin. Somehow authentic Christians are supposed to be in control of their sin nature. I so much wish I were writing a book right now. I would need a lot of pages to talk about that one.
I decided to ask the generation that is looking for authentic Christians for a definition. I got one totally different than the one I got from my generation. I’m 59 years old; you can figure that one out. They basically defined the real deal in two words.
The first word they used was “honest.” An authentic Christian does not paint a picture of moral and spiritual authority. Quite the opposite. The real deal is honest with their own sin and failure. They don’t act like they are on a spiritual mountain dragging the sinners along. Their only hope is clear. Their only hope is Jesus Christ. They are full of grace and understanding. They understand depravity. They understand “sola Christos.”
The second part of the definition is very telling. They say a real Christian is one who “cares.” They are going to be there on a good day, a bad day, and the horrible days. They are going to care when they are not there and when they are there. They aren’t going to “fix-em” and present Jesus as a pill that makes all things well. They understand life is a journey and that journey has different times and dates.
There it is! One is to be honest and caring. I think that is what we call “grace.”

Recently, I have been teaching a class focused on current events and the cultural changes affecting the church.  We like to think that Christianity changes the culture. Actually and Biblically that is not the case.  The biggest problem God’s people have had through the ages is the effect cultural philosophies and ethics impact our faith,

As the children of Israel entered the Promise land Moses warned them about the effects of prosperity.  As Joshua takes over from the patriarch Moses, he foretells their inability to withstand the secular effects.  They didn’t.  We are no different.  

As I have studied and studied hard for this course for the first time in my ministerial life I feel inadequate.  Woefully inadequate is a better description.  I am convinced that the issue we face today is the same issue the children of Israel faced.  We give token attention to God and have succumbed to the influences of living in one of the most prosperous times in American history.  It was not that long ago that an average family did not have “spendable income.”  Now we are defined by the “spendable income” we acquire.  

As we fight the ethical dilemmas prosperity and comfort create, technology has sped up the pace of life so fast we only can be concerned about the moment and those people directly in front of us.  Gone are the days when we knew our neighbors, and, yes, I wrote neighbor with an “s.”  Technology allows us to exist in our castles, picking and choosing for whom we will lower the gate, allowing them into our personal kingdom.  

Too many families don’t even know each other.  Each person can establish his or her own kingdom in the comfort of their own room, touching each others lives through the various social medias.  There is great value in social media,; however it has the ability to isolate us more than integrate us.  Do you know who is on each family’s social media outlets?  And we used to worry about who their friends were down the street.  

This world can be confusing and full of fear.  Many from the older generations have gone silent, only speaking to their children and grandchildren with judgement and ridicule simply because their world is not our world.  We label those outside of our world.  I recently read an article that says the Millennials are saving more money for retirement than the Baby Boomers. We thought they were lazy.  They aren’t lazy.  They function differently than we did.  We kept talking at them like they were still 10 years old instead of talking with them.  That’s what an isolated people do.  We wonder why they are critical of us.  

As I have studied the six generations and the various cultural ethics and philosophies in our world, I discovered a few things that ring true through all the ages.  The first is that, since the beginning of time and the various changes through the centuries regardless of what we think we are in this together.  Nothing replaces a personal relationship.  Nothing!  Not even the computer, internet, and social media.  What keeps us from personal relationships is our inability to sacrifice our personal kingdoms.  It’s time to lower the gate and leave it down.

Regardless of our generation, we all face failure, illness and death.  Those are the three basic areas demanding personal relationship, which have been around since Adam and Eve did their thing.  The question is will we put in the time necessary to be available and relational when these times come.  Without the personal relationship we are just sounding gongs.

Last but not least there is a characteristic of the younger generations I really like.  They will listen.  They will talk to you.  They will consider the Christian faith.  However, they will only do so if they consider our faith  be authentic.  Next week I will talk about what it takes to have the Christian faith to be authentic.  I do believe Jesus said the same thing many different ways.  Let’s talk in our various studies and groups about authenticity. What a great time to consider Christ not only as a good teacher, a good man or an option but rather as the real deal!  

It has been one week since Christians across the world celebrated the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Honestly, it didn’t take long for life to sap the energy out of the celebration.  Probably by Monday if not Sunday evening the celebration was over and it was off to the next event.  Don’t feel too bad.  The disciples upon whom Jesus would give authority to carry the message of the resurrection were in the same boat we are.  Literally.  

One would think that after being taught by Jesus himself and seeing the empty tomb and hearing the witness of the women at the tomb, the disciples, the inner core, would have been scanning every nook and cranny of Jerusalem looking for Him.  Well, not quite.  The next major event in the birthing of Christianity has the disciples returning to their former occupation…fishing.  

They weren’t all that great at fishing.  Let me rephrase that.  They were good at fishing.  They were not good at catching.  But that is not the issue.  The issue is that Christ the Lord is risen and they aren’t all that giddy about it.  They were a bit lost and confused as to what comes next.  So what did they do?  They went back to what they knew!  Fishing.  So much for the calling of “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  

What were they thinking?  The incredible boulder sealing the tomb was moved.  The soldiers were no where to be found?  Their story is quite incredible with the fact that their failure to keep Jesus in the tomb had their head on the line.  It was not uncommon to slay soldiers who failed in their duty to serve and protect. The women told them what happened.  John and Peter saw the empty tomb and the folded head cloth.  That was important in itself.  If someone was stealing the body they would not have taken the time to fold the cloth.  No way!  They had to hightail it out of there before the Roman soldiers caught them.  All the facts point to a risen Jesus.  

Maybe they thought he went off to heaven.  Maybe they had not clue.  Their mission for three years had come to an abrupt end and they were lost in the transition.  Have any of us ever been there?  You bet.  Was the last three years a waste?  I’ve felt like that in ministry.  I bet many who have attended a church and gotten involved have had the same feelings.  Let’s be honest sometimes great movements come to an abrupt end.  

I remember the years we provided low cost food through the Angel Food program to upwards of 325 families in the Bluffton area.  All was going well.  Suddenly, the Angel Food national program came to an instant and discouraging end.  “What do we do?” many asked.  “Nothing” was the unfortunate answer.  We knew how the disciples felt.  

So, they did what we all did Monday morning.  They went to work.  If they felt like Monday morning like we feel like Monday morning it was probably not a fun group to be around.  They hadn’t touched the nets for three years.  Their legs had become land bound.  Worse, they dropped their nets to follow Jesus to come back three years later facing the other fishermen who were still slaving away on the high seas.  Can you imagine the looks?  The comments?  The questions?  Unbearable.

Sometimes we get caught up and focus our attention on the Christians.  Many stopped going to church over the past ten or so years because they read the story and they see weary travelers on the road of life instead of triumphant disciples of Jesus.  The message of Christianity is not about the disciples.  It’s about the Lord Jesus.  

Look a little closer.  They are out fishing just like you and I would be doing on any given Monday morning.  Who shows up?  Jesus.  He once again tells them what they need to do to catch fish and catch fish they did.  That’s just it with our crazy faith.  It’s not all under control and everybody is marching to the same beat.  Quite the opposite.  We have periods of isolation, loneliness, lostness, and mediocrity in our Christian lives.  But, and I love that word when it shows up in the Scriptures, Jesus shows up and gets us moving in His direction once again.  Wherever and whatever you are doing today, from worship to work, keep an eye out.  Jesus might just show up.  It’s usually when you least expect it.

This week, yes the week before Easter, has been a rough one. Overall I’m fine and I don’t mean “Frustrated, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.” While some would say I’m probably one or more of these, none are over the top. It probably has something to do with the Holy Week and Easter being right around the corner.
Easter is supposed to be the celebration that brings hope to our hopelessness. It is to be the pinnacle to a season of reflection about our weaknesses and failures. Jesus conquering death, slapping the evil forces in the face with his resurrection, is to inspire and move believers to life. But for some reason I have been reminded that good news of the resurrection is not always perceived in such a way.
Here we are going to talk about life beyond the grave. Explain that to a 6 year old who stayed up all night with his sick guinea pig only to have it die the next morning. He doesn’t necessarily understand the abstract spiritual life. He has to process that his guinea pig that he loved and only had for one month is dead.
Then the phone rings and you find out a friend from your past at the age of 35 had pneumonia, passed a blood clot and died. Spiritual talk, Bible verses and trite sayings don’t necessarily sooth the mourning soul. Proverbs says “Don’t sing song to a heavy heart.” The author of that one got it right. Sometimes we just sit and ask God, “Why?” We probably won’t get an answer we don’t already know.
The pains and sorrow so life won’t go away this week. We remember the Holy Week for the sufferings Jesus went through to pour out his grace upon mankind. I agree 100%. It is soothing to the soul to know the God I put my rest upon understands the thoughts and feelings that plague us.
A reader sent me an email a few weeks ago. He was talking about the hurt in his life. As I sit this morning trying to be encouraged in the resurrection of our Lord the song he sent to me in his email hits home. It’s the song, Grace by Rachel Platten. I’m not ready to have someone screaming at me “He is Risen” Sunday morning expecting the response “He is risen indeed.” Instead we need the soft voice of a Savior who says “my grace is sufficient.”
There is not enough space to publish the words of the entire song. It can be found on Youtube. Consider a few words:
Is this what I’ve become? Someone who gets jealous of someone?
Instead of open arms and honest praise, I’m closing doors and pushing love away
When did I come undone? When did the colors of my canvas start to run?
I can’t control the teardrops on my face, I know this ain’t the girl my mother raised
I used to wear love like an army I used to know nothing could harm me
Now fear got up all in my head, I’m all in my head, And I made a mess, I confess, I’m ashamed
Chorus: And I need grace To step inside my mind, help me be a better person
Or at least a better version of me, ’Cause right now, all I wanna do is scream
That I need grace,’Cause I’m running low on faith
And I really wanna change my heart,’Cause I’m falling apart these days
And what I really need is grace,Watching over my mistakes
Yeah I really wanna change my heart,’Cause I’m falling apart these days
And what I really need is grace.
Thank you Paul for sharing your cry for God’s gift of grace.
This Sunday, Easter Sunday, I don’t necessarily remember the resurrection so I can sit around and wait to die and go to heaven. I remember the resurrection this year as a sign of the hope I have in Jesus and the pouring out of his grace when my faith is weak and as Rachel sang, “I made a mess and I’m ashamed.”
Now, I can softly say, “He is risen.”

Everyday, BT Article, March 4, 2018

“How long have you been listening to people’s stories,” she asked.  As I leaned back in my chair my mind lit up like a wildfire feeding on dry timber.  As the words “some 17 years now,” my mind was racing.  NASCAR had nothing on my brain that day.  I walked through 17 years in mere seconds.

My first opportunity to care for a troubled soul was a young man heavily addicted to drugs.  He wasn’t looking for an answer.  He wanted someone to pat him on the back and tell him everything would be fine.  He wanted to keep his drugs and get an affirmation at the same time.  He knocked on the wrong door.

As the synapses of the brain fired I saw person after person, remembering names and faces I thought I had forgotten.  It’s those faces combined with the stories that make me laugh on Sunday mornings. We think we are sitting next to good well behaved Christians.  Far from it.  It’s not a faith in people.  It’s a faith in the work of Christ.

Sometimes I get surprised at the level of sin but I seldom get surprised anymore at the sin.  While sexual issues dominate our culture in and out of the church there are plenty of other soul sucking issues that as the writer of Hebrews said, “cling to us.”  You did read that right.  Christianity is not the faith that demands people get it all right.  It’s quite the opposite.  It is the faith in Jesus Christ since we can’t get it right.  No wonder the Apostle Paul told us to “work out our salvation daily.”  The sin is covered by the blood of Jesus but that doesn’t mean the sin will leave us alone.

The clinging sin is ugly.  I seldom leave the pews and yet I’ve seen adultery, addiction, murder, sexual deviancy, liars, narcissists, misogynists, and any other “ist” you can think of.  Let’s not forget the psychopaths.  Busted dreams, busted marriages, and broken people leaving death and destruction in their path are constantly in the door of every church across the world.  Often they sit in silence fearing judgement and avoidance instead of the love and grace promised on our websites and road signs.

I got to admit, I like these people.  In fact, I often prefer to share life with the prodigals.  I’m one.  It’s the broken that Jesus invites to his banquet table.  It has been described as the banquet for the damned.  Only they are not rejected by Jesus.  Only Jesus followers.  If I was going to start a church (which I’m not) I would call it the 1st Church of the Broken and Rejected.  I don’t know who would come but I know who would not.

Of all the different people God has given me the grace to walk with over the years there is one type that I dread.  They seem more impervious to the gospel then any of the above mentioned people groups.  Usually the “sinners”, Christians and non, know something is wrong.  The other group tends to think they got life especially their sin life under control.  It’s the self-righteous that won’t sit in the Church of the Broken and Rejected.  They might get dirty.  If only they knew.  The sin of self-righteous might be the dirtiest of all.  It’s the one who is always right that is often more hard hearted to the gospel then those who can look at their history and see pain and sorrow at every step.

The sinner knows they need Jesus.

Yet, the good news of Jesus can change the heart of the self-righteous.  It’s what makes the apostle Paul’s conversion so amazing.  He was in a pursuit to end Christianity and he believed he was doing it for God.  He had the education.  He had the training.  He had it all right and yet his question when he is knocked down sums it up.  He asks, “Who are you Lord?”   Immediately Paul knew even in his quest for God he did not stack up in the presence of the Holy One.  Nobody does.  That’s why we all need Jesus.  From the preacher to the prostitute we need his grace. Everyday.

It was an extremely warm December morning.  The kayakers had been watching the weather.  No need to bundle up for this years Polar Bear paddle.  It would be in the 70’s by the time they returned.  Since they were pushing off at 6:00 a.m. dressing in layers was the key.  It is easier to take a few layers off as they go instead of putting it on.

The weather on past Polar Bear paddles had not been so cooperating.  One year the paddle lasted about 15 minutes.  Between rain, mixed with a little snow, wind out of the Northwest and waves that could easily swamp a boat it was not a good idea to try and find the sunrise.  Sunrise!?  It wasn’t going to happen anyway that day.  This group of guys was not accustomed to backing out of a kayaking challenge.

This year the temperature was not a problem.  There was zero rain in the forecast.  The water looked as calm as could be.  Not sure what anyone can see at 6 a.m. when the sunrise wasn’t scheduled until 7:20.  All indications were for a smooth paddle.

There was only one problem.  Even in the Lowcountry when the temperatures are abnormally warm and the water is a bit on the cold side there is a natural occurrence.  If anyone is smarter than a 5th grader or can look out their morning window they will know the nature of the problem.  Fog!  Thick fog!

Getting into the 14 foot kayak and pushing off into the fogged in waterway is not always the best idea.  A normal flashlight is of no value.  If they kept too close to the shore line they ran the risk of being beached by a boat’s wake.  If they went out into the middle there was no way to notify an oncoming boat of their presence.  The trick was to stay kind of close to the shore but not too close.  Paddling a bit blind it was a good idea to keep the eyes pealed and the ears tuned in to any noises of a boat motor.  If anyone were to go over they better have their personal flotation device (life vest for you old-timers) on and buckled.

Off they went into the dark and ominous fog.  Each of the adventurers had kayaked to Cockspur Lighthouse before.  Leaving the Lazaretto Creek Boat Ramp take a left and proceed down the creek and under the Route 80 bridge.  Right in front of you sits the lighthouse just off of Daymark Island and Fort Pulaski. On sunny clear days there is no problem.  On dark mornings with rolling thick fog it is a different story.

No problem, it was a lighthouse.  The website said the lighthouse was relit in 2007 for historical reasons.  The beacon will guide us right to it.  That’s what they all say.  This morning due to destruction caused by Hurricane Irma there was no light in the lighthouse.  There was no guiding beacon.

Fortunately the group had been there before.  It was there.  As the sun rose (never to be seen on this morning) visibility increased and the Cockspur Lighthouse was shrouded in fog for some outstanding photographs.  One large boat did pass.  It was never seen.  Only heard and felt as the waves pushed the kayaks near the large bolder sea wall.  Nobody got hurt.  Nobody was turned over and everyone was safe and sound.  A few pictures and a few dolphins and the morning was quite a success.  Once back at the landing it was time for breakfast at the Breakfast Club on Tybee Island.

In many ways the short 4.1 trip was a normal foggy kayak run with no real safety concerns.  While the novice may not want to venture alone in the dark fog it was a blast for the seasoned paddlers.

As I paddled out of Lazaretto Creek enjoying the fog effect and the exercise I was amazed at the lack of light.  There was no light whatsoever to keep anyone off the rocky seawall.  We didn’t even see the Tybee Lighthouse light which as only a few miles at best to the south.  Maybe we are reliant on GPS systems and such now a days.  However, the absence of light always makes one wonder.  Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is actually the natural state with light invading it’s domain.  Add fog and you got darkness you can feel.

As I prayed for safety entering the boat channel to the darkened lighthouse I thought of life as a Christian.  Christians are to be the light that shines in the darkness of our world.  Jesus said we are the light of the world.  He didn’t say he was.  He said we were.  We are to be the light to the praise of the Father.

The light was not to be hidden.  Indications are the true light of God living in a person cannot be hidden as a city cannot be hidden.  Jesus said we don’t light a candle to hide it under a bowl.  The candle is lit to guide us and others.  He commands his followers, “let your light shine before men.”  Why?  So that not only can they hear of the grace and love of Jesus; they can see it!

Our world seems to be getting darker.  I’m not sure it is any darker then before.  Possibly it is the lack of light emitting from those who claim belief in the son of God.  Remember, darkness is the natural state.  It is the absence of light.  As we enter 2018 instead of complaining and worrying about the darkness (it’s always there) our purpose is to be the light.  Once there is light others can find their way.  No need to worry.  Keep paddling.

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Australia. We flew into Sydney on Christmas Day. It was a remarkable trip. Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef was fantastic. God’s creation is incredible below the water. We had our shoes melt in the Outback, stayed right outside the Sydney Opera House, visited Darwin and Melbourne and saw what was left of the Twelve Apostles (limestone stacks along the southern shores). I would love to go back one day.
We saw the Twelve Apostles on a bus tour of the Great Ocean Road. After we traveled as far west as time allowed we cut across the fertile area of Australia heading to Melbourne. This area is farmland and cattle country. It is the opposite of the famous Outback.
As we traveled suddenly someone gasped and asked the bus driver if he could stop for a picture. It didn’t take long to understand the request. In the field to our right stood hundreds of sheep. They were not your ordinary sheep. They wore yellow raincoats. Yes, you read that right. Yellow raincoats that covered not only their body but their heads including their ears. It was a sight to see. The only problem was the bus driver would not stop. Company rules did not allow a roadside stop.
The yellow raincoated sheep quickly became the talk of the bus. Eventually the driver turned on his microphone and gave the Americans and a few Europeans a quick lesson. It seems that virgin wool (the expensive kind) is wool that is unblemished. How do you keep wool from being damaged by weather and the environment? You protect it while it is still on the sheep. Thus, we have yellow raincoat clad sheep.
The lesson did not stop there. It seems that virgin wool has been around before yellow rain coats. The bus driver told of shepherds who would wrap the newborn lambs with a long cloth often covering the young lamb in multiple layers of cloth. As the lamb grew the shepherds would rewrap it. This process went on over and over until shearing day.
What does this have to do with Christmas?
I was watching a video by Rabbi Son Sobel, a Messianic Rabbi. He spoke concerning the significance of the baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes as recorded in Luke. It seems that the angels appeared to Levitical shepherds not the ordinary low life shepherds often spoken of this time of the year. The Levitical shepherds were raising the sheep in their care to be the unblemished Temple sacrifices. The lambs would be born in a cave directly in the care of the priests. They were not your run of the mill sheep born in the field exposed to the elements.
The lambs as soon as they were born would be swaddled. In other words, they would be wrapped in “swaddling cloths” since they had to be unblemished to qualify as a sacrificial lamb. Their wool was “virgin wool.”
It was these shepherds that got a message that there was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They would find him in a manger. That manger was a cave. These Levitical shepherds were given more then a message of a sweet baby in a manger that they had to go see. They were given a message and a visual proclamation of the coming of the Messiah who would fulfill the Scriptures coming to be the unblemished sacrifice taking away the sins of those who believe in him..
Lately I have been amazed to see and understand the depth of the Bible that extends Jesus and truth beyond nice stories. We have cleaned up these stories way too much. They go much deep. They are immersed in the proclamation and revelation of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. People have asked me why I believe. I can’t help but believe. Who would have imagined that swaddling clothes had any significance. I have heard all sorts of explanations about swaddling cloths. Some say it foretold of the burial cloth of Jesus. Some point to the custom of the day among poor families. Others say it showed the proper care for a baby. But, it was only the shepherds who were called to go and find the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Of course. It was the Levitical shepherds who would understand the significance. It is this type of detail that confirms my belief in the one they named Jesus.
Tonight we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Even his birth clothes details his destiny…to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. We do not come to celebrate the birth of a baby. We celebrate the birth of the Redeemer, the Messiah, the Christ. He is worthy of more than a token appearance.

Merry Christmas!