Tag Archive: Forgiveness

As we grow older, we dread those night time phones calls.  The ones that are so out of the normal everyone knows it cannot be good news.  As a police and fire department chaplain, I get used to them.  That is until it comes from your own family.  

Last night, the phone rang, and I quickly noticed it was my sister.  I knew what it was before I ever hit the button.  My mother succumbed to her long battle with dementia and passed on to be with her Lord.  The journey was over.  I was not surprised.  It left me with a weird feeling.  The safety net was now officially gone.  I am an orphan.  

As I walked the dog today, I thought a lot about my mom.  She did not hold any lifetime achievement awards, unless one wants to count raising 4 kids during the sixties and seventies.  She was not a nurse, didn’t serve in the military.  She was a normal, everyday mom.  

Often at funerals, and I’ve been to too many, we try to elevate the deceased to hero status.  It is as if we are trying to make their life have value.  I’ve heard funny stories that honestly aren’t all that funny except to the one telling the story.  I’ve heard serious stories that leave many in tears.  I’ve heard all sorts of things at funerals.  So, here I sit thinking about what to say about my mom.  

My mom did not have an easy life.  Her mid-life was full of ill health.  It seemed that she was in the hospital more than she was out.  Those were the days they actually cut you open, and every surgery was a major one.  Eventually, she had to take these green pills.  We called them her “good humor” pills.  If she forgot to take them, hide.  Most of the family is amazed she lived to be 90.    

Many of mom’s dreams were never realized.  Her sister died at the age of 2 on Christmas Eve.  Another of her brother’s disappeared for years, only to return a few years ago to say goodbye before his cancer took him.  Mom wanted to travel but Dad ran his own small business.  Small business owners do not travel.  They did pretty good but not nearly as much as mom wanted.  

The greatness trait my mother held was her loyalty.  If you were her friend or loved one, she had your back.  Don’t worry, she would tell you what she thought almost to a fault, but she would not run at the first sign of discouragement.  

So, what can I say about my mom?  I got it.

As I aged into my forties, I realized we (my brother and sisters) did not really know my mom.  We reacted to mom and did not understand her.  We did not know her story.  Mom had some tough days.  She was not the easiest person to live with at times.  So we all learned to deal with it.  Some good and some bad.  But, as I realized we were entering the time when our parents leave this world, I didn’t want to lose her and not know her story.  

I got my siblings together and we talked about it.  They agreed.  We needed to talk with mom.  It wasn’t about changing mom.  It was about understanding her.  So we did it.  It did not go over all that well at first.  Mom was quite angry as we spoke honestly with her about her moods and dark days.  Things settled down when we asked her to just tell us the story of her family and how Jesus impacted her life.  

We learned a lot in a few hours.  Her sister died on Christmas Eve, and it changed her family’s view of Christmas from that day on.  My mother became a Christmas fanatic.  It’s how she dealt with her pain.  She said her mother and father switched personalities that day.  Looking back, I’m not sure her dad ever recovered.  It happened before there were counselors and shrinks.  They had to make the journey alone.  

She revealed the days when my dad was a drunk.  She talked about keeping things together as dad often came home drunk before Jesus changed his life.  

Eventually the topic went to her dislike for my sister Joan.  For the first time in her life, at the age of 70, mom admitted struggling with Joan.  Joan could have been a twin for her dead sister.  Looking at her own daughter brought up years of horrid memories.  One never knows how we will process tragedy.  It has a hard hour.  However, it was cathartic.  

Mom didn’t necessarily change that day.  We did.  We did because now we knew her story.  We knew how to apply God’s grace, love, and mercy to her in places we didn’t know existed.  Instead of fighting her over the Griswald family Christmas decorations, we helped her.  We understood her distaste for drinking any alcohol, and the family refrained.  My sister, Joan was able to forgive her, and amazingly in mom’s final two years, she was the one to give mom exceptionally good care.  I don’t know with her dementia if mom knew it was Joan, her sister, or Joan, her daughter, who was caring for her.  It doesn’t matter.  Grace won.  

As a footnote, I think there are things about the spiritual world of which we have no idea.  Mom talked about seeing my Dad and talking to him the last two weeks of her life.  Did she?  Was it her brain or more of God’s grace?  I don’t know.  Again it doesn’t matter.  I’m glad we asked her story.  Don’t assume if you have a loved one that they are safe in your relationship.  Tell your stories.  It’s the only way God’s grace can permeate the pain of our hearts.  

Mom, you will have your first Christmas with Jesus this month.  We will be behind you in a short time.  You might not have been a super hero.  You were just “mom” and that was good enough. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sitting in the parking lot I was preparing for my next chaplain visit.  It takes time to build relationships when one serves as a chaplain.  One  stage in building relationships as a chaplain is hearing the  complaints.  Sometimes I don’t think I am a chaplain.  From time to time I think I’m the complaint department.  

Today I was walking into my first stop as a corporate chaplain.  Most of the employees I have known for years.  I can almost predict how the day will go, barring an emergency, death of a loved one, or somebody is about to get the dreaded pink slip.  Today was no different.  As I prayed before entering the front door, I asked Jesus to provide a means to change the day.  

As I entered the room, sure enough I heard the same complaints that flow every day and every week.  Management is dumber than a box of rocks.  Fellow employees are selfish.  Nobody understands, and, best yet, everybody is out to make their day miserable.  Of course somewhere mixed in the complaint department is the classic, “And they don’t pay me enough for this either” comment.  Today was the day it was time to turn the tables.

At first, I asked the loudest voice, “How long have you worked here?”  I knew he was a long- time employee and a long-time complainer.  “18 years,” he answered wondering where I was going to go with this.  “After working here for 18 years, I would have guessed you would have figured this out by now,” I replied without wavering.  My reply caught him off guard.  Suddenly, and I don’t know where it came from, I asked, “Instead of a complaint, tell me what you are thankful for today.”  He paused.  After a few seconds that seemed like hours, with a smile that I haven’t seen for some time, he answered, “My family.”  He turned and went to work.

The rest of the day,  to everyone I met, I explained that I had heard all the complaints that are possible in the workplace, and I wanted to know what they were thankful for.  Everyone answered with a smile.  A smile.  I encouraged everyone to work the rest of the day thankful.  I saw more smiles in one day than I have seen in a long time.

Complaining attitudes are infectious.  They infect our hearts, and infect those around us.  Our world is full of complaints.  It’s an attitude.  Everyone else is wrong.  When we are constantly complaining we don’t hear anyone else around us.  Often, there is a solution and a middle ground, but we can’t find it if we only want things our way.

Lately, I personally have eliminated the news media from my life.  It’s designed to promote complaining attitudes.  The Democrats blame the Republicans, and the Republicans fire back.  The various races want more, and it doesn’t matter what color we are.  Somehow we have forgotten we are all the same race…human.  In my world, husbands blame wives, and wives respond in kind.  Both blame the kids.  Employees never have anything nice to say about management, and management can’t find a good enough employee.  Customers are not always right.  Often they have no idea what they are talking about.   Complaining rules; love lays beaten on the floor.  

Recently, we started a Saturday night service called “Come As You Are.”  No need for a fake smile and deceptive attitude.  Come As You Are is more about our hearts; not our dress.  When we start the service, we begin with prayer.  We open it up to the audience, asking for prayers of thanksgiving.  I’m often surprised how hard it is for us to be thankful.  One person thought I was nuts when I thanked God for running water and flush toilets.  I’ve been in parts of this world without both.  I’m truly thankful.  

We offer prayers of thanks to put us in the mood to listen to a God who always provides, instead of having a bad attitude, expecting God to do things the way we want them done.  The apostle Paul said, “All things work together….”  To the Philippians who were undergoing persecution (beatings, torture rape and murder), Paul also wrote, “Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”  Say what?  The gospel is one of forgiveness, grace, love and mercy.  Jesus didn’t give us a single out.  He said to “love our enemies.”  Hold on!  At one time I thought the gospel was just about getting to heaven.  

The gospel is not about heaven.  It’s about Jesus.  Jesus laid his life down so we could have life.  “Life abundantly,” Paul declared.  A complaining attitude sucks the life right out of a room.  It also sucks the life right out of those we say we love.  No wonder we are encouraged to “give thanks.”  It’s then we are reminded that there is more to life ,and it’s more than “me.”  

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.  

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.  

Today I write a letter to Generation X and Y…Z is too young yet.  This is to my children’s generation and my children as well… 

Dear Millennials,

You are my children and the parents of my grandchildren.  I have watched you grow up.  I will admit I complain about you.  However, at times I have stood in awe of you.  Every time I think I have you figured out, you surprise me.  My generation (baby boomers) likes to think we are the greatest generation and you are the not so great generation.  Forgive us.  We have our issues for sure.

The world has changed in your short life.  We thought it was awesome when man stepped on the moon.  What has transpired since your birth makes the Apollo program pale in significance.  There are more and more discoveries, inventions and philosophical changes I can only imagine how hard it is for you to keep up.  Just when you figure out life, it changes. And, often, that can be in hours.  As for us, we are pretty set in our ways.  

Watching you try to figure out employment and financial security makes me hurt.  We got college degrees and made a living with ease.  If we didn’t get a college degree, we learned a trade and often made more money working the trade than those who went to college.  As for you, the age of specialization has failed you.  We did not encourage you to learn a skill.  We told you to get degrees that are meaningless.  Careers have totally disappeared from our society, and we wonder why you came back and lived in the basement.

We hate to admit it but, many times, big business sent your jobs overseas to make our retirement accounts profitable.  However, we don’t want to talk about that.  In your lifetime greed morphed into avarice, leaving your entire world governed by consumerism and the mighty dollar.  In that, you better have lots of them.  If you don’t become workaholics like us we think you are lazy and selfish.  Boy, are we wrong.

I’m worried about you.  Opioid addiction is not retreating.  Your suicide rates are increasing yearly.  Divorce is now commonplace.  We didn’t have to worry about sexual identities, and we didn’t have to worry about offending someone of a different sexual orientation.  It must be confusing.  Our sexual revolution in the 60’s has blossomed into total sexual confusion. We started this mess and now don’t want to talk about it.  Even in the church, a young man told me recently it is hard to find a virgin.  The silence of my peers speaks.   

Instead of demanding your repentance, we need to repent.  We need to repent of our selfishness.  We left it up to the professionals to do the “Jesus” stuff.  We lived one way on Sunday and told you to be quiet about what went on the rest of the week.  When you rejected our form of Christianity we blamed you.

We griped about the 10 commandments being removed from public arenas and “Merry Christmas” being absent in our local stores, but we did not want anyone to hold us to the 10 commandments, especially the 10th one (go look it up).  We often demanded the Christmas greeting but cursed others if we were not served adequately.  

Our generation told you to worship our way and believe our way but seldom listened to your questions.  In fact, we seldom talked to you about anything.  We tried to buy your allegiance by giving you everything and yet abandoned the one thing you really needed…our time and our love.  

Forgive us.  There was a man named Nehemiah who, when he heard the walls of Jerusalem (the Holy City) were in ruins, sat down, cried, and asked for forgiveness of his sins and his father’s sins.  Forgive us for failing to cry.  Forgive us for not confessing our sins and blaming you for the ills we face.  

After you forgive us, will you find it in your heart to talk with us?  I know we tend to talk to you, but we need help.  We need your help.  The Bible says if a brother asks for bread, don’t give him a stone.  Forgive us for giving you stones that weighed our relationships down.  It says if a brother asked for a coat, give him two.  Forgive us for selling our souls to give you what you wanted instead of what you needed.  We left you naked.  Last of all, it says if your brother asks you to walk a mile with him to walk an extra mile.  We need you to walk with us.  Please forgive us and walk with us once again.  Yes, we need to talk about Jesus.  I would like to know what you think.  I want to talk about the “why” not just the “what.” 

There is a lot more I would like to say, but, instead of a letter, let’s walk.  Let’s talk. The relationships are broken.  They need to be rebuilt.  I love you.  I miss you.   

From my heart to yours,    John R. Ring

When I was a kid I used to watch Lost in Space. The marooned explorers had a robot that would call out “Danger, Will Robinson” when the young member of the party was venturing into places engaging dangerous elements. For today’s article, I’m going to issue a warning, “Danger, Willing Readers.” The thoughts and expressions in today’s article may be offensive to some. If you choose to read further I can at least say, “I warned you.”
Thursday, May 3rd was the National Day of Prayer. Many churches, organizations and groups held prayer vigils. Usually I don’t attend these types of meetings. Maybe I’m a curmudgeon or overly critical. Prayer shouldn’t need a meeting or a day to itself. Prayer should be the staple of our Christian lives. Anyway, it is what it is. I decided this year to attend two prayer opportunities on this one day.
As I listened to the prayers, I became concerned. I heard prayers of what we wanted God to do. We want God to do all sorts of things from healing our nation, having the non-believers live like believers, to desiring great prosperity (even though we already have had that one for quite a while). God has a really big list after Thursday. It’s not to say we can’t ask God for these things. In actuality, by grace, we can make our petitions to God in any way and for anything we so desire. It’s in God’s hands anyway.
But prayers tend to show the heart more than we realize. What I didn’t hear in our prayers were requests to transform our hearts. I didn’t hear prayers that called those in attendance to be active for the cause of Christ. I didn’t hear anyone pray, “Lord, we are your children, direct us to gospel ministry.” I didn’t hear anyone pray, “Lord, what would you have for us to do?” I didn’t hear anyone pray, “Lord, send me!” Nope, the National Day of Prayer was the day we asked often in an attitude of expectation for the nation, state and county to cater to our desires and keep us all prospering. I thank the Lord, honestly, that he is interceding for us to the Father. We need it!
At the end of one of the meetings an individual prayed, “Thank you, this has not cost us that much.” I wanted to stand up and thank them and end the meeting right there. That is one of the issues that has Christianity in America reeling.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, modern day martyr, wrote a book titled The Cost of Discipleship. The entire first chapter is the difference between “cheap” grace and “costly” grace. He writes, “Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods…It is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple will leave his nets and follow him.”
Jesus said in Luke 14, “…any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” It’s interesting; Jesus proceeds in the next sentence to talk about salt that has lost it’s saltiness. Is there a correlation? You bet there is.
Our current expression of a comfortable faith has cost us. It has cost us the next two generations. It is our children and grandchildren. Youth workers across the nation know we are having major issues keeping our own children in the faith. The Word of God they hear is not the Word of God they see. We talk about the armor of God in Ephesians only to stand in a museum for show instead of engaging in the gospel war.
The Bible talks about repentance. It is a constant call not so much to the non-believers but to the believers. I don’t hear prayers of confession and repentance. Instead I hear prayers asking God to continue our comfortable faith. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die,” wrote Bonhoeffer. Die to the elements of this world.
My generation has built great buildings, written wonderful books and created numerous programs. Only we failed to build our vital relationships that take the most valuable asset we own today…time. It takes time to walk with a child. It takes time to love well. It takes time of which we spent building a kingdom on this earth instead of the kingdom of God. We left that to the paid staff. Epic fail.
Hope is not lost. Repent and ask forgiveness of our God and the generations we have failed. Instead of a National Day of Prayer, let’s have a National Day of Repentance. We will see how many will show up for that one.

Have you ever gone to a movie and paid close attention to the background or elements of the film on the edges instead of the center focus of attention. I’m not a Harry Potter fan. I don’t quite get it on this one. However, I enjoy spending time with my family. My son would take me to Harry Potter movies. Instead of sleeping through them I would pay attention to the edges of the film scenes including the supporting cast facial expressions. It can make for a totally different experience.
As we enter the Passion or Holy Week this Palm Sunday take a look at some of the surrounding cast and story. It reveals some amazing revelations that affirm and verify the redemptive work of Christ.
In regard to Scripture sometimes we focus on the big events and miss the little elements that add depth to the most amazing story in the history of man. So much of the little elements emphasize the nature of man and the complete work of Christ.
The first edge of the screen view is the disciples as they are going to Jerusalem for the grand entrance. They literally walked with Christ for three years and sat under his teaching and still did not get it. So, don’t feel bad. James and John cause an argument over who was going to rule with Jesus in Jerusalem. Ummmm, guys, it’s not an earthly kingdom. Duh! But Jesus doesn’t chastise them. He reminds them that his kingdom is different. He tells them it is one of service not a kingdom of dominance. He tells them they have to learn to follow his example to lay down their lives for the sake of another. Jesus doesn’t miss a beat.
The redemptive work of Jesus in the raising of Lazarus was the rush of energy that causes the uproar on Palm Sunday with men, women and children proclaiming Jesus as king. Did you know that there was a plot to kill Lazarus. Amazing. Jesus raises him from the dead and the jealous wants to kill him. They never kill Lazarus. They kill Jesus. Why? Jesus was the one to be the first fruit of our new life not Lazarus.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus washed Judas’ feet instead of revealing his traitorous heart before the vital lesson on servanthood? It’s Peter, bold Peter, who gets in a tussle with the washing of his feet, not Judas. Suddenly, Judas is revealed. So, why wash his feet? Why not reserve it for the faithful? The message is the same for saint and sinner. The humbling of the soul is an important element in the kingdom of God. As Jesus said, “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” There is not a place for the proud. It is a place for the humbled.
When we read a biography of a famous individual most of the story is about their life with a few chapters focused on their death. In the book of John, he reveals Jesus as the Son of God, the story begins to focus on the Passion Week in chapter 12. There are only 21 chapters in John’s epistle. That makes 12 of 21 chapters focusing on the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. Almost 60% of the epistle focuses on his death not his life. Instead of grabbing ahold of the motto “What would Jesus do?” we should probably live a life that asks “What should I do because of what Jesus did?”
As mentioned last week, Jesus sums it all up coming out of the Garden with the “faithful” followers who couldn’t even stay awake and pray at this vital hour. Don’t feel guilty when your evening prayers end in a snore. Jesus graciously tells them, “The spirit is willing, the body is weak.” Bingo! This is not faith in Christians but rather in Christ. Jesus’ operational methodology is and continues to be grace and grace overflowing. We are weak. We don’t get it. It is Jesus who did the work. It is Jesus who walks with us. It is Jesus who continues today to pour out his grace to such weak creatures who think they are big and bad.
Consider the depth of our weakness. Consider more the greatness of his grace that offers forgiveness to sleeping disciples, cursing and denying Peter, runaway followers, doubting onlookers, and tremendous sinners every step of the way in his Holy walk to our redemption. Live by and because of such grace. It’s what all the details portray.

Sitting at the table it was an opportunity to unload all of the burdens the exhausted man carried.  In just a few minutes the sins of the father, mother, brother and sister were poured out on the table like a glass of spilled milk.  If that wasn’t enough a few comments against fellow church members and the pastor were thrown in.  Last but not least it was time to pick on the spouse.  There were few gasps between sentences.  The listener from time to time would try to interject only to have the weary traveler on the path of life in front of him spew more.  So much for lunch.  With all the pain inflicted on the poor fellow it wasn’t worth eating.

As the story teller began to wind down it was clear he carried a lot upon his weary shoulders.  Expressions of regret etched across his face.  Tears would well up in his eyes ever so often when the pain was more then he could bear.  Betrayal was a common theme.  Lost friendships were a close second.  When loneliness prevails leaving each one of us defiant, scared and confused.

It hadn’t been that long ago when the fore lorn gentleman was walking down the hall way and the pastor grabbed him by the shoulders to express his gratitude.  His words were sincere but foundationless.  “I wish we had more families like yours in our church.  I could sure use them.”  The response was prophetic.  “Don’t wish that upon yourself.  You don’t know us all that well.  If you did, you would probably take those words back.”  The surprised pastor was left speechless.  If this was one of the good ones what do the bad ones look like.

Two years later and the family was in shambles, the pastor had been asked to leave and here the burdened disciple was weary from a lack of sleep and doing what every red, white and blue blooded American does (Christian or not) looking to blame everybody else for our problems.  On this day it was no different.  The new pastor could tell he was carrying immense baggage and needed an ear, if not more.

The minister took a bite out of his Subway Chicken Teriyaki sandwich and looked longingly at his new friend.  He wanted to choose his words wisely.  At this point it’s easy to placate the sufferer.  It’s easy to affirm their pain.  It’s easy to blame everybody else.  Surely somebody else is responsible for our sadness, bitterness and anger.

Instead of feeding the blame game the wise and patient man of the Word softly asked, “Are you aware of the pain you are causing those around you?”  Some readers may want to explode at this moment.  Some would think the pastor is mean and cruel.  He isn’t.  Instead he loved the man across from him and couldn’t leave him floundering in the actions and events of his past.  He needed to awaken him .

We can’t change a bit of the past.  One day in a recovery group a young lady stood up and said, “We are the only ones letting our abusers beat us up every day when the events happened years ago.”  We can’t change the hurt and pain from our past.  However, what we can do is look at it differently.

When we need surgery we don’t ask the doctor if there is a pain free method.  When things need changing pain is nearby.  The same goes for our emotional being as well as our physical being.  When the pastor asked about the pain his friend was causing he connected the pained friend to the reality that we are responsible for the pain we cause.  By being in connection with the pain we cause others we can discover that indeed Jesus was right on when he calls us to live by grace.  We live by grace to those who have offended us by realizing how many we have left offended in our wake.

The silence from the beaten down fellow was healing at the same time.  Something connected.  Somehow  he was connected to those who hurt him in seeing the hurt he has caused others.  Broken together allows grace to flow.  Healing grace.  The same grace that comes from a broken Savior who was broken and bled for our trespasses.  And he didn’t even complain.

The coach grabbed the young man by the collar of his jersey and lifted him up off the floor pushing him hard into the wall of lockers.  With his hand balled up full of jersey he was screaming endlessly into the players face.  Eventually the anger subsided and he let go of the jersey turning his wrath against the rest of the team.  The only offense to the young basketball player was a weakness in his left handed dribbling and the inability to read the half court press put on by the aggressive opponent.

This would not be the first time nor the last time number 10 suffered the aggressive anger of his coach.  It happens to be the one he remembers the most.  The coach never mentioned the fact that the center never flashed to the center of the court during the press.  He never made adjustments for the weak left hand of his point guard.  Nobody was going to play in the NBA on this team.  Only one player would ever play one game beyond high school.

The coach had a reputation.  Few let out about his anger and abuse.  His reputation was his ability to win basketball games.  He won games with limited talent.  He won National Championships with talented guys and that’s all that mattered.  It’s funny how when one is of impressionable age what becomes expected and normal when the distance between good and encouraging is a world away.

The point guard was asked to show up years later at a banquet honoring the “successful” coach.  He refused.  He was one of the only men to avoid the event.  He got a phone call.  It was one of his old teammates asking him to attend.  The callers voice went silent when he heard the answer.

Without hesitation the now husband, father and coach replied, “If I want to honor a man for his ability to win basketball games I would come.  However, the cost was too great.  It is only by the grace of God that I remain a Christian.  If his example was what a “Christian”  should be I should have given up on the faith a long time ago.  I can’t honor him.  He won games.  He molded young men to be just like him.   He is not what I want to be nor my kids to be.”

That night they hung a banner in his honor in the largest Christian school in the Baltimore, MD area.  I wasn’t there.

Somehow “Christian” was boiled down to praying before everything we did and obeying the school behavior code which was thicker then a large print Bible.  We weren’t allowed to curse.  The coach could but he won games.  Doesn’t the Bible say to respect authority?  As long as we hung under the line of shame it must have been Christian.  Cross that line and there was hell to be paid.  That was the Christianity I grew up with.  At times when my mind reminisces I wonder how I remained a believer and follower of Jesus.

I think of so many who took the other path.  We all knew what we saw and what we experienced was far from Christ.  When what we see and what we hear does not match up a choice has to be made.  So many chose to run away.  The problem is I don’t blame them.  I wanted to run.  It was an act of God that I didn’t.

There are times I still want to run away.  I don’t want to run away because so many are no different then my old coach.  I want to run away when I find myself being that arrogant, abusive coach fighting for recognition and control in my own abilities.

I told a friend lately that my greatest flaw isn’t my left hand is basically useless or I can’t read the half court press.  I also have no concept of mathematics beyond algebra.  I can’t spell a lick either.  No, my greatest weakness is I think to highly of myself.  Not only is it in the genes as you can tell from this story, I had excellent teachers.

For those who have run away, come on back.  The example we ran from wasn’t Jesus.  Begin by forgiving me for the pain I have caused.  Begin by forgiving instead of condemning.  Now that is the Jesus in the Bible not in the locker room or the basketball court.

Maybe I wasn’t listening.  Maybe I was too hard headed.  I don’t want to blame someone for my own self absorption.  All I know is I don’t want to continue in it.  I thirst for having grace dominate my life even when those who light my fuse surround me.  I’m hungry for Christ to make a difference not so much in my moral behavior but more in my heart.  I want a lot.  Just like staying in the faith has been an act of God, it’s going to take the same to keep me from being just like the guy who could win basketball games.  No different than my salvation, it must come from Jesus.