Tag Archive: God

I have not run a marathon.  I haven’t even run a half marathon.  There have been no 5k’s either.  It’s been over a year since I’ve done any hiking.  While I love kayaking, my kidney issues eliminated that for most of last year.  Yes, I walk the dog twice a day and put in about 3 to 4 miles a day, but that is about it.  I go to bed early and get decent sleep.  

I’m tired. 

Some people worry I do too much.  Funny.  I think I do less than I ever have before.  Sometimes it’s not easy to put together three lessons a week, write this column, and perform my normal chaplain duties with the police department.  But, it’s not like I’m on overload.  Teaching double studies on Wednesday can strain the energy reserves, but it’s not all that bad.  Yes, Saturday night service and then again on Sunday morning is my most tiring venture, but ,then again, it’s not like I’m working a construction or roofing job.  

I’m just tired.  

Maybe I’m getting older and I’m starting to slow down.  The right knee is a little bit of a problem, and I’m sure there is some arthritis hanging around.  My family has been plagued with the big A through the generations.  I limp sometimes, but, as the doctor told me a few months ago, other than carrying a few extra pounds, I’m in good health.  

I’m tired in my brain.

I’m tired of death.  I actually prayed that this past Sunday during our prayer time in church.  I was honest with God.  I heard an affirming mumbling in the crowd.  It’s been one of those seasons.  Today I got word that a friend’s son died from an accidental overdose yesterday.  That will make the 18th person I have been associated with in some way who has died since three days before Thanksgiving.  That is 18 in 45 days.  I have had to face death once every 2 and a half days, and I’m sick and tired of it.  

Most of the people who have gone before us have been believers in Jesus Christ.  Yes, there is a great hope associated with people of the faith.  But, it still stings.  Jesus understood that sting.  In the beginning of his ministry he blessed those who mourn.  He connected with all of us in the loss of those we love.  Jesus understands and affirms our humanity and its relative limitations.  Later on, he wept at the death of Lazarus.  We don’t know why he wept, but his emotions came pouring out of him.  If Christ can weep so can I, and so can you.  

Tears display great love.  We don’t cry over those we don’t love (most of the time).  A friend of mine recently suffered the loss of his wife who battled cancer for years.  Even having time to prepare he said, “I don’t know where all the tears come from.”  I do!  They come from the heart.  

I’m tired of crying.

I got shocked yesterday.  I was looking at the obituaries from my mother’s funeral home and a local one as well.  I was shocked at the amount of young people who are dying in our communities.  I expected the old ones like me.  There were more than I expected in their 30’s and early 40’s.  Death has no respect of age or position.  

I’m tired of losing my friends and family.

A friend contacted me when my mom died.  He put it the best.  He said, “John, you know all the platitudes, and you can quote all the right verses.  However, death still sucks.”  I could have kissed him right there.  It does.  It’s the result of the curse, and the curse is Genesis 3 comes from sin.  I know all the facts.  It doesn’t make it any better.

There is only one answer.  Maybe I have crossed a line in my life where I will start to stare at the obituaries, looking for friends from long ago like my dad did.  Or maybe, I’m more aware than ever that there is an answer.  The only answer for the plague of death is for Jesus to return and redeem this world as he has said in the book of Revelation.  I used to think only the crazy people said things like, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.”  Now I see that they aren’t crazy.  They are the realists.  

Come Lord Jesus.  I’m tired.  

Brooks Robinson dove to his right across the third base line.  He stood quickly and threw the batter out at first base.  He might not have the best bat in the history of third basemen, but his glove did more than any other I know.  He did get the hit the team needed at the right time.  I grew up wanting to emulate Brooks Robinson come every spring.  He was not only a great third baseman, he was a nice guy as well.  

When fall came, it was Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry in my backyard.  Johnny Unitas was the great quarterback for the then Baltimore Colts.  He was great as well.  Raymond Berry was his wide receiver who wasn’t the fastest man in the world, but he sure could catch the ball.  I met Johnny Unitas before his death.  He was a nice guy as well.  In our backyard games, I tried to throw the ball like Johnny Unitas ,but it wasn’t going to happen.  But catch the ball I come by my middle name honestly.  My parents being avid Colt fans named me John Unitas Raymond Berry Ring.  Only by the grace of God and my mother’s huge handwriting it was shortened to John Raymond.   

These were my heroes.  No one ever worried about their behavior.  They gave their best on the field and were well worth naming your kids after.  My kids grew up with Cal Ripken, another Baltimore boy who gave his best and was a nice guy.  I didn’t think about naming my son Cal only because he was born on my birthday.  I do think there were plenty of others with that name running the streets of old B’more.  

All four of the men mentioned above are in the Hall of Fame.  They deserved it.  

There was a day I wanted to be a baseball player.  I knew I was never going to be able to play football.  My body wouldn’t take it.  But baseball, that was a different story.  I had soft hands, knew how to pitch and understood the game.  I wanted to be at bat with 2 outs in the ninth inning, and the bases loaded with a 3 – 2 count, game seven of the World Series.  I dreamed of it.  Just like Brooks Robinson, I might not have the best bat, but, on this one, it was going over the fence.  

My son wanted to be a pro golfer.  He was pretty good.  At 6 foot 3 inches tall he could hit the ball a ton.  His short game was better than worthy.  He could putt with anybody.  As the number one golfer on the golf team, he usually won.  If things aligned well, there was the possibility.  Honestly, I’m glad it didn’t happen, and I’m glad I was not blessed with the physical ability to do so as well.  

Here I sit watching the first round of the NFL playoffs.  These guys are talented for sure.  There are plenty of decent guys on the field, I’m sure.  It’s not the players of the game that cause my fear.  It’s not the game or the state of the game that is the problem.  It’s the critical world in which we live. If a player has one bad game or one bad play they are branded.  

Now I am not a New England Patriot fan.  However, Tom Brady has had a tremendous career.  They lost yesterday.  He’s playing into his 40’s, winning all along the way and now the critics get their chance to chastise him.  They lost.  He threw an interception.  One bad play, for some reason in our world, wipes out all the good ones.  

Miss a putt, drop a pass, strike out or throw a wild pitch, and suddenly it opens the gates to critical analysis that is unending.  I don’t know how these guys handle the pressure.  I’m not sure some do.  Last time I checked, they are human.  Give Tom Brady a break.  Give ‘em all a break.  

I’m so glad faith in Jesus Christ is not dependent upon my performance.  At least I hope we and your church understand that.  Our hope is not a works-based, performance-driven hope.  The Apostle Paul told us, “By grace we are saved, through faith, not by works…”. We don’t have to live to make Jesus smile.  We live for Christ because he has us covered.  His blood was enough.  Yes, we have our warts, wrinkles, scars and sin.  Yes, we are to live worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27).  But in the end of the day, if we miss a pass, strike out on three pitches, drop the ball like Bill Buckner (see 1986 World Series) or fumble on the one yard line of life, I’m loved.  That makes Jesus smile.  

Here we go!  Another decade is behind us and on to 2020 we go.  Ready or not!  If anyone has been reading this column for the past few years (amazing), you know I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions.  Statistics support my stand.  I will not go all out explaining my reluctance to put one iota of credence behind such resolutions.  I don’t want to bore you.  For the few that by this time next year can look back and credit your resolve, congratulations.  You are the less than 25% that made it.  For the other 75% plus…we have to find another way.

Most New Year’s Resolutions are trying to eliminate a negative aspect of our lives.  For many it’s a weight issue or a health problem.  I will admit, this year I ate more than I should have on Christmas Day.  My family went all out to fatten me up.  Like I need help?  

Others resolve to mend a relationship, get a new job, or make a change in their lives to improve their situation.  Often the midnight vow is forced upon the unsuspecting and the suspecting by those around him or her. Good intentions are not called into question.  Resolve.  That’s a different subject.

The biggest problem is most of our issues define who we are.  I have wrestled with my weight since I became an adult.  It has stabilized in the last 15 years, but it is still a struggle.  At one point, I went to the doctor and asked him for some medication to take the pounds off.  He let me in on a secret that most don’t want to hear.  He began to ask me the body shapes of my living relatives.  After a few minutes, we figured out I am the skinniest of them all.  Mom, Dad, 2 sisters and 1 brother have or had bigger weight issues than I do.  He looked me in the eye and said, “I hate to inform you, but most weight issues are hereditary in nature.”  What?  He went on, “You can diet, exercise, and get the pounds off however, the day you stop you will return to your current weight if not more.”  I knew it all along.  It’s in the genes and not the Levi type.  It’s who we are.  

Yes, we can exercise great self-control.  Yes, we can put the issues high on our priority list on a daily basis.  Yes, we can get some help, counseling, therapy and more.  However, in the end of the day, we might change the outside, but the identity still lingers within us.

I have high respect for the alcoholic who goes to weekly meetings on a continual basis.  A friend of mine has been sober and attending AA meetings for over 30 years.  Each day is still a victory of great worth to him.  Ask him why he still goes to meetings and I know what you will hear.  “I have to,” will be the reply.  Why?  It’s who he is.  You might not see it.  He knows.  He knows like we all know.  We don’t tell anybody.  

So how does a person change?  Some would say a traumatic event has to happen to wake an individual up.  Others would say, “You have to hit bottom.”  A nihilist might say, “We can’t so don’t try.”  There is a good part of me that agrees with the nihilist.  I’ve been counseling people for over 17 years now.  I have seen over 1,000 people in that time.  I’ve heard story after story.  I’m not sure very many if any actually change.  I feel they adapt.  Doesn’t sound very hopeful, does it?  

For me, that is where Jesus comes in.  I have no faith in man to make himself better no matter what the humanists say.  Something or someone has to change us.  The Apostle Paul wrote that “we are a new creature, old things are passed away, all has become new.”  In Luke 6, the good doctor wrote that Jesus said, “no good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit.”  So what makes the difference?

Jesus went on to say it was a heart issue.  Our inside determines what goes on outside.  Jesus came to save his people from their sin.  Our sin is the net result of our active hearts.  Most think that when Jesus saves us from our sin it makes us good people.  Well, not quite.  The old man still wars with the new heart.  Often the old man wins.  One of the reasons he wins is we think being a good moral person is the goal.  Not so.

Jesus, in John 17, defined a changed person.  He did not say that person was a law keeper.  He did not say that person gets it all right.  He said we will be known by our love.  He went on to define that love as being between believer to believer.  It was to be so amazing people would stop and pay attention.  The church was to be a place where we lay down our lives for one another not a place where we sing some songs, pray a few prayers and listen to the preacher for 20 minutes.  It was to be a place where we don’t run from our issues but to them.  Jesus talked more about grace and love than he did about the law.  Why?  He knew who we are and knew we couldn’t go it alone.  Yes, the battle rages but when Jesus brings change, love wins.  How is your church known?  How are you known by others?  In 2020, I want God to continue to change my heart.  Join me.  If enough can get together and lay their lives down for each other we might not be a church but w will be the church.  Happy New Year!

We were driving to Maryland a few weeks back.  Since the family doesn’t care for my eclectic choice of music, I put the ear buds in and turned them up.  A few minutes in, one of my favorite groups, Carbon Leaf, was shuffled in.  It was “Life Less Ordinary.”  I sat back in the seat and enjoyed the ballad.  

Suddenly, my eyes popped open.  The line “live a life less ordinary, live a life extraordinary with me,” woke me from my long journey funk. While the song is talking about a human relationship, this line was like God was speaking.  

Often we as Christians try to figure out how to live a life with the least amount of disruption possible.  We kind of drag God along with us.  After a while of “ordinary” life, we begin to doubt the greatness of our God.  This allows thoughts and philosophies of this world to invade not only our daily function but our practical theology as well.  It ends up being an ordinary life that happens to hope Jesus is for real.

Open the Bible.  Seriously.  Open the Bible.  Every time God shows up there is no such thing as an ordinary life.  It’s full of crazy stories where man is always getting himself in trouble.  Why?  We weren’t made to be ordinary, and when God isn’t in our life, we will do all sorts of things seeking the extraordinary.  Did you catch the last word of the last sentence?  It’s the combination of two words, extra and ordinary.  We are made for the fantastic, wonderful, and not-so- predictable life with God. 

How ordinary was it for God to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden?  How ordinary was it for Abraham to abandon the security of family and, by God’s command, travel (not by car, bus or plane) to what we now know as Israel?  How ordinary was it for a young David to pick up a few stones and slay Goliath as he boasted his invincibility?  Was it ordinary for Joseph to go from shepherd boy to 2nd in command of Egypt and then forgive his abusive brothers to redeem his family?  Let’s go fast forward.  Was it ordinary for the disciples to drop their nets and life to follow Jesus?  Was it ordinary for Paul to abandon his beliefs to follow Jesus after he got knocked off his ride?  Was it ordinary as the women came to the tomb to find it empty?  Every time God shows up, life immediately goes to extraordinary!  An exclamation point doesn’t do the word justice.  

Here we are entering 2020.  I meet so many fellow believers who have no plans at all, even for an ordinary life.  They are struggling to survive the day, and others are waiting to leave this world since th- cultural shift has left them feeling disconnected.  They fear.  They live disappointed dream busted lives.  There is a lessening sense of purpose and hope.  The ordinary is swallowing them.  

We recently celebrated Christmas.  In Luke chapter 1 we have the angel Gabriel coming to the virgin Mary and announcing she would give birth to Jesus.  How ordinary was that one?  She questioned Gabriel as we all would have.  Gabriel gives her a response that remains true to this day.  He said, “Nothing is impossible.”  Hold on for a minute.  That is not Gabriel’s total response.  He actually said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”  

Ordinary leaves us thinking, believing, and functioning without the amazing.  We pray with no power. We wake up dreading the day.  The past holds us in it’s clutches, telling us there is no extraordinary and impossible.  Live a life for Christ?  Why?  

We tend to not have a life less ordinary as we cling to the ordinary.  As believers, we aren’t made for the hum drum anymore.   The vanilla, gray, mediocre life is for those who are not called by God to not just believe but to follow.  It gets scary to follow.  The ordinary talks to us.  We all hear it.  “God wouldn’t call me to do that?”  “You can’t.”  “God wants you to be comfortable.”  “It’s too late.”  “You are not skilled, talented or educated enough.”  “Live a life ordinary.”

This week we begin a new year and a new decade.  Maybe you are thinking about goals to achieve in the next 365 days.  Maybe you are thinking about the next decade and what there is to achieve in the next 10 years.  They will come plenty fast enough.  Join me.  I don’t want to spend the next 365 to 3,650 living a life defined by the ordinary.  I thirst for the impossible.  The only way to shake out of the ordinary is to have the response Mary gave Gabriel.  She said, “Behold I am a servant of the Lord….”  Her life was not so ordinary after she placed herself in position to serve the Lord God Almighty.  Interested?  I’am.  

The young man looked exhausted.  I asked him if he was carrying all the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Like most of us, he said he was ok and tried to change the subject.  Later, as we talked over lunch, he talked about issues he faces at work as well as the struggle raising five kids all under the age of seven.  

More and more people, especially in expensive areas like the Hilton Head/Bluffton region, are working hard to keep their nose above the water line.  The stress in our fast-paced, highly divided, and critical world is growing daily.  I remember when computers were coming on the scene.  They were supposed to make life easier.  It was a lie.  

Everywhere I go, I am meeting tired and worn out people.  As a Baby Boomer, I believe we are unaware of the current social pressures on young families.  In our day, we could roam the neighborhood and play outside.  If something happened to us, it was our fault.  Today, parents can’t let their kids roam because if something happens DSS is going to be called.  That is stress and pressure of immense proportions.  

This past week I have been slowed to a stop with kidney complications.  One simple procedure turned into two procedures and other issues.  I won’t bore you with the details.  So, I went back to work yesterday.  I worked till about noon.  I went home at lunch-time and fell asleep for three hours.  Sound asleep.  The same thing happened today.  I am running on fumes.  It’s a horrible place to be.  The body doesn’t feel good.  The brain is muddy, and the spirit is defeated.  At least I have a reason that most would give me grace.  Many I meet don’t want to share like my friend since few understand the issues of “successful” living today.

We can take hours debating the issues.  Are people living above their means?  Probably.  Have decisions been made that have had unseen consequences?  Sure.  Are we spoiled?  Without question.  

The biggest issue in all of this is a sense of loneliness.  In an upper crust culture, we aren’t supposed to ask for help, and we aren’t supposed to state our struggles.  This causes us to go into a shell.  It’s even part of our culture.  Our greeting is “How you doing?”  What is the normal response?  “Fine.”  Fine actually means frustrated, ignored, negative and exhausted.  But don’t  tell the truth to anyone.  They will run for the hills.

Back to the Baby Boomer answers.  We would say, “Keep your issues in your own home.”  That’s fine if the home is sound and safe.  It’s a fine answer if the home extends beyond the kids.  More and more, especially in retirement areas and the booming south, most people don’t have family generations to call upon.  They moved for a better job and don’t have deep relationships to call upon.  

Our family didn’t move here till we had already raised our kids.  We had not only both sets of parents around but brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts and both sets of grandparents around to lean upon.  Fewer and fewer families in our very mobile society have these support systems.  Add divorce to a family and it doesn’t take long for the rats to win the rat race.  The divorce rate in America right now is 50%.  That means half the people we run into have a fractured family system.  Divorce causes emotional and psychological damage that is often hard to get over.  

If I may take a moment and point something out.  Many single moms are the waitresses in our local restaurants.  They are running on empty.  Instead of demanding service one only gets at a 5 star restaurant, treat them with grace.  Speak kindly.  Be gentle.  Encourage them.  Give them a big tip.  Get to know their name.  Ask them how you can pray for them.  You will start to hear their story.  Don’t forget to pray.  

The modern day church can change the exodus in no time flat.  We all know church attendance is diminishing yearly.  We hear statistics about how many churches are closing their doors.  So what did we do?  We bought systems to attract people, make them happy and entertain them.  We bought the social construct that says give ‘em what they want instead of what they need.  We also only tend to focus on Sunday mornings.  We look for leadership that makes one hour a week interesting.  

We can turn the tide.  It’s easy.  No, let me change that, it’s not easy.  It’s fulfilling.  The early church was in the same situation.  Families came to believe in Jesus and were excommunicated from their families and their jobs.  So, what did they do?  They hired the best worship team and sought the high ways and by-ways for the best story-teller.  Nope, they sure didn’t.  They banded together and took care of each other.  They practiced grace to the max.  They put a new definition of love out there, and the world took notice.  It was costly.  But the gospel grew.  In Philippians, the Apostle Paul writes, “Whatever happens, live a life worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Did he mean just be a good boy or girl?  No, not at all.  He followed up in chapter 2 by talking about being like the humble Jesus and thinking of others better than ourselves.  In other words, their love was to be full of gracious acts, laying their lives down for others.  

Expensive, but priceless.  

Everybody likes a good story.  Sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a good story.  We like to hear them and we like to tell them.  Everybody has a friend who can tell a story in a succinct way, keeping our attention to the end.  Others can drag out a good story long enough that somebody better order dinner since you are going to be there a while.  Fryodor Dostoevsky said, “But how could you live and have no story to tell.”  We have stories that define us, and we generally want to tell them for sure.

The stories we remember, generally, are important elements that have made their mark on us.  There are places we have been, events we have experienced, and people we have met that have made their impression on us.  Sometimes they are great stories that tell our world/life view, and, at times, they tell our dreams, hopes, and desires.  

Some stories have left an impression on us that reveal the dark side of life.  They tell our fears, hurts, and suffering.  We tend to reserve those stories for the people we can trust since each one is often very personal.

Currently, I’m re-watching the HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.  It’s a story.  It tells the events of Easy Company during and after the Normandy Invasion that turned World War II around.  It has it’s victories and its defeats.  It is one of those types of stories no one can walk away from.  Today many stories are turned not only into novels but also, movies.  Personally, I like the book form.  The books take the time to develop themes, story-lines, and side stories that are often missed in the visual version.

If we pause long enough we can remember stories in more ways than words.  We can remember smells, sounds and colors.  Sitting here I remember the day I knew as a businessman I was called to ministry.  It was a dark night in the mountains near Mandeville, Jamaica.  I can see the stars to this day.  There were more stars visible then I had ever seen before.  It was about 74 degrees with a haze just rising from the wet ground. Down below the kids on the missions trip were laughing and having a time of relaxation before we would get ready for bed.  I was looking up at the stars and out of nowhere (that I was aware of) a lady comes over the hill from my right.  She is wearing a white top and green long pants.  I remember it odd on such a nice night that she was wearing long pants that looked hot.  She walked up to me and said, “Follow your heart.”  She turned around and walked down the hill.  Once she went over the ridge I had no idea where she went.  I stood there about 15 minutes in shock.  That is all I remember.  I don’t remember walking back down.  I don’t remember what happened the rest of the night.  That was it.  I knew that moment where my heart was. I had no idea how she knew.  True story.

I have not only stories of my own I’ve heard many stories.  That’s what one does when they talk with others for a living.  Listening is the main part of a conversation.  Without paying attention there is no story.

 It’s important to listen to people’s stories.  They tell us a lot about them.  Yes, we learn events of their lives.  But most tales reveal much more.  They can reveal value systems and belief systems.  They can tell our likes and dislikes.  The words that come together bring to life issues we have a hard time letting go of. 

Pastors are encouraged to add good and relevant stories to their sermons.  The stories relate the Bible to real life.  They bring home the point we are trying to make.  Those anecdotes are often remembered better than the facts and figures of theology.  They bring to life words from thousands of years ago.   

As I think this morning about the value of a story (good or bad), my mind wanders to the disciples.  Their life was changed the day Jesus walked up to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  It changed their stories.  

Without the calling from Jesus, they would have had a life full of fish stories.  I can hear one now.  “Hey, James,” Peter would have called out, “did I ever tell you about the biggest haul we ever had only to lose them to the hole that was in our net?”  James would have shook his head and replied, “Yeah, Peter, if you have told that one once you have told it one hundred times.”  That would have been the life of the disciples.  Fish stories would have abounded.  My bet is that their fish stories would have been the same as fish stories through the years, which have never really changed..  They would have been stories about the biggest fish and how it got away.  

Instead, they told stories about a man named Jesus who healed the sick, made the blind see and the lame walk.  They told about Lazarus being raised from the dead and thousands of people being fed by a few fish and loaves.  Peter told about taking a few steps on the water.  They also told the stories Jesus told.  Stories about sheep and shepherds, kings forgiving, and a widow’s coin, as well as a rebellious son being welcomed home by his loving father.  Their stories would change the world.  One heart at a time.

What stories do we have today? 

A cell phone is an on again and off again love affair.  They are quite amazing if we stop and remember it wasn’t that long ago we didn’t have them.  Now we not only have a phone but a camera, mini computer, video games, and more in the palm of our hands.  I love it and then I hate it.

I hate it when the phone rings or a text is delivered ,and I glance at the clock (that’s on the phone as well), and it’s 8:30 p.m.  As a police chaplain on 24-hour call, I have to look at it.  Usually, it is not a call from the command staff or a family member in need.  It’s often somebody who, for some reason, couldn’t call during the work-day asking a mundane question.  My thoughts aren’t very positive on those calls.  

The biggest problem is that the advent of the amazing cell phone now has everyone expecting a response within minutes.  Minutes.  In our world today, we have to give excuses as to why we did not respond fast enough.  Excuses.  We wonder why there is so much anxiety these days.  Crazy, if you ask me.

Talking of crazy, the ringtones available are really cool.  My bipolar love/hate relationship with my phone moves back into the love sector.  I think ringtones are really cool.  By choosing a ring tone, I can hear who is calling me.  I use them.

When my wife calls me, those around me smile without question.  I ought to take bets I can make people smile without talking to them.  Then I should get my wife to call me.  They always smile when they hear “This Girl Is On Fire” by Alicia Keys.  Yeah, I love ring tones.  

I have one friend who is that one guy who seems to be in emergency mode when he calls.  There is no such thing as a gentle phone call from him.  His ring-tone?  Tom Hanks’ “Houston, We Have a Problem.”  He doesn’t know it, so don’t tell him.

My son-in-law used to stand like Superman with his hands on his hips.  It became a family joke.  So of course He gets the Superman Main Title.  Another friend loves cars.  I found a motorcycle revving sound.  The ringtones immediately match the person in our minds.

My all-time favorite is, again, not one of my best moments.  A family member spent some time on the wrong side of the law.  Picking that ringtone was easy.  Johnny Cash’s version of Folsom Prison Blues live at Folsom Prison causes many to look at me funny while a big grin crosses my face.  Don’t worry, the family member knows and thinks it’s pretty funny as well.  That’s the beauty of the gospel.  We can get back up and move forward with our lives.  It’s a great story.  It’s not mine.  Maybe one day I can get his permission to tell some of it.

As mentioned before, ringtones grab our attention immediately.  They connect the call to the person on the other end without having to look at the caller i.d.  We tend to use them with special people in our lives.  

I don’t have ringtones for the “others” in my life.  It’s only reserved for those who will get my attention whenever they ring.  They are the important ones.  

I was with a few people I really don’t know very well while attending a training conference.  They heard some of my ringtones .  We began to share different ones and had a great time telling the stories that connect the people to the sounds.

Sometimes God works in very strange ways.  Here we were talking about our ringtones with no idea the speaker was going to talk about the same thing.  Strange.  It wasn’t the main topic, but he used ringtones as an example.  His theme was God getting our attention.  We were quietly grinning at our table having a little fun at his expense when all of a sudden he asked, “What is God’s ringtone that gets your attention?”  

He made a good point.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is to be a relationship.  It is to be the most important relationship of our lives.  We talk with him all the time through prayer.  He talks to us.  It’s called the Bible.  

It’s funny how people ask me all the time about dreams.  I ask a simple question, “Was your dream consistent with the Bible?”  That one usually ends the conversation since few actually read the Bible.  Instead of waiting for the cryptic communication, we should look for the clarity of the Word of God.  

I think the ringtone for God should be a rendition of the kids song that goes, “The B.I.B.L.E. yes, that’s the book for me.  I stand alone on the Word of God.  The B.I.B.L.E.”  

The chaplain turned to his regional director and asked him to pray.  He asked him to pray for Jesus to address his pride.  After all these years it was not so much killing him but ,rather, taking away from the calling to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. 

It started a long time ago.  His dad was a good dad, but he was very close-lipped.  It was hard to get dad’s approval.  It wasn’t like his dad-bad mouthed him.  He simply did not say much.  Only later in life did the hungry chaplain realize it was his dad’s personality.  However, it left its scar on his psyche.  He was going to prove his worth.

Before the gentleman became a minister and eventually a chaplain, he was an educator.  Smart and driven most people would say.  With a Master’s Degree in Educational Management and Supervision, the young man would be on the fast track to an administrative position.  That would prove his worth to the world.  

Only things didn’t pan out that way.  The fast track became the slow track, and, with his second child on the way, he had to make some money.  

Making a long story as short as possible, his dad had a chance to purchase his franchise.  Only he needed someone to make the short-term a long-term opportunity.  So, off to business the educator went.  

He took over the business after a few years and took the company over the 1.2 million mark in gross sales.  With an emphasis on quality in the mechanics shop and expanding the “in-house” accounts, the business took off.  This had to declare his value to the world, especially his family.  That was until the United States decided to invade Iraq, and the downturn in business began a spiral that was hard to come out of.  

When a business goes into a downward trend, it tends to take small problems and turn them into big if not huge problems.  It’s sort of like a football team that is riding the arm of a great quarterback only to have him go down due to injury.  The glaring gaps at defense get wider.  The lack of a running game goes deeper.  Things can come apart.  For the successful young man they did.  His “legacy” was going in the wrong direction. 

There is an amazing element of belief in Jesus Christ.  It’s the truth that the Good Shepherd always looks out for his sheep.  The Bible says that when one of those sheep gets lost, the Good Shepherd will go and find him and bring him home.  Let’s just say the young man, who was now moving into middle age, was lost.  His life, career, and home, were not going well.  Every decision he made seemed to be wrong.  Here he was, trying to please everybody except Jesus.  Oh, he attached him to things to make it look like it, but he knew.  He knew. 

Eventually, after a few years of misery, the educator-turned-businessman left to answer the call to serve the Lord Jesus in ministry.  It started in youth ministry, rebuilding a fractured youth group at his home church.  From there he started a college ministry.  Things seemed to be back on track.  That was until his church began to have it’s own problems.  Churches that wait till there are problems to make tough decisions seldom make good decisions.  Let’s just say it was time to go.

So, off to South Carolina he went.  It didn’t start well at all.  Within 6 months of arriving, the ministry plans were in total chaos.  Sitting in a local restaurant with his wife, he and she tearfully and fearfully considered heading back north to the safety net of family and familiarity.  Only, they never made it back there.  Why?  The Good Shepherd had other plans.

Over the next 15 years, the young man had now entered his senior years.  The ministry in South Carolina had seen it’s ups and downs.  Overall, there were no complaints.  Nobody promised an easy path.  The Scriptures talk about a narrow road being one that leads to life.  Narrow roads can be hard to stay on.  

The minister became a police chaplain.  Then a fire department chaplain.  Here he was now at a training conference as a part-time workplace chaplain.  God works in weird ways and at weird times.  The trainer asked, “Why are you a chaplain?”  Living in the Christian world, we can come up with Christian answers that hide the truth.  We learn the system.  

But this time, the question sank deep.  It touched his soul in ways his soul had not been in a long time.  It went beyond being a chaplain.  He quickly turned the question into “Why are you in ministry at all?”  He knew it at that minute.

There are brief moments when we can see clearly in a fallen world.  Most times we live in a fog hoping it lifts soon.  The moment the question left the speakers lips, he knew the answer.  He was still trying to prove his worth.  It was long overdue to end the charade and get rid of the pride that kept his own heart captive.  

Turning to his director, he asked for prayer about his pride.  The prayer nailed it home.  Somehow, Jesus put on the director’s his lips what the chaplain had a hard time giving up.  His thirst for recognition, mixed with his pride was finally at the foot of the cross.  

As I said “Amen” after his prayer, I now can say, “I am a minister and a chaplain to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”  I will be reminded tomorrow morning to leave my thirst and my desires with my Good Shepherd once again.  It is in these moments I am free.  Will you join me? 

Jesus said, “Come unto me all who are burdened and heavy hearted and I will give you rest.”  I was tired as I know so many around me are as well.  There is only one place to find rest.  His name is Jesus.  

I can’t believe it!  It’s raining.  We haven’t seen substantial rain for some time.  Earlier today I  decided to walk around in it for a few minutes.  It felt so good.  

My lawn is happy.  I don’t like to throw money out the door, so I don’t water my lawn unless it really has to happen.  I was thinking about it this week till I looked at the weather report and saw the coming rain.  The brown will turn green soon.  Not for long, though, it’s going to go dormant soon.  

The temperature is a bit cooler as well.  This is going to cool things down a little bit.  Here it is two o’clock in the afternoon, and it’s only 74 degrees.  Compared to the long hot weather we have had all summer, this is heaven.  

Maybe our air-conditioning can catch a break.  I admit we keep our house pretty cool.  If we ever take a ride together, the air conditioning will be on.  I’m a naturally hot person.  I’m the kind of person that has to sleep with the fan on and one sheet or cover.  Meanwhile, my wife acts like we live in northern Montana.  She is naturally cold.  85 degrees is reason to put a sweater on.  She would wear a winter coat in the house if I let her.  

Some of my friends think this area of South Carolina is the hottest place they have ever been.  Sometimes it’s not really hot but humid.  The humidity drives the heat index up sometimes (more then a few times this summer) over 100 degrees.  I like to call summer in the Lowcountry “three shirt days.”  If anyone does anything outside, he or she will be changing shirts at least three times.  

However, this is not the hottest place I’ve been.  About 17 years ago, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Australia.  I went with a guy who was studying Biology, and he wanted to experience the different biomes of the island.  There are four different biomes in Australia, including a rainforest.  If you include the Great Barrier Reef, there are five biomes.  I have to admit, snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef might be the most awesome experience I have ever had.  Ever!  

As we were traveling from Sydney to Darwin to see the rainforest, we missed our plane.  So we had to catch a flight out to Alice Springs and then on to Darwin.  Alice Springs is in the desert region.  When you go to Outback, check out the Alice Springs chicken.  I can guarantee you one thing.  There are no chickens in Alice Springs.  It’s too hot!  It is the only time in my 60 years that my shoes melted to the black top.  I am not exaggerating one little bit.  

We had a five-hour lay-over so we decided to go to a small park.  We didn’t stay long.  We didn’t want to die from heat stroke.  I’m not sure what the actual temperature was, but it was plum hot.  A graph on Google shows that it can get to 45 degrees Centigrade.  That is 113 degrees Fahrenheit.  I don’t care what anybody says.  113 is just way over the top.  I believe it was that hot when we were there in early January.  It might be winter in the USA, but it’s summer in the land down under.  

When I was much younger people shared Jesus with me.  Often I heard the question, “You don’t want to spend eternity in hell do you?”  Being a real young one I asked, “What is hell?”  The reply was often, “It’s fire and brimstone, very hot!”  No way did I want that.  Even when I was a young lad, I asked some questions that caught others off guard.  So I asked, “Is there air-conditioning in heaven?”  Let’s just say nobody answered that one immediately.  They probably thought I was hopeless.  

The Bible does talk about hell being a place of fire and brimstone.  The lake of fire is the picture we have of the second death (eternal punishment).  In Matthew 25, hell is described as being a place of darkness.  I can remember a pastor trying to correlate a dark hell with fire.  Sometimes we try too hard.  

Hell is without question a place of severe pain.  There is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  It’s a place described as being one of death and destruction.  One guy who is condemned to hell asks for a drop of water to sooth his parched tongue.  Again, we have an idea that it is hot.  But, is this reality or actuality?

It was not until I was much older that I came to understand that hell is the absence of God.  God is the essence of all things good, pure, and holy.  Heaven is being in the presence for eternity.  Not a jot or tittle of evil will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

So hell, therefore, is the opposite of heaven.  There is not the jot or tittle of goodness.  Therefore, instead of living in the spirit of love, those who do not follow Jesus will live in the spirit of hate and death.  Often somebody will tell me they don’t mind going to hell.  They will be there with their friends.  I don’t think so.  I see it more as a place of total isolation, tormented by all that is evil.  Forget hot!  The absence of God will make the heat of Alice Springs seem like a cool bath.  The Bible describing hell as hot is the only way they could describe misery that all would understand.  

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  Jesus, light and life are guaranteed.  All he says to do is follow.  We don’t have to wait for relief.   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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