Tag Archive: God


Seldom do I venture into mixing politics and faith.  Jesus separated the two.  He said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars and give to God what is Gods.”  The two alone can become vicious between two debaters.  I imagine together they can bring death and destruction.  Today, I’m going to dip my toe in.

As our government roles deeper into the shutdown and the sides continue to play tit for tat, as a believer, I’m saddened.  Regardless of our views on welfare and political parties and border control, in the sad game are real people.  People who are at the mercy of powerful and often arrogant leaders on both sides of the issues at hand.  Who is going to care for those caught in the middle?

I was having this discussion with a friend who reminded me the employees will be paid once the shutdown is over.  I reminded him that many of those in these positions are pay check-to- pay check.  It won’t take long till mortgages and rents are missed, electric and water bills become critical, and credit cards become maxed out.  In the meantime those in authority play games with national audiences.

I don’t have the answers to immigration, and I don’t have the answers to the holes in everyone’s political platforms.  What I do know is people – white, black, yellow, young, old and still to be born, are trapped in a world where the weak are used as pawns for a perceived cause, and my Bible does speak about that!

In the Old Testament, God set out his people to be separate.  They were a holy people to be used by God for his holy intentions.  Their purity was important to God.  Along the way, they forgot the source of their purity.  Their purity was to be founded in listening to and following the words of God.  Instead, they took a few words (law) ,built power centers (Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes), and created a means to judge others instead of loving others.  

They forgot they were not to take advantage of the disadvantaged.  They missed the words about taking care of the alien and stranger in the land.  They disregarded the teaching about making a profit off the backs of the weak.  They were reprimanded but changed nothing when the prophet Micah said, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”  Instead, the rich and the proud distorted justice, had little mercy and forgot God.  Sounds familiar. The Bible is relative to our world as it was to theirs.

When we, as a people, have little compassion for the weak, we have lost the heart of God.  Micah did say love justice.  It’s not about letting life become a free for all.  However, the three elements of what God requires are connected at the hip.  As I grow older, I discover they cannot be separated.  They are the heart of God.  

Psalm 41:1 says, “Blessed is the one who has regard for the weak!”  First of all notice the exclamation point.  It was used to emphasize an action of a believer.  The word used for regard is not a passing glance.  It was used to describe someone “who has the ability to know what to do and how.”  How do we develop the ability?  Micah answers that one.  He said, “…walk humbly with our God.”  

Jesus came from his position at the right hand of the Father and walked among us for 30 years, giving his very life to give us life and give us a mediator who knew us personally.  It’s an amazing feature about Christianity.  God with us!  His Holy Spirit makes that possible every day, no matter where we go.  Humility with God is recognizing he didn’t have to leave the throne and walk among us, much less die for us.  His justice demanded our death!  Instead of death, we are given mercy and He calls upon us to remember it (Lord’s supper) and be the touch of Jesus to the weak.  

It’s time we quit fighting about which party best fits the Christian faith.  We are not called to pick the least of two evils.  We are called to live separate of that.  It’s a life that considers “others better than ourselves” according to the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2.  Now we not only have a weak people (immigrants) dying to come to this land of prosperity, we have our own who will not be paid by the richest government in the world while the proud make their points.  It’s been this way for years (Regan amnesty) and won’t get fixed quickly.  

Where do we start?  Walk humbly with our God.  He is the only one that can melt the heart bent on judgment and destruction.  I’m going to say it!  Donald and Nancy, put your sticks down, walk humbly with Jesus, figure out how mercy and justice work together and don’t forget to take care of the alien as well as your own brother and sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here I was all gung-ho ready to go into 2019.  Conquer the world was #1 priority.  Change was in the air.  I was ready to hit the ground running.  Till yesterday!  It’s amazing how a little bit of illness and tiredness can knock the stuffing right out of us.  My wife asked me what was wrong with me.  I grouchily replied, “Nothing is necessarily wrong, but nothing is necessarily right either.”  I just felt bad.  

On top of feeling a bit under the weather, I made a commitment that forced me to rise at the wonderful 4:00 a.m. hour.  Did you know the sun is nowhere near being up at that hour?  It is the hour the deer decide the flowers in your garden are better than the delicacies in the woods.  So now, I’m dogged tired and feeling about 70%.  Conquer the world?  Forget it; the world won.  Change in the air?  No possible way am I dealing with change today.  Hit the ground running?  Crawling would be a better description.  Gung-ho ready to go?  Gung-ho ready to stay in bed!  Can you relate?  

I come across a lot of people who think faith means we believe in God but are going to focus on man.  You know the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.”  Sorry to disappoint ,but it isn’t in the Bible.  I’ve also heard the one, “Give God your best; he demands it.”  Again, it’s not there.  Jesus never said it.  There is a reference in Malachi about giving God the side dishes instead of the best ones, but, in the end, it’s open to a matter of interpretation.  He desires the best, but he doesn’t demand it.  He would never demand I run the 100 yard dash in under 10 seconds.  Why?  I can’t.  I can’t even using Philippians 4:13 as my motivation.  It reads, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Again, open to interpretation.  I rest that Jesus knows we are limited.

That’s my point today.  We are limited.  Just a little bug and lack of sleep can throw off the best of us.  I haven’t even mentioned chronic conditions that can take the edge off of us one little bit.  What is it about our human nature that makes us think we can be Super Christian?  Sermon after sermon tells me I’ve got something wrong.  Jesus saves me, and now it’s up to me to get everything right.  No kidding, and you have to be kidding.  

I don’t believe in Jesus just to make a bad day good.  I don’t believe Jesus expects me to do some things I really can’t.  I believe in Jesus because I know I can’t.  I can’t get it all right.  Some days I don’t get much right at all.  I believe in Jesus because he came to take my place because there is no way I’m going to come close to heaven.

I used to talk about a person being a paper width away from God; they still are not capable of being with God.  I’ve now lived long enough to know even on our best days no one on this earth even comes a paper width away from God.  Nobody! 

That’s the whole idea about faith.  Faith boils down to three positions.  If you think today’s article is a downer, position #1 is worse.  The first option says there is no God and man has to make the best of it.  Ummm, that one hasn’t worked since man could communicate, so I don’t think we will ever make it.  

Option #2 is there is a God, but he only takes the good ones.  That might make some sense but where can we find the definition of “good.”  There isn’t one.  For those that make a list, it’s not a list of things that make you good, but rather a list of what makes one bad.  So, maybe God takes those who are somewhat good.  Who determines that one?  Which list of goodness?  For eternity at stake, this one is way too arbitrary.

Option 3 is the foundation of belief in Christ.  I can’t.  I have no chance.  If I can’t, I have to depend on something or someone else.  No different than when I get sick and cannot seem to get well.  I go to a doctor.  Why?  He knows how to make me well.  In this option, we put our trust in Jesus.  That’s it.  No additions.  No subtractions.  The Scripture says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.  Do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”  Trust.  Believe.  Follow.  And on days you can’t follow, don’t lose heart.  He died for those days too.  In fact, those are every day.  

So I don’t feel too good; I’m tired and grouchy.  No worry and no fear.  I don’t rest on my ability to have a good day.  I rest in Jesus who invites the sick, the tired and grouchy to come to him.  What did he promise?  Rest.  Rest from trying to make it on my own.  Got to go.  A nap is calling me.

 

Here I sit on December 26th wondering if Christmas can speed by any faster than it did this year.  We even notched it back a few degrees from years past.  I have a hard time believing there are 24 hours in every day of the year.  Maybe, just maybe we lose a few after Thanksgiving.  We can request a federal grant to study that one.  I think about a million dollars would make the study feasible.  I could use some research assistants.  

Anyway, now that I’ve woken up from the Christmas hangover (I didn’t imbibe in the occasional spirits), I turn my attention to New Years.  The time of year we make resolutions, over 80% if which will be broken by February 1st.  That’s because most of them have to do with our diet.  A diet is not successful unless it is a lifestyle change.  Who wants to change their lifestyle?  I didn’t think so.  So, we say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019.

I hope 2019 is as good as 2018 was.  Seriously, I personally had a decent 2018.  The first thing I did was get my life under control.  I turned a 55-hour a week work schedule down to about 48.  Not bad!  I’m generally out only one night of the week.  That is down from three.  Amazingly, I enjoy life a bit more now and I have more time for family as well as reading books.  Not bad at all!

The second thing was I adopted a dog.  I knew he was going to be a lot of work.  Half lab and half hound makes an interesting combination.  He looks like a lab and acts like a hound.  Did you know hounds are hard headed?  Just like me! He has forced me to make changes that have been very good.  I get up at 5:00 every morning now. It has improved my prayer life.  Walking a dog at 5:45 a.m. for 1.3 miles a trip gives me plenty of time to ask God if I am crazy or not.  Somedays He reminds me that, indeed, I am crazy, and it’s the nature of man.  It’s then I ask for help and a lot of it.  

The dog, Vader (yes, after Darth Vader), has forced me to address my weight.  I have lost 27 pounds since he came into my life.  A lengthly dog walk twice a day has helped.  I have also cut back on my sugar intake and red meat intake.  The last change that my wife and I decided to work on not eating heavy late meals.  I’ve got a ways to go (I would love to lose another 22 pounds), but overall I feel better.   

I’ve also been able to spend a lot of time watching my grandchildren.  They keep me young.  We like to call our time together, “Poppie Adventures.”  It’s fun!  There will be a day they will not want me around.  So…I’ll take advantage of the time they give me now.  We discovered rock painting in 2018.  We paint rocks and hide them around the neighborhood and around town.  You can find pictures of them on the Bluffton Rocks Facebook page.  We like to bring smiles to other’s faces, and a little joy to their lives. 

As I sit and think about 2019, I’m thinking about what kind of person I want to be heading into the new year.  I’m sure my 2018 adventures won’t be topped even though I need to get back into the kayak now that my knees are feeling much better.  So, my thoughts are about what God wants of me in 2019.

I was talking to my dear friend Dwayne from Maryland about this while he visited right before the holidays.  We were actually talking about the modern day church and how to reach the next generation for Jesus.  We like to philosophize around topics like this.  As he got up toward the end of the conversation he happened to say, “I don’t really care what happens, I just need to heal.”  It was like God was speaking!   Literally!  

I enthusiastically told him he had given me my mission for 2019.  Not only was it my personal mission I want it to define my ministry and my church.  The calling is to be a person, a ministry and a church of healing.  I don’t mean physical healing.  I mean relational and emotional healing.  We look at all the physical healing Jesus performed and miss the point.  Those Jesus touched physically were emotionally and relationally scared.  In their judgment filled world if they had a defect they were outcast and often declared “UNCLEAN.”  When Jesus healed them, he restored them to their community.  I wish I had a whole page to write about this.  You will get bits and pieces of it all year long.

What does it mean to be a healing person and ministry?  I’m not sure yet.  I asked Dwayne what a healing church would look like to him.  He said, “I haven’t experienced one so I don’t know.”  We are going to talk on January 1st about being a healing church.  Before a healing church I have to be healing person.  

I know one thing.  Grace, God’s grace, has to be the driving force to be a participant in emotional, relational and spiritual (I added one) healing.  It starts with grace and ends with great grace.  I just got to figure out what is in-between.  Anybody want to come along?

Don’t look now but Christmas Day is looming.  Right about now, we realize we forgot someone on the gift list.  It’s also possible we received a Christmas card from someone we left off our list.  For younger readers Christmas card lists used to reach into the hundreds.  Now we hope to get a mention on Facebook.

The world will begin to close down around noon tomorrow.  In a few hours we can begin to slow down.  We can begin to focus on “peace on earth, goodwill to man.”  Yes, there are toys that need to be put together.  If I may give a hint, since I’m now in the grandfather stage, don’t kill yourself putting them together the night before.  There will be plenty of time later.  Putting toys together after Christmas extends the day.  Instead, enjoy your family and focus on the importance of this one day.

This one day is so much more important than a manger scene, three kings, a baby, a star and much more.   It is the day we set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  I can’t help but remember the scene from Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby says grace to the baby Jesus.  It borders on sacrilegious for sure.  The satire points out the truth written by Michael Kruger when he says, “Sometimes our picture of scriptural stories is shaped more by popular perceptions and modern retellings than by the text itself.”  Often we look at Christmas by focusing on the story line and miss the deeper truth of Christmas.

It is the day that God became personal.  I didn’t spell it wrong.  Yes, God became a person.  More than that truth, the concept of God went from a bit of a  mystic concept to a personal God leaving us with no excuses.  We can’t leave the baby in the manger.  It’s sweet for sure.  But God can now be defined in a personal, human sense.

The idea of a personal God is very important.  Many will talk about God from a distant perspective.  But when the name of Jesus comes up, it is amazing how it makes people squirm.  Why?  Jesus connected man to God and God to man.  It is somewhat easy to leave a belief in God somewhat up in the air, since, God is not embraceable.  But Jesus, that’s a different story.  The beauty of the story isn’t that we can embrace Jesus.  It’s that he embraces us.  

He invades our world.  He doesn’t just show up in the little town of Bethlehem.  He appears bringing God into understandable measure.  Man would never be the same again.  

Kings fear.  Wise men trail long distances to find him.  Shepherds are invited to the appearance bringing the marginalized into fellowship with God.  It gets better.  The lame will walk.   The blind will see.  Demons know him and fear.  Lepers become whole.  Gentiles are adopted.   Storms are calmed.  The dead walk.  Women are elevated and respected.  Cultural boundaries are erased.  The guilty are forgiven.  Hope is restored.  Grace abounds.  Love prevails.  Mercy is granted.  Jesus is here!  

What did we do?  Killed him.  Those who cannot move past the baby in the manger can only depend upon man himself.  The self-righteous stay on the outside looking in.  Instead of humility, their pride keeps them from the embrace of a personal God.  

As the baby became a man of whom John the Baptist said, “He must increase and I must decrease,” the grave could not contain the personal God.  The resurrection guarantees the truth that this child is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and came proclaiming, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Man.”  

The God who we struggled to get our minds around had embraced his fallen creation and came in the form of a human baby.  We can now relate.  We can now communicate.  We can now have a relationship.  There is no magical prayer mentioned in the Bible.  There is no special action.  All Jesus would ask is “Do you believe?”  Do you believe that Jesus, the Son of God, is the way, the truth, and the life for man or woman no matter their past?  

Honestly, it was not a silent night at all.  It was a thunderous night.  God has come and now we can relate to him as never before.  The world would never be the same again.  “Joy to the World, the Lord has come.”  It ain’t no baby.  It’s God!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is one of the maybe four times a year I have to preach a sermon.  Those who are close to me know I prefer the private ministry of the Word over the public ministry.  While there should not be a difference between the two, I am much more comfortable talking to one or a few than a bunch.  It’s not that I can’t.  I enjoy the interaction.  Conversation is engaging.  Preaching is far from a conversation.  It’s too one-sided for my personal tastes.  

This week I’m going to look at the Hebrew word “Shalom.”  I paid no attention to the word for most of my life.  I’ve heard it referenced from time to time, and, occasionally, when I am in the presence of my Jewish friends it is spoken.  For the most part, it’s like saying “hello” to me.  Thinking about it deeply…that’s a different subject.

I thought it would be best to talk to some of my Jewish contacts about the meaning of the word.  They have been using it a lot longer then we Americans have.  As I asked around, I was surprised.  This is one of the Hebrew words that does not translate well into English.  I’m not sure it translates well into any language.   It is a Hebrew word that has a meaning and expression that takes a lot more words than the standard, “peace,” to gain it’s meaning and understanding.  “Shalom” has something few American words have.  It has depth.

A better translation, as far as I am concerned, is “harmony.”  Harmony requires multiple parts.  When applied to music, it’s a four-part harmony.  When they gel there is a unified tone where not one part dominates the other but they are heard as one.  Ahhh, Shalom.

Now I am musically deficient.  When I think of “shalom,” I think in baseball terms.  By the way, congratulations to the Boston Red Sox and their fans on winning the World Series.  Back to baseball.  I loved to play baseball.  I could field and throw above my peers.  However, I could not hit all that well.   There was this one time, when I was using a wooden bat that the fastball met the sweet spot and sprang like a rocket deep into centerfield.  I remember the feeling.  I remember everything about that moment.  It was like everything came together for an incredible moment.  Shalom…the fastball hitting the sweet spot to dead center-field. It was beautiful.

As I look into the Word of God, I find the word in the Hebrew Old Testament, but the depth of the word is hard to find in the New Testament.  In a sense, the only time man experienced pure shalom (peace, harmony, safety, wholeness and a lot more) was in the Garden of Eden.  There, man was in “shalom” with God, fellow man, and nature.  Shalom’s even deeper meaning is “lack of conflict.”  All was a living harmony.

I see “shalom” as being an element of holiness.  It is when all of man (body, soul and spirit) are at peace in wholeness, without conflict with the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  We thought perfection was the demand.  No, holiness is.  It is when our motives are in line with our actions and peace at all levels is in accordance with the Will of God.  Now I don’t know about you but I get brief glimpses and that’s about it.

Shalom ended quickly with one decision.  The decision was to eat the fruit of the tree.  Since that moment, man has struggled to find any sense of shalom.  Man was made at all levels to be at shalom with the Godhead.  Instead that harmony has been plagued with sin and depravity.  God told his people “stop your sacrifices.  I want your heart.”  Obedience is not the goal.  Being in a state of shalom with God is.  

Do you have a feeling we are left with an impossible goal?  You are right!  The sin plague has left us way short of the glory of God.  Yet, that’s the whole basis of belief in Jesus Christ.  It isn’t that I can somehow be at shalom with God.  It’s that God is at shalom with me through the blood of Jesus Christ.  

Jesus made it possible to get those few glimpses of shalom.  One day they will become complete when we are on the other side of glory.  In the meantime, I worship the living Jesus who made it possible for me to have shalom.  We don’t have to check off the boxes.  We don’t have to do whatever, wherever.  Christ did it all on the cross.  

As we creep closer to the Christmas season, the angels cried out, “Peace on Earth, Good Will to man.”  Shalom at it’s best! 

I appreciate it when someone asks me to write about a certain topic or event.  That takes the weekly guessing game out of the equation.  It also allows me to focus on one topic instead of rumbling around on several hoping one rises to the top.  

There is a men’s study/conversation group that meets on Friday mornings.  We generally open the Word and focus for a few minutes gaining insight from each other as to the Scripture’s application.  It’s an eclectic group.  Most are from different denominational backgrounds.  Nobody hijacks the meeting.  We all come from different backgrounds.  That leads to a discussion that usually has many turns and twists.  Some days, it’s quite challenging.  I don’t say that negatively.  It’s good to be challenged.  As we learn from Proverbs 27, “iron sharpens iron.”  

I was telling the guys a story from my youth ministry days.  We realized that very few of our students were touched, literally in a positive affirming manner.  Few were touched at all.  They lived isolated lives.  Mom’s and Dad’s have become so busy chasing the rabbit down the rabbit hole that kids were seldom spoken with, seldom encouraged and never affirmed with anything such as a hearty pat on the back.  

Often we would come across students who did not hear encouraging words.  They didn’t hear them because they were not spoken.  We heard story after story of homes where parents only spoke when they were disciplining.  From time to time they only touched their child out of anger and frustration.  No wonder the word “love” is confusing.  

As a youth ministry team, we learned to touch every child and offer words of encouragement as often as we could without placating them.  The touch might have been a light squeeze on the elbow or a soft hand on their shoulder.  For the guys, patting a guy on the back while we played games in the gym was highly encouraged.  We could tell the new kids.  Their look when we touched them would stop a speeding locomotive.  

Along with a proper touch, we wanted to encourage them along the way.  The Bible talks a lot about encouragement.  The writer of Hebrews (we don’t know who it was) implored the believers of the day to “encourage one another daily.”  Why?  It’s a discouraging world, and don’t for one second think we live in encouraging days.  We live in a critical society.  We now have forums where anyone can be critical of anyone at anytime day or night.  

Proverbs 4 says to be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “You are what you think all day long.”  Live in a world of criticism and that is who you become.  

Recently, I was with a group discussing ministry.  I asked, “Is your ministry a place of calm or chaos?  Do you purpose to energize or deflate?  Do the people around you find ways to encourage or micro-manage life to the point where nobody can do anything?”  I don’t have the space to write their answers, so I will sum them up in a few words.  They hoped they were positive in nature but when we went to the next level and asked them to give examples the room went silent.  

Sometimes when an individual stands up and leads with the purpose of encouraging the troops to move forward they are seen as an extremist. The words are muttered that I have heard way too often over the years, “You are too passionate.”  

Jesus walked into a very critical culture.  The basic laws set forth in the Old Testament had been misused and multiplied.  Last time I checked ,the law was not encouraging.  The law is critical, and we think making more laws will make a difference.  The law separates people instead of binding them together.  That was Jesus’ world.  So what did he do?

Jesus focused on his love, grace and mercy.  Against those, it says in His Word, “there are no laws.” 

Touch a life with encouragement.  Touch a weary soul with peace and patience.  Provide a sense of calm in a world of chaos.  Bring hope where there is fear and doubt.  Be a peacemaker when war breaks out.  Be kind when everything in your mind roars to be critical and mean.  Practice self-control in a world that has very little.  Against these characteristics of God…there is no law.  They also have a way of driving criticism out the door.  It’s amazing what a smile can do, a touch can calm, a word of encouragement can energize.  

What did the AT&T jingle say, “Reach out, reach out and touch someone.” 

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.