Tag Archive: Gospel


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The driver was not happy.  He hadn’t been happy for a long time.  The flat tire on the rear of his truck short circuited his plans.  As he approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge the blow out would need to be changed.  Little did he know his plans were going to change more than the left rear tire.

He pulled to the side of the road.  For a few minutes he had to think where the jack might be and how the spare tire could be lowered.  It had been a long time since he had to use either one of them.  He was startled when a man knocked on his window.  He didn’t see the other pickup stop behind him.  “Do you need some help?” the Good Samaritan asked.  

He needed help, that’s for sure.  They looked for the jack and couldn’t find one.  He had no idea his son had changed a tire months before and left the jack in the garage.   Not only that, but his spare tire was flat as well.   His son didn’t tell him he never fixed the tire.

The Good Samaritan asked if he would like a ride.  He may as well.  His plans were totally disrupted.  Since they were already on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge approach, there was only one way to go…over to the main land.  About half way across, the disgruntled traveler looked longingly at the water below.  “Would you like to grab some coffee on the other side?” the gracious driver asked.  With little words to spare, he muttered, “Sure, why not?”

Once over the Bay Bridge, they found a local coffee shop waiting for weary travelers needing a cup of brew.   The driver noticed the seemingly weary man was not in a hurry to get a tow truck.  In fact, he was brooding over everything including ,his cup of hot coffee.  The Good Samaritan now turned into a potential friend when he asked, “Is there something you would like to talk about? You seem to have a lot on your mind.”  Again, he received the answer, “Sure, why not?”

After approximately two hours as they talked, the truth was revealed.  The weary and disgruntled man was driving to the top of the bridge to jump off and end his life.  His family was in disarray, and not much had gone right for some time.  His new friend told him his profession, “I’m a pastor of a church on the Eastern Shore.”  At this point, there was only one way to go.  “Do you mind if I tell you about the hope I have found?” he asked.  “Sure, why not?”

The Good Samaritan told his story.  It was a sad story at first.  Premature deaths, trouble with alcohol, and plenty more to send anyones life into a tailspin.  “But,” and there is the best word in the Bible.  But, Jesus had other plans.  After hearing his story, the weary traveler wanted to know more about Jesus.  To make a long story short, after about 5 hours together, he decided to follow Jesus.  

So, why did I tell you this story?  The pastor who stopped to help a man in need had a history of stopping his own life to engage others.  He had the reputation for looking around and reading people.  This was not his first flat tire engagement and it won’t be his last.  This would not be his only weary traveler on the road of life.  He saw them as people who needed to meet the One who promised life.  He also happened to be the pastor of the fastest growing church on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  

I was having breakfast this week with a good friend who is also a local pastor.  We had asked the waitress last month how we could pray for her.  She replied, “My son needs prayer.”  She didn’t give details.  This month another waitress we asked said she was going through a divorce and asked prayer not only for herself but for her soon to be ex-husband.  A few minutes later, the waitress from last month stopped by.  She asked us to continue to pray for her son.  He has a drug abuse issue.  Both the son and the mother needed prayer.  They got it.  

We talk about the demise of the modern day church.  We are pulling all the stops out in the book from shorter services, song selections, and programs upon programs.  We are looking in the wrong place.  Look outward.  

My friend commented how easy it was for the hurting waitresses to share their short stories.  “Hurting people are everywhere,” he languished.  Yes, they are.  They are in church pews every Sunday.  Only they have become conditioned to hide and avoid their pain.  

Jesus came across a lot of suffering people.  He didn’t hide in his office.  He didn’t make excuses such as, “I’m not here for that.”  No, he touched people all the way to the cross even giving hope to one who was on a cross right next to him. 

The main reason for the demise of the modern day Christian church is the inward attention trying to make comfortable people happy.  Instead, it’s time to change a spare tire, talk to a waitress, and get our heads up looking for those who can’t find a high enough bridge.  The gospel is good news.   When we look outward instead of inward we can see others.  They are looking for an answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?  

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.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every other Sunday night you can find me at the movies enjoying the latest flick with my good friends and son-in-law.  I love the big screen.  I remember my first movie.  My mom took me to the Hollywood movie theater in Arbutus, Maryland.  I saw the 1st Star Wars movie at the Timonium Drive-In with my best friend and girlfriend, who I eventually  married.  It rained.  That didn’t matter.  It was Star Wars.  

I love to look for the gospel in the movies.  There is a book titled, “How the Movies Helped Save My Soul.”  Hollywood might not ever realize how much it presents the grand story of redemption.   It’s all over the place.  My daughter hates to go to the movies with me.  She just wants to be entertained.  She thinks I’m plumb crazy.  She is right.

Last week we saw the movie “Skyscraper.”  It was a totally unrealistic action adventure movie staring Dwayne Johnson, “The Rock.”  It was like watching an old Diehard movie only instead of Bruce Willis we, get the new version with “The Rock.”  The good guys win in the end.  Or should I say the good guy wins in the end.  

Anyway, for some reason this one, along with the previews, affected me in a way I did not expect.  I was suddenly attuned to the amount of violence that is coming our way via the Big Screen.  It wasn’t just the violence; it’s the level it’s being taken.  There is a line that is getting dimmer and dimmer between fantasy and reality.  That line is red.  

I’m not an end all violent games and movies type of person.  I have played plenty of video games and I tend to think I’m not a violent person.  Or am I? Violence does not have to be full of guns, blood and death. Violence can come in many forms.  

In the Old Testament when Noah is told to build an ark, Genesis 6:11 reads, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.”  The word corrupt in this context means “to spoil or disfigure.”  The word violence has the overriding connection of a “loss of respect for life.”  Basically, life under the auspices of God had become disfigured and there was a total loss of respect for any living human being and probably creature.  

What happens when there is a total loss of respect for our neighbor?  It might not mean murder  and mayhem (at times it does), but, it means wishing and perpetrating harm and pain on someone for your own gain.  We might not be wielding a gun or knife but we may be living in a way that is so self-consumed we are not even aware of the pain we are inflicting on those around us.  An inability to be concerned for someone else defines a lack of respect. 

In our world we are seeing a widening gulf between opposite opinions, beliefs and philosophies.  Instead of considering someone as I would consider myself (Philippians 2) we are more and more building ramparts that separate and divide.  It’s happening in the name of Jesus leaving many confused, disillusioned and hurt.

Most people who have left the church have left over a painful experience within the body of Christ.  We like to think they “backslide.”  Sure, a few walk away from the teachings of the Bible . Most, however, walk away due to someone in the name of Jesus elevating themselves slaying the soul of their brother or sister.  It happens more than one thinks.  It is violence with no blood.  

How does this happen?  Opinions are not allowed to be spoken especially if they are not prominent in the leadership circle.  People are not encouraged, they are expected to give their lives to the “body” without any support.  Ministries they love lose support to the next “new” and “cool” ministry.  People are not dealt with honestly for fear they may bolt.  They wilt and nobody notices.  

Somedays I wonder why anyone goes to church.  The younger generations are simply not going.  The retirement generation that moves away from their community is stopping as well.  When I talk to either one they tell stories of the pain they suffered and don’t want to experience it again.  

The Catholic Church had a campaign a few years ago that broadcast, “You can come home.”  I liked that one.  I wonder if any church is willing to confess it’s sin, be committed to true community and spend it’s dollars supporting the least of these instead of spending them making the wealthy more happy.  You can come home.  Do you want to?  Jesus talked about peace and unity.  The violence has to stop.  At all levels.

There is an interesting “Bible Study” that meets on Friday mornings at Bible Missionary Baptist Church. I’m not sure it is a Bible study. After a fifteen minute devotional the discussion could go. In any direction and on any topic at any minute. I’m not sure it is a “men’s” group even though it is attended by only men. The men are from all different churches, colors, and socio-economic backgrounds. We never solve the world’s problems, and, from time to time we probably make a few.
Over the years, many have come and many have gone. Some come trying to gain support for their cause, organization or church. That is not going to happen. Others can’t handle the non-structured meeting. Believe me, it has very little structure. Some think it is too conservative. One thing we always do, regardless of the opinion or topic, we go back to the Scriptures to set our bearing straight. Those who tend to leave think their opinion trumps God’s. Personally, I have never known that to work well.
I have developed some true friends in this group. We hold hands when we pray. We hug when we leave. We don’t see color. We don’t see styles of clothing. We don’t see our differences. We see our similarities. Nobody’s words trump anybody else’s. There are Friday mornings I don’t want to get up at 5 to make the meeting. The strange thing is. I can’t miss it. It is a beautiful expression of the gospel.
One day we were talking about something and one of the members said something that caught my attention. He said, “Mist in the pulpit is fog in the pew.” From time to time ,my brother has some good ones. This one made me think.
The prophets of the Old Testament often spoke against the “shepherds” of the time. The prophet Jeremiah was beaten by the priests. He was dumped in a hole to die. It wasn’t the people. It was the religious leaders. It was also the religious leaders that worked together to have Jesus crucified. Jesus displayed immense grace to the sinner. To the self-righteous leaders he issued seven woes, which in that day, was the ultimate condemnation.
The more I look at this one I laugh. I laugh a lot. It is the shepherd who gets up and instructs the people every Sunday. If the sheep challenge the shepherd, they may end up like the prophet Jeremiah, “beaten up” with words and loss of reputations. How many people have left the church when they met with leadership because they were rejected and often ignored?
Several years ago, I was struggling with my senior pastor. He wasn’t going off the wall or anything, but he was drifting. I was in a class at seminary, and we were asked to talk about something that was bothering us. I mentioned very lightly about my struggle with the pastor. A lady in the class ripped me up one side and down the other. She said things like, “How dare you doubt God’s servant.” It got worse from there. This would not be the last time I’ve been ostracized for being critical of leadership.
However, if we apply my fellow Friday brother’s statement to anything else that is important to us we, would not remain still and silent. When our government leadership wavers, we have an opinion. When education is failing, we don’t blame the students. We address the leadership. My son was a regional manager for a restaurant company for a short time. He told me straight up, if a restaurant is struggling, it’s due to poor management.
If Jesus calls us sheep (we are), then at some level, when the sheep are wandering, the shepherds should be challenged from the Word of God. I was looking at some statistics about the declining church attendance in America. It was put together by a non-religious entity. What was interesting is the fact that the churches that have abandoned critical issues such as the divinity of Christ, inspiration and infallibility of the Scriptures, and other long-time Christian fundamentals are declining much faster then the “conservative” ones. Giving the sheep what they want is not Christianity. Leading them to the cross with the Scriptures as our guide is.
Brothers and sisters…instead of abandoning the bride of Christ, it’s well-time we find shepherds who not only preach the Word but live it as well. We live in an age of compromise. Jesus didn’t compromise. It cost Him. That cost was our salvation. What is required of us? The same.

 I like to play fantasy football.  10 to 12 guys draft their players and play head to head based on the statistics their guys produce each week.  Some play for money.  I play for honor.  We are all armchair general managers and coaches.  I’ve seen people do and say some of the dumbest things over their fantasy teams.  It’s fun.    

 I root for the Dallas Cowboys.  Yes, we all have our flaws.  The Baltimore Colts moved out of town one year in the dead of night.  I refused to root for the Washington Redskins.  No way I was going to root for Indianapolis, their new home.  I picked another team that was blue and white.  I didn’t know anything about them.  I was not jumping on the Roger Staubach/Tom Landry bandwagon.  They were blue and white, and that’s how they became my team.  I’ve only been to Dallas once for a three-day conference.  They are my team.  Live with it.

I watched the NFL draft this year for the first time in my life.  I don’t know why other than it sure beats the stuff my wife likes to watch. I had the computer sitting on my lap trying to punch out this week’s article.  I tried a couple different subjects.  In the end the only thing that I had was the NFL draft and Jesus.  What a combination!

As I watched the draft I thought about how it resembles some spiritual issues.  The first impression was how much of a critical world we live in.  Jesus wanted us to love and care for one another.   The air of criticism was to be replaced with compassion, encouragement and peace.  Good luck finding those elements in our hyper sensitive, overly critical social media infused society.

Let’s try to tackle this one.  In my opinion, the Cowboys’ draft was mediocre at best.  But, that’s just it.  I am not in the front office.  I don’t do any scouting.  I don’t know their 1-year plan and I don’t know their 3-year plan.  However, they didn’t do it my way!  How dare they?  My philosophy in the draft must not be theirs.  Sometimes I think as Christians we feel we have the right to be judge and jury with people’s lives.  

We like to look at everybody else instead of ourselves.  In the meantime we talk about and to people without knowing them.  We have joined the rest of the world in judging others in a 30 second social media diatribe.  Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”    When will we stop running away from people and run to them?  Where would we be if Jesus operated that way with us?  

The NFL draft also gives us a view of being dependent upon Christ instead of  settling to be “good” people.  Eugene Peterson in The Message writes, “Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk.  They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything.  Everything of God gets expressed in Him, so you can see and hear Him clearly.”  What is it to see Christ instead of the elements of this world?

The NFL teams drafted players based on talent, ability and strength.  The world operates in this way.  Jesus doesn’t.  He invites those to his banquet who are “poor, crippled, blind and lame.”  The Christian faith is not dependent upon us!  It’s dependent upon the One who opens the gates to those who spiritually don’t belong.  His “team” looks vastly different than one put together by scouts and experts.  “Praise Him all creatures here below.”  

We are looking for someone to rescue us.  All we put our hope on has failed.  The apostle Paul says to look no further than Jesus who is “the author and finisher of our faith.”  It’s a great time to be a Christian!  As the great song said, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.”  

Could you imagine a young man in a wheel chair, bottle-thick glasses, hearing aides in place sitting in the crowd at the draft.  Jesus comes to the podium and all the wonderful “good” people are waiting to hear their name called.  They got talent.  They got ability.  They got it!  As Jesus walks to the podium. He announces His first draft pick for 2018.  It’s the young man in the wheelchair.  He doesn’t tell Jesus what he can do to make His team better.   He wheels forward and wraps himself around Jesus with tears of joy thankful to hear his name called.  He has nothing to bring except his heart.  That is what it is like to be on His team.  “Coach, let me play!”