Tag Archive: Gospel

It’s going to be over one day, and I’m not talking about the end of the world.  This pandemic will have an end.  One day.  When?  Nobody seems to have a grip on that one.  We have become a people that expect an on and off switch on just about everything.  The pandemic doesn’t have a light switch.  It’s more like a dimmer.  

Basically, it comes down to a feeling of being in control.  With the new world of universal knowledge, the vast amount of information (real and fake) leaves an even greater feeling of being out of the driver’s seat.  The ability to gain knowledge at our finger-tips is not working out well.  We tend to forget that knowledge has to go through an interpretation lens.  Knowledge is not so much the problem.  The interpretations of it are.  

Here Adam and Eve were in the Garden of Eden with God’s truth before them.  That darn serpent showed up and gave a different interpretation or twist on the knowledge they had.  How did it go from there?  Not too well at all.  I have said often I want to get to heaven and have the opportunity to beat the stuffings out of Adam and Eve.  I stop and remember that the grace God gives me instead of beating me senseless is to be given to the first sinners.  The gospel of hope through Jesus Christ really is amazing, isn’t it?  We all have to remember we would have done the same thing as Adam and Eve, and don’t kid yourself.  

So how do we live in light of a relative world in the midst of a pandemic with vast opinions and information waiting impatiently for something to break so we can get back to normal?  The great philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled “How Shall We Then Live,” speaking in light of living in the decline of conservative western culture.  Maybe it is time for someone to write a sequel since Dr. Schaeffer is no longer with us.  

A sequel is not necessary actually.  A refresher on Biblical principles is necessary.  That’s all Dr. Schaeffer did.  He studied deeply the various aspects of culture and applied Biblical truth.  Honestly, that is what is needed in any of our life disruptions.  

I was thinking about the winnowing down of Biblical instruction and practice over the years.  In Acts 2, we see the early church dedicating themselves to four principles on a daily basis.  Did you catch that? Daily.  Every day they gathered together to study the teachings on Jesus, pray, fellowship (that wasn’t popcorn and a movie), and break bread (a meal or communion).  Now, fast forward to today.  We think attending church bi-weekly for the worship service is all we need, with a little 15-minute daily devotional.  We don’t have a Biblically illiterate secular culture.  We have a Biblically illiterate Christian culture that has been seduced by bright lights, popular music, and smiling people.  

With the lack of deep Biblical instruction, we have ourselves morphed into a Christian culture that is seldom united by the Holy Spirit (that was the Biblical purpose) ,but instead places great value on individual interpretation of the minute details of Biblical instruction.  Why?  Just like the pandemic issues ,we value our own interpretation of the information (often general) more than we value that of experts.  We have become the experts.  

Meanwhile, there are three basic Biblical principles that apply to our current social distancing protocols.  We are guided to decide on wearing a mask or not.  We are guided on living in a world that fears great illness and death.  We are given hope in what seems like a hopeless estate, especially if one is at-risk.

The first principle is “love your neighbor as you would want to be loved.”   Jesus said this is real close to loving Him.  By the way, love is defined in the Bible.  In I John 3:16, John the apostle, says love is the “laying down of your life for the sake of another.”  So, it’s not all kisses and ice cream.  It’s hard. It’s sacrificial.  It’s outside of our opinion and desires.  Our “neighbor” takes a position equal with us.  

The second principle is found in Philippians 2 when the apostle Paul writes, “Each of you should not look after your own interests but also to the interests of others.”  Paul repeats the golden rule.  Let’s get moving together. “It’s not all about me.”  Repeat again, “It’s not all about me.”

The third principle takes us to another level when Paul in Corinthians says we are to respond so we don’t offend the weaker brother or sister.  He upped the ante.  He is repeating clear instruction from Jesus in Matthew 25 when we are to live a life that assists “the least of these.”  Believing in Jesus is not about power but service.  You will find that instruction from Jesus to James and John (the sons of Thunder) in Mark, chapter 10.  

There are very few “but” or “maybe” clauses in the Bible.  Jesus never said, “Serve that person unless they are an idiot.”  We find Jesus washing Judas’ feet even when he knew Judas would be a traitor before the night was out.  There are no “jerk” clauses either.  One will not find “Wash each other’s feet unless they are a jerk.”  Quite the opposite.  

Looking out for the weak and least of the human race was to mark the Christian more than the endless quest to moral excellence.  We have clear instruction.  At the end of the day, I don’t like not shaking hands with others.  I don’t like not getting a warm hug of affirmation.  I don’t like stepping back instead of being close.  I despise wearing a mask.  However, under the instruction of someone far greater than me and you, I will wear a mask, not shake hands and keep my distance.  I’ll do it with a smile and no grumbling.  That’s in the Bible too.  One day it will end.  Then we will have to figure out our response to whatever will be the new normal.  I will lay odds the answers to that one are in the Bible.

There is a book out there written probably about 20 years ago now titled “How Movies Helped Save My Soul.”  I had to stop for a minute and look it up.  It was printed in 2003.  In our new world order something 17 years old might be declared obsolete.  Anyway, even if no one reads a 17 year old book anymore the title’s concept is still relevant.  Hollywood might not know it but it tends to support the gospel.  The gospel is about man’s redemption and a lot of what is produced on the big screen is redemptive in nature.

Just recently I caught something in a Disney movie.  I know already my kids are going to roll their eyes if they read this.  They think I over think things, things that are not worth thinking about to them.  Sorry, but the good news of Jesus Christ is reveled in more than what we would label “sacred,” “spiritual,” or, “Christian.”  The gospel is not confined to an ancient manuscript.  It’s all around us.  All you have to do is look for it and have the Holy Spirit open our sometimes blind eyes.  

I was watching the new Disney movie “Onward.”  I have to admit I have not gotten to the end of it yet.  In the early part of the flick one of the characters proclaims that his interest had wained in his life.  He declared, “over time the magic faded away.”  The character was in my estimation a teenager.  

Living in this world will seek to wipe the magic out of all of us.  It’s nature actually.  Why do pro athletes retire before they are forty years old for the most part?  Their bodies age and the aging has a way of taking the magic away.  It’s part of living on this side of glory.  Things become harder.  For the MLB pitcher it harder to strike out the young guys.  In the NFL it becomes a struggle to put the bumps and bruises aside from the week before.  In all sports we lose a step.  Unfortunately, these examples happen in regular life as well.  

When life becomes harder indeed the magic tends to fade.  When we wake up one morning and realize we can’t quite do what we used to do, magic is replaced with reality.  The reality can be painful.  It can become boring. Often when this happens we stop dreaming.

I was asking a middle-aged man today what has caused him and his wife to stop dreaming.  At first he said he had no idea.  Then he hit the nail on the head and declared, “failed expectations.”  Bingo.  Welcome to the club.  

The only problem is they stopped dreaming.

We stop dreaming to avoid the pain and suffering of the busted balloons.  We stop dreaming because we as believers and followers in Christ think moral failure means the end of the road.  We stop dreaming because someone told us who were to be and what we were to do and when the music faded and the magic faded away few stayed around and encouraged us to dream again.

Part of the redemption process is being able to see.  See, there is hope in tomorrow.  We don’t have to settle for what has been lost.  We can get back up again.  There is so much more to the gospel than we get to go to heaven.  Everyone thought the magic was gone and the music died when they left Jesus in the tomb.  We see few believing.  We find many hitting the road or going back to their old ways (fishing) instead of looking with enthusiasm to the risen Lord.  The apostle Thomas was totally beside himself.  His doubt paralyzed him.  Think he was dreaming again?  I doubt it.  

But Jesus displayed there was new hope in death.  Now his word come to life for us.  He said, “In order to find life, you have to die to the life you currently have.” It’s like nature.  I can’t have new flowers in my garden unless the old ones die.  Death is not the end of the road.  It’s the beginning.  Honestly, if we have the gospel as our guide, when God takes away pieces of life, they needed to go.  When he has something die in our lives, keep your head up, something new is coming.  If the grave could not cancel him, our busted dreams cannot keep him away either.  

Our dreams aren’t what we want to do.  Our dreams now include what we an do with Christ leading the way.  I spent years in two careers building my resume.  When I turned 35 God had other thoughts.  He called me into ministry and eventually brought us down to some place called Bluffton, South Carolina.  The ministry journey has now gone on for 25 years.  Busted dreams, sure.  New dreams, plenty.  

In the movie Onward, we have to understand any magic made by man will fade.  It’s the magic of the resurrected one that brings, of all things, “new life.”  For my wife and I it brought volumes of life journeys that we in our faith would not trade for the first 35 years.  

The magic of the resurrection and the Holy Spirit is beyond explaining.  The only way it fades is we consume the things of this world forgetting that everything reveals the nature of the good news of Jesus Christ.  When we can see that, life gets interesting.  So, dream on, wayward child.  But keep your eyes open and your head up.  Life is about to get rolling.  Onward.  

I have to admit I’m feeling good this week.  It’s a pride issue.  I usually don’t go this direction but I am going to boast for a few minutes.  With the social distancing stuff and church closed down, we quickly dove into the cyberspace world.  Now, we are a small church and we don’t have a lot of talent on certain fronts.  Technical sound and audio is not our strength.  Like anything else we all knew just enough to get in trouble.  

I know when I am in trouble with technology.  It is that moment I am forced to call the help line.  Has anybody noticed that nothing comes with directions anymore?   It’s a world that either expects you to have a general knowledge or at least the ability to go to Youtube to find a tutorial.  If all else fails, you are going to have to either click the help line or call them.  A man will click the button.  A woman will call.  I will call only if it is the last option.  I say a little prayer before I call, asking the Lord to fix the problem or fix me.  

It was such a good week I didn’t need to call anybody.  Here six weeks ago I did not know a lot about video, video editing, live streaming, or audio control.  I still don’t know much about audio issues, but the rest of them, it was goooooooood.  I have a way to go with video editing to be really good at it, and our live streaming system has some smaller issues I have to get my hands around, but overall…it was good.   

Creating a project from scratch to finish is like taking a picture and using Photoshop.  Photoshop can make any picture look good.  I’m not a user of Photoshop.  I use other photo editing software only because I am cheap. and they are easier to use.  However, it is the best.  One day maybe I’ll venture down that lane.  

I use iMovie, a Mac app, for video editing.  It is easy to use.  This week I went from a complete novice to functional in about three days.  This weeks edited worship video made me feel good.  I’m sure somebody will remind me I am not an expert, but they can’t dent my ego on this one.  I’m really feeling good about it.

Don’t you, like I do, wish life had a Photoshop button or an iMovie mode?  We can take the real deal and make it look good.  I know some people like to live by the old adage, “Fake it till you make it.”  But, that’s not what I’m talking about.  With the edit software, one can clean up the image, make it look the way they want it to, and, in the end, delete the real deal.  How many times would I have liked to delete the real deal?  Too many to count.  

Most of my “edits” need to be audio adjustments.  It’s my mouth that gets me in more trouble than anything.  The book of James in the Bible talks about how the tongue can be such a small spark to start a huge wildfire.  That can be me.  I say the dumbest things sometimes.  My mouth runs faster than my brain.  Of course, that is just an excuse.  

There have been other “events” I wish I could have back.  Choices I made that didn’t turn out too good.  Things I have done that have caused other people pain and suffering.  Failure to care for others when my own pride takes over.  Yup, I have those pictures that could sure use Photoshop, and I’ve got those clips in my brain that run over and over, wishing maybe an editor could either cut out the flub or put a few new slides in.  I’m sure you are with me on this one.  We all have them.  We are all human.  

Actually, we do have an edit, and we have an editor.  One of the most interesting truths about faith in Jesus Christ is the total forgiveness of sins.  Not only does he forgive, like a court of law, there is a total acquittal.  The Word of God tells us he “spreads our sins as far as the east from the west and he remembers them no more.”  God can forget.  We are so covered by the sacrifice of Jesus that no one can stand and accuse a believer of anything.  It is as if I have never sinned.  Now, that’s an edit I can live with.

Some people talk endlessly about the code, written or unwritten, that a Christian should follow.  However, our faith is not about anyone’s ability to keep the code.  Our faith is in Jesus who covers our sin.  Our faith is not on our good works but rather on the work of Jesus.  It’s not about what has to be done.  It’s about what was done.  What does the old hymn say, “My faith is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”  

The changes that take place in our lives are not about being a good boy or girl.  The change is because Jesus made it possible to have a relationship with God no matter what we have done.  A man recently asked me if God could forgive him of an atrocity.  He went on to share with me his situation.  “Of course,” I replied.  Jesus forgave the thief beside him and actually prayed to forgive those who unjustly murdered him upon the cross.  Not only is he the “editor” of my life he is my help line as well, guaranteeing to never leave us hanging.  His “edits”are always for the better.  I thank the Lord often that He can take all my flaws and sins and make me beautiful.  Only God can do that.  A God full of grace.  His name is Jesus.  The Christ. 

I hate painting.  I also hate paying a lot of money to do something I know I can do.  The choice was made for me when the dentist said I needed some extensive work on my teeth.  I have neglected them over the years.  You guessed it!  I don’t hate going to the dentist.  I despise it.  This extreme distaste for the dentist has nothing to do with my current one.  It has to do with my past.  I don’t think my parents sent me to a dentist.  I think they sent me to sadistic butchers who loved to inflict pain.  

The teeth are more important than the painting.  Since I cannot fix my own teeth and I can paint, it was time to get psyched up to inflict personal agony on my own self.  Off to the paint store we go, and all I ask is that you wish me luck.  I”m not sure prayers will help.

I am wasting a few minutes right now by writing this article instead of grabbing the paint brush and beginning my daily painting.  I decided to start with the bathrooms.  May as well do the hard stuff first.  Did you know bathrooms were not made to be repainted?  Well, that is my final conclusion.  Anyway, instead of finishing up the ceilings and starting down the walls, I figured I could get a few more minutes of joy by finding something else to do.  

As I sit on the couch and ponder my distaste for painting, I have decided to work out with you as my counselors, the reason I hate to paint.  We can start from my birth and work out the 60 years of my life.  This should be fun.

Let’s see.  I don’t ever remember being punished for not painting.  I cannot even remember my parents painting the house.  Somebody else always did.  Can’t blame my parents on this one.  My angst has nothing to do with them.

Paint never sent me to the hospital or caused me a personal tragedy.  I didn’t drink paint as a kid and have to have my stomach pumped.  It didn’t cause me to have any bad dreams.  In fact, I had very little interaction with paint or painting while growing up.  I can’t say the same for wallpaper, but that is for a different day.  

Paint never attacked me.  The paint pails didn’t jump off a shelf and hit me over the head causing brain damage.  If you have been reading this column for sometime, you may be concerned about the brain damage, but I can assure you, it didn’t come from paint.  So far I can’t blame my parents.  I can’t blame the paint.  My hatred must have other roots.

Maybe it began after I got married.  Surely my wife held me responsible for ill-painted rooms.  That’s it!  Paint almost cost me my marriage.  Nope.   Nevermind.  It wasn’t the paint.  That one goes back to the wallpaper.  Not only that, and I’m not one to tell tales, but there is somebody that is worse than I am with a paint brush but, I will not divulge my wife’s name.  We have to protect the innocent.  

There is a distant memory of being bullied by some older kids in the neighborhood one day up at the elementary school where we played baseball.  Let me picture it once again.  He was throwing something at me.  Was it paint cans half full of paint?  Nope.  It was baseballs.  Maybe he hit me in the head with a baseball causing my mind to work differently than the average Joe.  I will have to let my therapist know about that one.  If I ever go.  

I think my hatred for painting goes deep within my own soul.  I can’t blame anybody else.  I can’t blame the paint.  I could blame the manufacturer, for I’m sure there is some paint that does not go on as easily as they say.  No, it’s not them.  I hate to say it, but, it’s me.  

I’m pretty sure I know what the problem is.  I lack patience.  Painting takes time.  Not only that, but the faster one tries to go, the bigger the mess one will make.  Let’s not take time to discuss the many messes that a paint can and I can make.  Last time I checked ,a paint can sits there all by itself until someone tries to do things too fast and forgets it is an inanimate object.  There it is.  That’s me.  

So, I try to handle my issue by avoiding it.  Please don’t come look at my house.  It should have been painted about 2 years ago.  Having dogs does not help.  There I go, trying to blame the dog.  I’m sinking lower every moment.  Only this time I cannot avoid painting the house.  It needs it badly.  The teeth are more important.  It’s time to ante up.  

I can pray for patience, only the Bible informs me that I already have it.  It’s a gift of the Holy Spirit, and according to Ephesians 1, every spiritual blessing has already been given.  I now must walk in it.  I am preparing my mind to not walk in the paint can but walk in the patience the Spirit has given me.  I will report later which one won.  

Everything leads us to the gospel.  Not that I can find much good news in painting the house.  But there is good news.  Painting reminds me of the patience God has with me.  He is a patient God for sure.  Look no further than the mirror.  Whoops, I took them down to paint the bathrooms.  I don’t need a mirror.  I need to remember that with each brush of paint covering all the ugliness of my home, my Lord Jesus has done the same with me, only he did it with His blood in my ugly heart.  He is patient as I grow in his amazing grace.  Well, it’s time to get painting.  Don’t wish me luck.  Pray for me.  I will need it.  

I remember the first sermon I ever gave in the Lowcountry. It’s not hard to forget since I only have to preach three to four times a year. Back in those days, we had a huge pulpit for such a small church. That was fine. I could hide my shaking knees behind it. I could also hold on to it for dear life.
Today we don’t have the big pulpit. We gave it to a young start-up church about 8 years ago. We now have a simple podium. Not only that, but we moved the sanctuary into church in-the- round. There is no place to hide. Sometimes I yearn for the old days. At least I do on preaching days.
As a preacher, I’m pretty simple. A dear pastor friend told me years ago every sermon should state an issue we as humans have and present Jesus as the answer. He said, “Without a problem we don’t need Jesus. From what I can tell, the day we don’t need Jesus we are in big trouble.” So that is my simple formula on sermon day.
My first sermon in the Lowcountry followed the same formula. I spoke on the biggest sin issue we as believers might face today. It has nothing to do with any major sin we might list. Our biggest sin is our thirst to be comfortable. Our comfort breeds sins we tend not to realize or at least try to realize.
Jesus talked about this. He said a man can clean his house. In other words, man is capable of cleaning up his act without a faith in Jesus. He said that evil spirit will leave. However, he will return and bring seven other spirits with him, which will make that man worse than before. Those spirits aren’t necessarily huge sin issues. They are more like pride, arrogance, self-righteousness, and a few others. Jesus made his point. We always need Him even if we don’t feel it or know it.
As soon as I was done preaching this one, a man came in a rush toward me. Most of the time when I preach, people run away from me. This time was quite different. He told me literally, “You can’t preach like that here.” Those were his exact words. He went on to say that if I kept preaching like that I wouldn’t be here long. He explained that people in this area don’t want to hear that kind of stuff. I told him that I don’t know anything else. Shaking his head, he walked away.
Well. I’m still here and he left the area a long time ago.
The “comfortable” gospel does not recognize the broken ones. It also tends not to challenge us to make any changes. If offends no one. The “easy” gospel is fun. It allows us to remain right where we are.
Meanwhile, the Apostle Paul talks about suffering with Jesus. He talks about wanting the power of the resurrection and to share in the sufferings of Jesus. In all the pages of the Bible, we find broken people. It is a gospel, as another told me, that does not attract people. Remember the original guy who said I can’t preach like that? He also said, “You need to give these people what they want to hear.”
The prophet Isaiah was confronted with the same thing. The people came to him and said things like, “Tickle our ears.” “Stop confronting us with the Lord Almighty.” “Tell us pleasant things.” Goes to show, man has always wanted to avoid the truth.
That truth is that man is a very weak vessel. While created in God’s image and privileged amongst all creation to have a personal relationship with the Lord Almighty, our fallen nature, inherited from our ancestors Adam and Eve, has marred the image and damaged the relationship. The Bible tells us over and over again of our scratching and clawing to try and find God’s pleasure only to end up as Paul said, “falling short of the glory of God.” And that’s on a good day.
So what is the gospel? The good news is that man can stop scratching and clawing up the ladder to God. The Father sent his Son to redeem us and our relationship. It’s not works that get us to the throne of God, but a heart that believes in the truth of our depraved nature, and the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice for us. Often Jesus asks those who listened to him, “Do you believe?” The word “believe” wasn’t a one-time decision but rather a choice that calls us to follow as the disciples were called to do on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Once we answer the call, the battle begins. The old man and the new man in Christ begin to fight over our calling. C.S. Lewis had it right in “The Screwtape Letters.” The road of evil is not to drive us to horrid sin but, rather to silence and comfort. It’s a quest to make us be wallflowers, pew sitters, who lack passion and desire to follow.
Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit works in us to remember the grace and love of Jesus that was given to us even while we were His enemies. Good news! I love it when Paul says put on the armor of God. Get ready for the fight. But, he adds, the best thing we can do is pray and don’t stop. Even fully armed ,it takes the work of God in our lives to bring about his glory.
It’s good news that I don’t have to earn it. It’s great news that his grace is sufficient even on the bad days. It always ends up declaring the need for the work of God in our lives as a believer and a non-believer. He will “save” us. That’s called “grace.” God’s grace. It’s all I know. Anything else, Paul says, is as filthy rags. Indeed.

The Super Bowl is here!  I used to think two teams played in the game.  After asking everyone I meet who they are going to root for, I found out it’s actually three.  This year it’s the Kansas City Chiefs, the San Francisco 49ers ,and the I Don’t Cares.  From what I can tell, the I Don’t Cares have an incredible fan base.   I think they might be going against the I Watch the Commercials.  Their fans don’t get passionate, but they are pretty consistent.

I admit, being a Cowboys fan, it’s hard to get excited this year.  So far, every team I have rooted for in the playoffs has lost. The Boys didn’t even make the playoffs.  The first week I went with the Saints and the Ravens.  The next week it was the Packers who fell.  You might want to avoid the Chiefs this week since that is who I’m going with.  After the Chiefs, I’m going with the I Watch the Commercials team.  

A lot of conversations this week have surrounded my choice for the Super Bowl.  Next week, I’m sure it will pick up even more.  After the Super Bowl, I think the impeachment proceedings rank #2 on the meter.  I can end that conversation real quick.  I have no idea what’s going on.  In 3rd place, my guess is work related questions to be answered.  After that, who cares?

They say women use more words in a day than men.  I’m not so sure about that one.  Actually, depending on your profession men and women tend to speak around the same amount of words a day.  We do talk a lot.  Linked In, The Learning Blog, says we use at least 7,000 words a day.  Another resource says we speak up to 16,000 words a day.  Let’s get that into useable terms.  Let’s say we are asleep for 8 hours a day and eating and other personal chores take another hour.  That means we are communicating via our mouth 15 hours a day.  With that in play we speak 467 to 1,066 words an hour.  Obviously, some speak more and some speak less.  

Anyway, talking is an important means of communication.  I wonder what the count would be if we included texting and emailing.  If you Google it, like I just did, you will find out that the average Joe or Jane sends and receives on the average 94 texts a day.  No wonder we are getting less done in a day than we used to.  When it comes to emailing, one resource said we send and receive close to 130 emails a day.  We send 40 and get 90.  Combine texts and emails and we are communicating another 224 times a day using words.  By the way, that’s 14.9 digital communications an hour per day.  

No wonder we are having a problem with silence.  No wonder God says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  More and more people have a voice in our lives than ever before.  I wonder what GenAlpha, that’s the next generation being born these days, will be like since they will be the first generation with a means of communication in their hands basically from birth to death.  I just wonder what voice will dominate their lives?

 I’m not so sure this is going in a good direction.  After taking a couple of moments looking at the statistics, I’m amazed and yet not surprised when an important question is asked and people respond, “I don’t know.”  I used to say, “You are an adult, you know; you don’t want to face the answer.”  I’ve stopped that one.  With so many voices running our lives, I actually think we don’t know anymore.  It’s plumb too noisy.

Kenny Chesney, country singer, sang a song in 2016 titled “Noise.” The chorus summed it up.  “Yeah ,we scream; yeah, we shout til we don’t have a voice in the streets, in the crowds; it ain’t nothing but noise droning out all the dreams of this Tennessee boy. Just tryna be heard in all this noise.”

As we read the gospels, we find a lot of commotion around Jesus.  It’s pretty noisy if you ask me.  Here he is teaching the disciples, fighting off the religious leaders with a constant file of those in need of his healing touch.  They say we only have about 10% or less of Jesus’ words.  Can you imagine the Bible if we had just double that?  We would need a forklift to carry it to church on Sunday.  I forgot; few carry it to church anymore.  

Here Jesus is with all the noise around him.  I was reading in Matthew, and twice he ended up feeding the crowds.  One was over 5,000 people and the other was over 7,000.  That’s a lot of people.  That’s a lot of noise.

What did Jesus do?  He got away from it.  Why did he get away and go on a walk?  To commune with the Father.  He had a purposeful retreat.  It wasn’t a vacation.  It was a means to communicate with the Father.  I know it is not uncommon to have our days filled with noise from about 6 a.m. till our head hits the pillow.  With I-devices we can have more noise and nobody else gets to hear it long into the night.  Maybe more than ever we need to purpose some alone time.  Not so much to let our ears rest.  A time away to let our hearts be reset by the words of the living God who we hope and pray never goes silent.  If he does, duck! 

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.  

Being down for a few days after kidney stone removal, I got a chance to catch up on reading and movie watching.  I was able to devour two books and numerous movies.  I didn’t finish any of the books I began, but that will happen soon.

Movies on the other hand are a lot faster than reading the book.  Rewatching “Band of Brothers” made me cry.  The first time I watched it I was caught up in the story.  The second time I looked deeply at the people.  The men who suffered beyond what any man should suffer were people just like you and me.  What makes some rise and do incredible things and what makes some curl up in a ball and scream is totally unknown.  I am reminded what an old mentor friend told me a long time ago, “Everybody has a breaking point.  No-one knows what or where it is.”  

The “Peanut Butter Falcon” made me laugh.   A strange story about a Downs Syndrome young man running away from being institutionalized who caught up with a man running from his past.  They found each other, and the story might be, as another friend of mine said, “the best wholesome movie he has ever seen.”  It’s a bit slow at times.  It’s not a top of the line flick, but it is well worth the time.  

 “Hobbs and Shaw” was a total waste of time.  Nothing more to be said.

There was one movie that caught my attention.  “Concussion” is the story of the battle between Dr. Bennett Omahu and the National Football League over his research on the long-term effects of concussions on football players.  It is not an action flick.  It’s a story with Will Smith playing the doctor.  Again, well worth the time.  After watching this one, I am so glad nobody in my family wanted to play football.  I thought of a friend of mine who is suffering from CTE.  He told me once he suffered so many concussions playing pee-wee football through college he couldn’t count them.  

What really caught my attention in this one was a line in the middle of the movie.  Dr. Cyril Wecht was quoted as saying “The NFL owns a day of the week.  The same day the Church used to own.  Now it’s theirs.”  Wow!  It made me rush to the statistics.  There are different research organizations that report weekly church attendance in America to be between 22 to 37% of the population.  While we are on numbers, do you know the state that has the most weekly attenders?  It’s Alabama.  The state with the least amount of its population attending church is Vermont.  South Carolina ranks in the top 5.  

With about 329 million people in the United States that means about 72 million to 122 million attend church on a regular basis.  Now that is a lot of people.  How does the NFL stack up?

On any given football Sunday, a little over 2 million attend a game.  Last year 15.8 million people watched at least one game every Sunday.  That is 17.8 million people combined.  As far as I can tell, the NFL does not come close to owning Sunday.  My simple math has the church leading in attendance or viewership by about 311 million.  If we were playing football, that would be a blowout.

As I sat and thought about the statistics and the quote, I began to think more about it.  Are there more than just attendance issues?  I began to think about my discussions during the week.  How many times did I talk about my favorite team or spectacular play?  How many times did I talk about Jesus?  Better yet, how much do I promote my church?

Church in our era grows for one reason.  It grows because its members tell others they need to check out their church. Here I am telling you to check out a few movies and let one go.  Why?  I was attracted to them.  I wanted other people to enjoy them.  This would be no different than anything we experience in life.  We want others to have the same joy or happiness.  We want them to enter our journey, so we can walk it together.  

The NFL did not want to hear the truth about player concussions. But as the Doctor said, “They have to know.”  Sometimes, church leadership doesn’t want to hear the truth.  But, they have to seek it.  We have more at stake than a lot of money.  We have the gospel truth at stake.  Jesus talked a lot about a faith that bore fruit.  It was contagious.  Before there was a Bible, before there was a worship team, before there was live streaming, there was a story.  It was the story of a man named Jesus who proclaimed to be God.  We as believers find his claims to be true.  If it indeed is true we have the responsibility to let them know.  Dr. Omahu wanted to quit.  He had a lot at stake.  But, he didn’t.  Why?  He knew the truth.  So do we.

It is amazing how two people can look at the same piece of art and see two different things.  Recently at a conference ,the speaker proved that interesting point.  He showed a video of two teams, one in white and the other dressed in black, tossing two balls to each other.  We were asked to count how many times the white team tossed the ball.  We then were asked to count how many times the black team tossed the ball.  The answer was “13.”  

He then asked if anyone saw the dancing bear cross the screen.  Not one single hand of the one hundred and fifty some participants went up.  So he showed the video again.  Sure enough, in the background a dancing bear traveled from left to right across the screen. He proved his point.  We only see what we are looking for.

This might explain how some people focus on offense when others root for the defense of their favorite team.  It might also answer how fans tend to see the fouls committed by the opposing team, and yet they can’t see a single one of their own teams errors.  That is until the replay shows the infraction in slow motion.  It wasn’t so much we didn’t want to believe it.  We did not look for it.  

I remember sitting in a psychology class many years ago, and the teacher had set up a fake scene and asked the students to write down in order the events as they occurred..  It included someone shouting into the room.  Another person getting up and running around the room ,while another student faked passing out. These and a few other events created total chaos for only fifteen seconds.  Not one single person in the class of fifty was able to get the right order of events.  

The reason was easy.  We focus on certain events and don’t take in the details of the events we are not focusing on.  Yes, our brain lets us know something else happened because we can see, hear, smell and taste.  But, our ability to get things right is governed by our eyes.  Thus, we only see what we are looking at or for.  

We have all seen the same thing take place with baseball umpires.  From time to time a pitcher will throw a ball that neither the batter nor the umpire is ready for.  Knowing the batter is expecting a fast ball ,the pitcher delivers an incredible curve ball that splits the plate.  “Ball,” the umpire shouts.  The crowd screams a few obscenities and declares he is blind.  Not true at all.  He was looking for the fastball also, so he was fooled as well.  He too only saw what he was looking for.

We could go on and on with this one.  It is a truth that is somewhat hard to acknowledge, but, if we slow down a bit and take a look at it, we all know it is true.  It is what makes those strange pictures work when we have to stare at them to see the picture in a picture.  We get amazed sometimes when the secondary picture comes in view.  

Here comes the question of the day.  What are you looking for?

I ask this first to those who proclaim faith in Jesus Christ.  As a believer, what are you looking for?  

Some are looking for a nice peaceful life where Jesus is more like our good buddy than our Lord of Lords.  Others want to see the Holy Spirit side of the trinity, while some avoid the Spirit like he’s untouchable.  Some can see the agony of the crucified Savior, while some only see the glory of the resurrected One.  

When it comes to looking at our life in Christ, the principle still applies.  We will be the person in the Christ we are looking for and none other.  Now, some will ask, “What’s so wrong with that?”  It’s a role reversal.  Instead of being the clay and Jesus is the potter, we will see ourselves as the potter making Jesus what we want him to be and making our image of the living God like we want it to be.  

Do you know that less than 6% of all Christians will ever tell anyone outside of their family about their belief in Jesus Christ?  Why?  They don’t see themselves as a fisher of men.  They don’t see themselves as an ambassador of Christ.  Even though its in the Bible, they don’t see themselves as such.  Why?  We don’t want to.  It’s uncomfortable.  

The Bible does not declare certain callings of God for the professionals.  He does talk about gifts given to us by the Spirit, but that doesn’t mean we don’t function outside of our gifts.  It comes down to an issue of seeing what we are looking for.

When you look out of your window, do you see a world in need of Jesus?  When you are at the grocery store, do you see people in need of the gospel?  When you go to church on Sunday, do you see brothers and sisters that need the gospel as well?  What do you see?

As for those who may be reading this article who have never expressed a belief in Jesus Christ and his work upon the cross, what do you see?  Whatever you see you will find.   Outside of Jesus the only place you can find what you are looking for is in your own abilities.  How is that working for you?

Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”   He also said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”  Look His way.  Everyday.  

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.