Tag Archive: John Ring

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expensive, but priceless.  

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What stories do we have today? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember having kidney stones several years ago.  There I was at three o’clock in the morning groveling on the bathroom floor begging my wife to take me to the hospital.  I thought I either had appendicitis or was dying.  Death would have been the better option at the time.

They tell me a kidney stone is the closest thing to having a baby.  If that is so and I will believe it to be then I gained much appreciation for the female species that day.  Not only that but God must have made having children real special.  To forget that pain and birth more than one has to be a gift from God.

Once I passed the stone I was amazed.  I was amazed that something so small could cause so much pain.  When they told me I had kidney stones at the hospital I imagined a bolder in my body.  Once it came out, I was disappointed that a stone the size of a sand pebble was the cause.  Just goes to show you how wonderfully we are made.  

I haven’t had a bad attack since.  A few kidney pains came and went over the years.  I figured they were small stones that didn’t need a lot of attention.  That was until we were away recently on a long weekend vacation celebrating our granddaughters eleventh birthday at Disney World.  It wasn’t a three o’clock attack.  This time it waited till four a.m.  I knew what it was as soon as I turned over.  Welcome back you little devils.  I didn’t want to wake everybody up, nor did I want to worry anyone.  Mitigate the pain.  Drink lots of water and keep walking.  That would do it.  Only the room was not big enough to walk.  So…outside I went.  Guess what?  There are not very many people moving around, even at Disney, at four a.m.  They is sleeping. 
It took about three and a half hours for the pain to become bearable.  We will have to wait to see how long it takes to have this bolder pass.  Now to drink as much water as possible.  Hopefully, it won’t take too long and sleep will be possible tonight.  

I believe I have found the reason for pain in our lives especially the life of a believer.  It’s clear in the Holy Bible that suffering is associated with the life of a follower of Jesus.  The prosperity teaching is a lie.  Comfort is addictive.  Often when we are too comfortable in this life, we become myopic.  We live to protect the comfort we have created.  That does not gel with the Biblical teaching.

Pain connects us.  As I walked around and around the hotel I became suddenly aware of things and people around me.  I also began to think of others who suffer.  As I thought of them there was only one thing to do.  Pray.  

The true connection in our world is not through happiness.  Here I was in the happiest place on earth, andI was miserable.  As I looked around, I saw children who had been out in the hot too long being dragged kicking and screaming to the next thing the parents believed will bring them happiness.  I saw wheelchairs and handicap scooters with people who struggled to smile since they are limited.  Happiness is relative, and pain is very real.

There is a verse in Proverbs that basically says, “Don’t sing songs to a heavy heart.”  Why?  Our thirst for happiness in the state of a broken heart only brings more dread.  As I think of my physical pain, my mind wanders to those who suffer emotional pain.  They hide their suffering with a smile and a hearty handshake.  But, their pain is oozing out of them, often behind closed doors.  

Those suffering from clinical depression often can’t get out the front door.  When they do, it’s a struggle to paint a smile, be joyful and sing songs.  They are suffering no differently than my kidneys.  I want to just cut it out.  They often want to end their lives.  

The suicide rate continues to move steadily upwards in our society.  We look around and wonder what drives someone to do such a deed.  It’s their suffering in a world that often does not allow them to suffer.  Recently, a mega-church senior pastor took his own life ,leaving many to wonder.  I’m sure some asked the age-old question, “Was he a true believer?”  Sure he was.  He had reached a point of no return.

A wise teacher once told me, “Everybody has a breaking point.  You don’t know what and when they will get there.”  I have found in seventeen years of counseling ministry the one relative factor is their sense of loneness.  Don’t kid yourself.  They can have a ton of people around them just like I had thousands walking past me at the Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Disney Springs.  But, do they have any idea of the pain?  

I have had a lot of people ask me how to reach their neighbor or their community.  I believe Jesus showed us.  He connected with people.  He connected with their pain and suffering.  But, he had an answer.  A daily relationship with the Lord is the only answer.  So, why does a minister end his life?  When the fellow believers only want to judge their faith by how much joy they have.  We are missing the boat.  A friend of mine told me once to go out and find the “need” or “pain” in our community and find ways to address it.  I’ve been trying to do so for 14 years. Maybe next week I start the Kidney Stone support group.  Don’t laugh too hard.  You might be next.  

As you are well aware, I continue to walk my dog, Vader, every morning before sun up and every evening after sun down.  Sometimes I’m not so sure I’m walking him.  He walks me most of the time.  

Vader is half lab and half hound.  He has the head of a lab but the body and muscle structure of a hound.  Usually, the morning walks are uneventful.  Usually.  Every so often the hound part kicks in, and, instead of a nice morning exercise, we are tracking something.  That’s because his nose has caught a scent, and it’s time to hunt whatever it is down.  

So, back and forth the hound dog that looks like a lab goes.  Left and right he sweeps.  Nose to the ground and ears ignorant of his owners commands.  Sometimes he finds what he is looking for.  There was one morning he caught a scent, and it was all I could do to hold on to him.  I was scared I might need rotator cuff surgery after the walk.  Sure enough, down the street and off to the right stood a doe with two fawns.  The hound won out.

It’s sort of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  The classic was dead on.  In case you never read the book or watched the movie, Dr. Jekyll is trying to find a potion to address his bad impulses.  The only problem was he created a portion that left him with no conscience.  Thus, Mr. Hyde the evil animal is born.  Robert Lewis Stevenson, the author, believed there was two sides to a man.  There was a good side and an evil side.  

As a believer in Jesus Christ not yet residing in heaven, we do have two natures battling inside of us.  We have our fallen nature defined by our propensity to sin, and we have our redeemed nature that desires to be more like Christ.  They do a battle royale.  

Recently during a meeting, a friend said, “You know, it is not our redeemed nature that governs our first response.  Our first response is often not very good.”  She is right.  Whenever we get cut off driving, do we think, “Hey that person might be on the way to the hospital?”  Do we think, “They are late for work and need to get going.” Nope!  We think and say, “You idiot, where did you get your license, the five and dime?”  

Our first response, since it is so quick, is governed by our fallen nature.  Even when we might respond with kindness, most will admit they are trying to avoid a conflict and seek peace not so much Jesus, the peacemaker.  If we don’t overreact, then our redeemed nature is given the chance to kick in.  Otherwise,  just like Vader, the hound in us tends to take over.

There are some that like to think that as a believer in Jesus Christ they have become a good person.  That is dangerous ground.  The moment we don’t think we need a Savior is the moment we are in the greatest danger.

The same goes for Vader.  If he puts his nose to the ground and begins to take off, and I let go of his leash,  where will he go?  He will run like the wind to fulfill the desires he is born with in that hound nose.  Don’t get me wrong, as long as his nose is not activated, he is a good dog.  Right now he is curled up in the sun at the front door being a good dog.  He obeys pretty much except for the “Come” command.  He loves to lay next to you and lick your hands.  He is a blast at fetch.  Got a ball and he will run till he drops.  But, engage the nose and look out.  Off he will go without question.

The stories in the Bible pretty much show the same pattern.  Man thinks he’s good to go only to discover he falls pretty hard.  Somebody asked me why the Bible is so thick.  It shows the endless story of man trying to be god only to discover he needs God every second of the day.  Even the best intentions are pretty much driven by our desire to be declared “good.”  We are only declared “good” by the Lamb of God, Jesus.

 It has been said that the more we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus two things occur.  We become more aware of our sin nature in light of the Light of the World.  We also become aware of the tremendous nature of the gospel of Christ, which is necessary in our salvation and our sanctification.  Any true good that magnifies Jesus and not the doer is only due to the work of the Holy Spirit.  That’s the gospel.  Man can’t.  God can.  And he does.  

Next time your nose takes over and you are tracking down your own desires, just remember one thing:  Jesus still has ahold of the leash, and he promises not to let go.  He is a patient God.  He calls our name.  He gives his commands.  He waits and knows we will turn to Him.  The faster, the better.  

Birthdays don’t seem to bother me.  Some people freak out when they turn 40, 50 or 60.  I like to look at it like a fine bottle of wine.  It gets better with age.  That is until you have to get up off the floor or climb a ladder.  Forget running.  That was over some time ago.  

I do think the athletes that turn 40 and seem to get stronger and better have to be taking an additive.  The body changes and it usually is not for the better.  I want to know one thing.  Why are they printing newspapers and books with smaller print?  My wife is laughing.  Hold on, let me see what is causing her to laugh so hard.  Oh, it’s not the print.  It’s my eyeballs.  I don’t think that is funny.  See, things do change.  Basically, they wear out.  

Turning 60 this year still doesn’t bother me all that much.  I don’t remember my 50th, but I do remember the 40th birthday.  I was in youth ministry, and there was a huge afternoon party.  My friends and family celebrated all day long.  I figured out how to avoid big parties.  We vacation during my birthday week every year.  It just so happens that my wife’s work schedule has that week off, so we go away.  I might be getting older but I’m getting wiser (I think).

I’ve been thinking a lot about how much has changed in the last 20 years.  It would take the entire newspaper to write about all of them.   I’ve obviously referred to some of the change the human body goes through.  Other than that, let’s laugh or cry a bit about some of the changes that have occurred.

The biggest one is in most peoples hands.  The cell phone now dominates our lives.  I was looking at a news report, and, in the background, a lot of people were holding up their cell phones.  I’m not sure when the cell phone became a camera, but it just looks funny to see everybody not so much paying attention to what is going on but making sure they get it recorded.  Remember the big camcorders? Now, our cellphones are a camcorder.  Crazy if you think about it.  

Automobiles are close to driving themselves.  My Toyota truck will blare at me if I go out of lane without using the blinker.  It will brake for me and tell me to brake.  It will dim the high beam headlights and release the cruise control if a car is going slower in front of me.  They are real close to not needing a driver.  I really don’t know what I think about these things.  On one hand it’s intriguing .  On the other it’s a bit scary.  All I can think about is the Terminator movies.  Man against machine.

Medicine and medical care has changed drastically.  Anybody notice you have to be very sick or hurt to see a real doctor in the emergency room anymore?  I think general practitioners are going in the same direction.  

On the good side, more operations are done with little holes in our bodies instead of gigantic slices.  Cancer is battled better than ever before.  It seems like they are discovering new treatments and medicines weekly. 

Politics have changed.  I was talking last week to a friend who pointed out the biggest change that we may not be aware of.  He pointed out that politics used to work well when everybody played by the same rules.  As an example, whoever was elected president was respected and honored for being in that position.  Not anymore.  Now nobody is playing by the rules, and it is total chaos.  Respect and honor are gone.  Don’t point fingers.  It’s everybody.  There seem to be no rules in the political world anymore.  That only means it’s only a matter of time till no rules disseminate down into society.

Shopping has changed big time.  Today I ordered a weed-wacker over the Internet from Home Depot.  Mine died today.  It has numerous attachments.  I discovered on line that the replacement is only available over the Internet.  So I ordered it and will pick it up at the store next week.  Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in something called a shopping mall.  Amazon does me fine.  

How about television?  It was not that long ago we had five channels at best and had to hold our mouths right to get certain UHF channels.  At that it was going to be fuzzy.  Now we have hundreds of channels available, and at times we are still bored.  This might have happened longer than 20 years ago but one of the changes is that we actually pay for television.  It used to be free.  That’s right!  We can pay for radio if we want to as well.  What will happen next?  We will probably have to pay for water in a bottle, and it might cost more than gasoline.  Never mind.  It’s already happened. 

  Church has changed too.  We can live broadcast with an I-phone now.   We can get church without ever being there.   We talk more about music than we talk about Jesus.  

Who says we hate change.  Change is the norm.

There is one thing that will never change.  His name is Jesus.  The Bible says he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He doesn’t change the rules.  His grace is always sufficient.  Count on it!