Tag Archive: John Ring


Sometimes I think I’m demented.  Something is wrong between the ears.  Those who know me are laughing right now, I’m sure of it.  Because I was born the last of four, my uncles used to joke that I was dropped at birth.  It’s safe to say my brain does not work the same as others.  My family was full of analytical brainiacs with accounting or mathematical analysis dominating our lineage.  Then along comes John.  

I could do the accounting.  I aced Accounting I and II as an Education major.  It didn’t make the business majors happy.  The only problem…I couldn’t stand it.  I don’t see the world in those terms.  I see colors.  I see so much more than two numbers added together.  Without question, I always felt like something was wrong, and maybe, just maybe, I was switched at birth.

That can’t be the answer.  I look like my father’s mini me.  At the end of the day, I’m more of a circular reasoner than a logical thinker.  It’s sort of like my kayaking treks.  Some people paddle down the river.  Not me.  I try every crossbow, inlet and swamp entrance I can find.  It takes the boring out of the paddle.  

I don’t know what anyone calls my condition.  I’m not sure anyone cares.  However, I love the context of the Bible, not just the words we read.  I want to know what Jesus laughed at.  We don’t find him laughing in the Scriptures.  He was a man, and he cried.  He had to laugh.  

I want to know what Jesus did for fun.  Did he play any of the popular games of the day?  Did they play “I Spy with My Little Eyes?”  How about “Would You Rather?”  I chuckle when I imagine Jesus playing “Would You Rather.”  I can see it now.  Jesus would be wrapping up the game with, “Now for the last one.  Would you rather spend eternity in hell or in heaven?”  See, I told you in the very first line.  I have a demented mind.

I would love to know what made Jesus cry when he came upon Lazarus’ family after he died.  I would love to know what Jesus talked about after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus.  I want to get an idea of the tone of his voice, especially when he puts the low down in a sense, on the Pharisees with the 7 Woes.  Sometimes I think we make Jesus like a robot.  No way!  Doesn’t a part of you want to know what kind of personality he had?  

I’ve been around some who make Jesus out to be passive-aggressive. Jesus to them is a cool, calm cookie looking to strike at the optimum moment.  Then there are those who make him out to be a Type A get-it-done type. Nobody wants to cast him as a Type D, but, then again, we sure don’t have him happy.  Maybe he was all three personality types. Actually, they now say there are 16 different types.  Really, my mind is swimming now.  My sarcastic side wonders if Jesus had a God-complex.  Yup, I’m close to losing it.  

I read recently where the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible is actually more than likely the CliffsNotes edition.  Do they still have CliffsNotes? They were the boiled down edition of the novel we were supposed to read and then write a book report about.  Those bad boys saved my grade point average without question.  Back to the main point.  The Sermon on the Mount is the edited version.  I want the unedited version.  Maybe then we can stop taking guesses about what “pure in spirit” really means.  

The older I get and the more I look into the Bible, I see colors.  I see so much more than the Bible teachers told me.  It’s a story.  It’s an incredible story.  In many respects, it’s an unbelievable story.  But that is just it.  It’s so incredible, but it fits together.  See, incredible stories don’t hold water.  This one does.  Unbelievable stories don’t have connection.  This one does.  

It really is a simple story.  We are the ones who make it an incredible story.  It’s God and a special creation called man.  Man has a problem.  He thinks he knows better than the One who set him up in an incredible situation.  Let’s face it.  None of us used to walk naked with God.  So man decided he knew better.  Then it all went south.  Most of the Bible is about how man tries to make it right.  He only has one problem.  He can’t.  God keeps trying to show him and grace keeps flowing, but man is so warped with the god complex that, no matter how hard he tries, he fails.  God gives man an out.  His name is Jesus.  He is the Son of God who came to set the captives free, bind the broken-hearted and give sight to the blind.  Man now has hope.  It rests in the sacrifice of Jesus.  All a man or woman has to do is believe and follow Jesus.  That’s it.  The early believers called it “The Way.”  I love it.  So beautiful.  They didn’t call it the First Church of whatever.  No sir.  It was “The Way.”  That’s about it.  

The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us what Jesus said about “The Way.” It’s pretty simple.  It boils down to…”Man’s way or God’s way?”  Man’s way has its problems.  God’s way is full of incredible love, indescribable grace and unbelievable mercy.  Now you choose.  Only, choose wisely.  

 I warned you I don’t think or process like the average joe. 

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A friend of mine ran upon some hard luck lately.  It wasn’t like it was the end of the world.  Things just didn’t go his way.  There were no emergencies.  No hospital stays.  No doctor’s diagnosis.  No family issues.  In other words, the little things in life filled his mind and soul like sand does when we go to the beach.  So, what did he do?  He made a rash decision and ran away.  Literally.  

A few days after he got in his car and left. I was able to get a-hold of him.  “Worst decision I have ever made in my life,” he grumbled.  In my earlier days, I would have replied, “No kidding, Sherlock!” But I didn’t.  I held my sometimes sharp tongue.  Instead, I asked him to come home.  It wasn’t too late.  It might cost him, but he would survive.  After a quick deflection, he indicated he would have to live with his decision.  As we closed, I sullenly said, “I hope you find what you are looking for.”  He hung up the phone.

Lately, I have had several people awaken to what seems to be the path to implosion.  That topic seems to be gaining momentum.  Just this morning I was talking with a young lady who suddenly wanted to talk about some books she has been reading.  The topic…accepting your life as it is instead of getting in the rush to make something it cannot be.  Eventually, we run out of energy and time, and, if our life is not what we or others expect it to be, we…implode.  Our whole society seems to be searching for something it cannot find.

I have often made mention of the suicide and opioid death rates, especially among the Millennials.  We point at that group, but the numbers are increasing among every generation.  Last week, I was engaged with several late-age opioid addicts.  Their stories were somewhat similar.  They liked the feeling of not having to deal with the discouragements in life.   

As technology exposes us to more and more, our lust seems to be increasing at a parallel rate.  Unfortunately, our quest for finding the life we think we want and the one we think we deserve is costing us.  It’s costing us valuable relationships (real or perceived).  

When we are searching for something more than a life with Jesus as our guide, it tends to distort our life view.  Take my friend.  He talked about the lack of friends and how all he has is his dog and cat but I’m not sure anyone can count on a cat as a friend.  Sorry, cats own us; we don’t own them.)  

The reality is my friend had numerous friends.  Only they did not give him what he was looking for.  Honestly, after knowing him for about 10 years ,I don’t know what he is looking for.  The crazy thing is ,I’m not sure he knows either.  It’s not just him.  

About everybody I counsel has no idea where they want to be in the future and no idea how to get there.  They are just trying to survive the day.  Only, if they are in my office, they aren’t surviving the day.  They all talk about a yearning for something more and yet, they all have so much at their fingertips.

Our world is oversaturated.  How many television channels do we really need?  Google something.  Anything.  Take a look at the pages and pages of listings for anything you want information about.  Which one is worth our time?  Which one is what we are looking for?  Don’t think we are oversaturated?  Check out Youtube.  

At the end of the day we are all looking for what was lost in Eden.  Our ability to be in a complete relationship with God, man, and earth was wiped out by one selfish decision.  We have not been satisfied since.  It is costing us more than we can imagine.  It did then and it is now.  Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his brother.  Over what?  His quest to be satisfied.  Not far from his parents who wanted to be satisfied with one piece of fruit.  

People often ask me why I believe in Jesus.  It’s easy.  In Jesus, I find the only person, and yes, I said it right, person, in whom I can come home.  When I am home, I find what the angels proclaimed at his birth, “Peace on earth.”  I will venture out on another quest, but, without fail, he comes and finds me and welcomes me home every time.  I know one day my quest will be over when I’m no longer bound by this world.  In the meantime, my hope is in Jesus.  Why?  Nothing else can satisfy. Ask Bono of U2.  They sang truthfully, “And I still haven’t found what I’m lookin for.”  Just ask my friend.  If you can find him.

Did you know that chewing gum is not sold at any locations in Disney World?  Chewing gum is one of Disney’s least favorite items.  Let’s just say it would be quite sticky, even on a day when the humidity is low if they did promote chewing gum sales.  They don’t say “No Chewing Gum,” but they don’t promote it either.  

In the church world, we have our chewing gum issues. Let’s be honest.  We have some taboo topics that seldom if ever get addressed.  It was once said, “One can be a pastor for a long time as long as he doesn’t talk about money, children or sex.”  The first two might get the casual attention, however, the third one is absolutely a “no-no.”  Only the brave and fearless dare tread in such land.  Meanwhile, it is laced throughout the Bible.

After Adam and Eve sin, the first reaction we see is that they notice their nakedness.  At that moment, sexual dysfunction was born.  Later we see some sort of sexual issue with Noah getting drunk and naked after the water recedes.  David, a man after God’s own heart, has serious issues, including dancing naked in the street and having his way with Bathsheba.  Let’s not forget that Samson and Solomon have women issues as well.  

Did you know that Song of Solomon is so steamy young rabbi students were not allowed to read it until they were mature enough to handle the sexual expressions?  Even the relationship between Jesus and his church is in the language of an intimate relationship between a bride and groom.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

In our world, the sexual issues extend beyond adultery.  A friend called me and asked how his church should handle a member’s sex change operation.  We don’t even talk about gender identity.  Some rail against homosexuality; however, more people’s lives are being destroyed by pornography, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard that word in any church meeting.  

At a men’s gathering recently, we talked for an hour about pornography and it’s destructive nature.  Everyone in the group admitted being exposed to pornography between the ages of 5 and 7.  Only two said their father talked with them in an honest and frank manner about sex.  As we expanded the subject, it became clear that it’s not just two Christians in a marriage bed.  It’s two sinners as well.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

It used to be assumed that men were the only ones with a pornography issue.  Not so anymore.  As pornography has dominated men’s  lives as children and teens, women are now engaging porn to try and figure out how to satisfy the sexual fantasies of their over-exposed mate.  Long gone are the days when one had to steal a girlie magazine from the local 7-11.  Today, hard core porn is a few clicks away on not only the computer but the smart phone our kids are walking around with in elementary school.

Last year I had to deal as a counselor with pornography issues in pre-teens.  The plague is not just stealing innocence.  It is insidiously changing men and women as it dehumanizes people.  The intimate relationship between a man and a woman was intended to be a beautiful thing.  Nothing was to interfere with a married couple even when Jesus told us in his first sermon (he wasn’t afraid to address the issue) men have sexual issues with their eyes.  

Once we dehumanize someone, especially a woman ,our brain and emotions are transformed to interpret life beyond the sexual world in a very destructive way.  In war, once an enemy is dehumanized, life loses all value.  If we can mentally and emotionally disconnect. we can then torture, abuse and even kill without feeling.  That is exactly what pornography is doing in a insidious way.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

The only hope we have is a relationship with our Lord Jesus, as well as a healthy relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters who are not afraid to go where few will tread.  Healthy means having honest, open discussions along with great grace and love, having us care instead of reacting in stunned judgment when we fail.  We also need to begin very young with our children facing the reality that sexual issues will not simply disappear but rather take on more and more dysfunctional forms.  By the grace of God, we live as aliens in a sexual world that seeks to dehumanize not only our mind but our faith as well.

On any given Sunday, we must go there.  

I remember when I was knee high to a grasshopper, and the teacher said we were going to have a test the next day.  I’m not sure a 10-year-old has a functional faith, but, that day, prayer was engaged.  It was the typical prayer of a boy who would rather be outside than sitting in the house studying.  It went something like this, “Jesus, help me on my test.  Amen.”  It was more a prayer of protection from my parents’ wrath if I brought home a bad grade. I should note that my parents were not full of wrath.  However, making me stay indoors and do homework was enough wrath to make me tremble. 

When I was a little bit younger, I would argue with my mother during the summer months.  She had a set bedtime for me.  However, during months like June and July, the sun did not go totally down till 8:30ish, and, with the twilight, there was enough light outside till about 9:15.  Bed before then was torture, and I let them know it.  I seldom won.  My prayers followed the same pattern, “Jesus, let mom and dad forget what time it is.”  My prayers were not answered with a “Yes.”  At 10-years-old I was not sure God had ears.  

I have heard a lot of prayers over the years.  Our prayers seem to stay juvenile.  We pray that anyone who is ill gets well.  We pray that anyone on deaths door lives.  We pray for financial prosperity.  We pray for things.  I bet many, if not a few who read this column, have prayed, “Let me win the lottery, and I will give you more than the tithe.  Jesus, I promise to do good things with the money.  Just let me win.”  It doesn’t matter that the overwhelming majority of people who have won the lottery end up worse than before they won.  

Recently, I actually ran into a person who didn’t win the big game but won a substantial amount of mullah playing the lottery.  He told me he would never play again.  With a forlorn look on his face and with a deadpan voice he said, “The winnings ruined my life.”  I was thinking, better watch what you pray for.

As I got a little older, I thought it was good to pray Biblical things.  One day I prayed, “Lord, give us patience.”  An elderly man interrupted the prayer meeting and asked if I knew what I was praying for.  My look must have given away my dismay.  He finished with, “You just prayed for trials and tribulations.”  After a brief moment of silence, he added, “That’s how we get patience.”  I’m not sure I ever prayed for patience again.  

Just like in my preteen years, at the core of our prayers is a selfish desire.  We tend to pray for things to turn out the way we want them to be.  Not that we can’t pray for people.  It’s just we pray asking Jesus to do things our way and give the outcome that will make us happy.  So that we aren’t too selfish we add, “if it be Your will.”  There we go.  Now, we can tell God how we want life to be, and it’s officially religious.  

This morning a dear friend texted me, “I brought nothing to God this morning, and He gave me back everything.”  In his text, we see a reflection of Jesus’ words when he said, “Blessed are those who are poor of spirit.”  Poor of spirit is not taking the #1 position of potter but, instead, remembering we are the clay.  Our prayers should reflect this “beautiful attitude.”  

In the past 6 months, I have had trouble asking God for anything.   Instead, I ask God how he would like to use me today.  I ask him who He wants me to minister to with his word today.  I ask Him how would He like to use me to declare His glory on this earth.  I ask Him to use me to bring peace to the chaos of others’ lives.  Why?  He is the potter and I am the clay.  

Our prayers need to reflect our position.  They also need to reflect His sovereignty (in charge).  A friend with cancer might be a friend who God desires to declare His Word to a doctor or a nurse.  A friend who has lost a loved one may be used by God to declare the gospel to more people at a funeral than at any other time in his life.  A neighbor suffering a car wreck may be used by God to speak of Him to a tow truck driver, a police officer or, better yet, to the one who ran into her.

A friend of mine was in a minor car accident.  She was complaining about the other driver, the lack of attention by the police and now the car repair service.  She was going to call her lawyer and try to get thousands from something that wasn’t worth even hundreds.    I asked her if she thought of looking at the situation a bit differently.  “Like how?” she mumbled.  I asked her to consider if she would mind if I prayed for her to be in touch with the voice of Jesus.  Angrily she replied, “What good will that do?”  In all seriousness I responded, “My prayer is not about fixing your issues.  They will never be fixed to your liking.  Prayer is about getting you in the right position to be used by God.”  She turned around and left.  I don’t think she was too happy.  Would you be?

I can’t watch or read the news anymore.  The talking heads have taken over, and they think they are experts on everything and everybody.  We don’t know what to believe anymore.  It is all overdone.  Even the Weather Channel is cooking stories.  The overreaction by our media has left us full of anxiety.  We seem to have forgotten the Chicken Little fable.  By the way, Chicken Littles real name is…Henny Penny.  Henny Penny freaks out and makes everyone believe “The Sky is Falling.”  In the overdone distraction, they miss the real danger.  Somehow and someway I think it’s happening in the Christian world.  

I keep coming across articles that talk about the evangelical/church crisis.  Christianity Today released a piece on this very topic.  Even the New York Times published an article.  Google it and watch the 18 pages of listings appear.  There are books being written about it.  

What seems to be the issue?  Without question, we are in a Post-Christian era where the Christian voice has gone hoarse.  Maybe it has not actually gone hoarse, but, without question, it is falling on deaf ears.  The day the church held sway is probably over.  As one pastor I talk with on a regular basis said, “The horse is out of the barn, and he ain’t coming back.”  

The cultural tsunami that many warned about has occurred.  Basic morality has changed.  But, it has been changing long before now.  I remember a college roommate of mine saying, “Whatever is accepted in secular society will be accepted in the church in approximately 10 years.”  I did not necessarily agree with him 40 years ago, but, now that I have some miles under my feet, I think he was on to something.  We like to think we (Christians) change the culture.  The opposite is probably more true; culture tends to change us.  Our culture of relativism leaves us to our own gyrations.  They don’t care.  We resort to screaming to try and be heard, and yet they just turn up the volume in their own world.  We have not figured out how to impact that world even though God gave us a manual.  Instead, here in 2019 we still expect the world to come to us.  “Build it and they will come” died a long time ago.

Here we sit, shut out from spheres of influence, and, along with that ,few actually seek us out anymore.  Church attendance is in decline.  A recent statistic I heard was that 10 churches a week are closing their doors.  Denominations are sliding downward.  The sex abuse that laid hidden in all of Christianity has nailed the doors shut for many.  Fewer pay any attention and fewer still are coming in the front door.  

We are having our issues with the back door being wide open as well.  We have known for a long time we can’t keep our own kids in the pews.  It is making some wonder about the truth of gospel transformation.  They say these trite prayers to ease a parent’s conscience and they bolt when challenged by alternate philosophies and lifestyles.  We know that 85% of our own kids are leaving the faith.  The biggest difference today?  They are not coming back.  

Nobody is listening.  Fewer are coming, and we can’t seal the back door exodus.  Sound the alarm!  We are in a crisis!  

Or are we?

We tend to apply business principles to the church and can’t quite understand that it’s not a business.  Many treat it like a business and think they are selling Jesus.  Jesus can’t be sold.  He is not a commodity or a service to be rendered.  

If we do apply business principles, yes, there is probably a crisis.  What happens when we are more worried about the little kingdom of God (“my” church) instead of the true, universal, kingdom of God?  We apply business principles.  We develop more gimmicks.  We work hard to keep the masses happy.  We think the sheep are more important than the shepherd.  If all else fails, get a better salesperson.  

Most articles and books I read on this issue are looking to place blame.  Once blame is assessed we can then develop a formula to “fix it.”  Western culture likes to fix things.  Blame the pastor…fire him.  Blame the style of worship…change it.  Blame the people…make them feel guilty and shameful.  Blame the leadership…complain louder.  Blame the church as a whole…start a new one.  If all else fails…leave the church.  Isn’t that what people do in the business world?  Blame the boss…fire him.  Blame your system…get a new one.  Blame the customers…get critical.  Blame the department heads…put the heat on.  Blame the business…let it go bankrupt and start a new one.  Blame the changing culture…retire early.  Just fix it.  

Trust me…there is a lot of blaming and a lot of fixing going on.

There is a Biblical answer if anyone is interested.  The blame? We have elevated ourselves at every turn.  The answer?  Return to Him, as Jesus said, “with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.”  Failure to do so?  That’s the crisis, and it’s personal. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When in high school, I had a best friend.  If anyone asked me today the name of my best friend he will still be at the top of the list.  It’s not because we have done amazing things together.  It’s not because we talk every week.  In fact it’s been years since I’ve even seen him.  For some reason, we are brothers.  Yes, there are two other guys that are right up there, but there is just something that makes my high school brother one notch ahead.  

His parents moved to California my senior year and his junior year.  He decided not to move with them and instead moved in with us.  That was a magical year.  We did just about everything together.  It created a union that is beyond explanation.

We were separated for a long time.  We had committed to being in each others weddings.  He was in mine.  I found out via a card that he even was married.  I thought our friendship had come to an end.  That was until our paths crossed years later.  Every time our paths cross, something happens.  Just this week my phone rang.  It was him.  He left a message and asked me to call back.  He wanted to talk.  Without hesitation, I called.  I’m glad I did.

Bruce is a medical doctor.  He has been practicing for years.  No, let me rephrase that; he had been practicing for years.  He had an established practice in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.  He walked away from it all.  He no longer wanted to run a business.  He wanted to talk about Jesus.  

His wife was all in.  He is now a medical missionary taking medicine to the “least of these.”  We use those words, and yet they don’t come close to describing the poverty he walked into.  He packed his backpack with medicine and walks the streets of Guatemala, Mexico, and in the very near future, will walk in Beirut, Lebanon.  He isn’t worried about retiring.  He is no longer worried about making more money than he could possibly ever use.  He wants to talk about Jesus.  He said he loves using medicine to talk about Jesus.  The “least of these” will listen about Jesus.  He was tired of talking to people about Jesus who really didn’t think they needed Jesus.  

Amazing.  What makes a 58-year-old man with life set walk away to walk the impoverished streets caring for men, women and children with not only medical care but with the name of Jesus Christ as well?  

Sometimes when Jesus puts things together, it’s down right scary.  The past few weeks I’ve been mulling over Matthew 4:19 and 20.  It was Jesus calling his first disciples.  Here they were, adult successful fishermen.  In those days, if you left your family business, you were at great risk.  Your identity and success were based on your heritage.  Jesus called them to follow him to become fishers of men.  Say what?  Fishers of men!  

They followed, but I love verse 20.  It says they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  My brother dropped his nets.  He answered the call we as believers are all called to.  It’s a three part harmony.  “Follow me,”  -Jesus called.  He defined the calling, telling them to be good guys and wait around till he comes again? Wrong!  He called them “fishers of men.”  The third part was not a command.  It was their response.  They dropped their nets.  

We can’t hold on to our nets and follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It’s a false teaching of the modern age.  So, Bruce and I shared thoughts and stories for a few minutes.  Stories of the calling sometimes I find hard to find.  My personal calling was to reach people the church tends to miss.  I thank God the leadership of my church understands the calling.  Little did I know it would take me to prisons, half-way houses, and rooms full of addicts ,and more broken people than we like to admit.  

The only thing that gets in the way is the same thing that got in the way of my friend for so many years.  We were raised in an era where the gospel was more about being a convert, hold a moral code, and wait till one gets to heaven.  We somehow missed the same call at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry that was similar to the first calling.  He said, “Go and make disciples.”  He did not say “converts.”  He said disciples.  Disciples follow.  Disciples fish for men.  Disciples drop nets.  

Jesus often leaves me speechless.  I needed Bruce’s phone call.  I needed to be reminded of my own calling.  It’s not who I am.  I can’t be a fisher of men on my own. I needed to drop some nets once again.  Those nets are tempting.  Even the disciples ran back to their nets after the resurrection.  It’s where Jesus found them once again.  Jesus has a way of finding us.  When that happens ,we have to drop the nets.  There really is not a choice.

 

It is hard to believe that I have had the privilege of writing a weekly article for the Bluffton Today for close to 8 years now.  It all started on a kayak trip.  The then editor of the paper was part of our kayak group called Lowcountry Unfiltered.  

One day I told him the spiritually-based articles were so heavily minded I didn’t find them any earthly good.  Little was I prepared for his response.  He said, “I agree; how about you write one weekly?”  Since my mouth often works faster than my brain, I told him I would.  It has been an interesting journey.  From time to time, I look back on some of the early articles and wonder how the Bluffton Today kept me on.  

Over time, I have been honored by various community members mentioning they read these articles every week.   I am often surprised.  I have learned a lot over those years about the readers.  They tend not to be church based.  They tend to have pain and suffering in their past that is hard to get over.  Often that pain and suffering hasve come from their church experience.  

When we are suffering and the wounds are fresh, I have learned that Sunday morning just doesn’t do it.  When I mention this to most weekly church goers, they seemed surprised.  A word that I heard today from a past church-goer is “real.”  Those suffering don’t find church to be “real.”  The issues that cause pain and suffering are minimized, and the idea that Christ followers are to have a happy life is wrong as wrong can be.  So they feel marginalized on any given Sunday morning.  

What happens over time is that nobody in the church reaches back out to them, and they don’t want to go back to the scene of the crime.  That is totally understandable.  The problem is we need the “church.”  We don’t need the expression, but, rather, we need an “authentic” church experience.  It can be hard to find our current expression in the Bible.  The suffering church struggles to find significance and its place.  

Something has to change.  

For the past 8 years, I have avoided using this column for self-promotion of my church or ministry.  There have been a few ministry ventures I have mentioned, such as Family Promise of Beaufort County and ACTion Mentoring at Hardeeville Elementary School,, as well as the Backpack Buddies sponsored by Crossroads Community Support Services.  These programs reach out to those in need and need as much print as possible.  However, today I’m going to talk about a new venture that I would like to invite readers to consider.

On Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m. starting May 4th Grace Coastal Church has supported me in sponsoring a service called “Come as You Are: Healing for the Broken-hearted.”  It is stripped of most elements of Sunday and focuses on an authentic experience based on Acts 2.  In Acts 2, we see the early church devoted to 4 elements.  They are:  the teachings of the Apostles on Jesus, Prayer, Fellowship, and Breaking Bread.  That’s what we are going to do.  

On Saturday nights, we want to BE the church, not just attend church.  We won’t leave Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We want to be focused on Christ and Christ alone.  Who needs the gospel? I do, and so does everybody else.  There will be a lot of prayer.  Without question, prayer is a game changer.  So, let’s pray and let’s pray a lot.  The church is not about weekly attendance.  It’s about people.  As we gain traction, we anticipate having many participate and share their lives and their Jesus.  That’s fellowship.  After the 45 minute meeting time, our service does not end until we enjoy a simple meal together.  At that time, I will entertain a Q and A time for issues that come up during the service.  No use having a service and sending anyone home confused.  Let’s walk through this journey together.  

I don’t think of how we are going to make this work.  I’m not even sure what it means to have something “work” in ministry.  All I know is it’s Biblical.  It’s real.  I know many people who are hurt, struggling and broken and need a place to heal their broken hearts.  

If you are broken hearted and just can’t seem to find Christ on a typical Sunday morning, I invite you to Grace Coastal Church on Saturday nights at 6:30.  Talk to me when you come.  Wherever Jesus went, he touched and healed people.  Hearts need to be healed.  We don’t know if we are aiding healing unless we talk about it.  That had to be the end result of Acts 2.  Looking for an authentic expression?  So am I.  

I know without question a lot of readers are nursing broken hearts.  All I can offer is an opportunity to walk together looking for Jesus to provide his healing touch.  He said he came “to heal the broken-hearted and set the prisoners free.”  It’s time we did so as well. Let’s keep it simple.  Let’s look to Jesus.  He is our only hope for sure.  

Today is the most important day in the Christian faith.  Some consider Christmas to be.  It is an important one for sure, but the day we remember the resurrection is the exclamation point to the Christmas proclamation of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man.”  For that reason, Christians around the world will gather  not only to celebrate but also remember the importance of the day the angel proclaimed, “He is not here; he has risen!”  

The claim of virgin birth was not a new one in ancient times.  Various “gods” claimed to be born of a virgin.  It is somewhat of an easy claim.  Once birth has taken place nobody can affirm or deny it.  It is quite remarkable that since the virgin birth of Christ no “religious” figure has ever claimed it again.  There are somewhere around 32 other claims.  In some respects Jesus’ virgin birth was not so “extraordinary” as we consider today.  

However, N.T. Wright  notes that there is not one claim to resurrection.  Homer could not fathom a way back, and Plato taught that even if there was a way back, no one would want to do so.  The Egyptians thought resurrection was possible.  This was the reason their queens, armies, and others were buried with them.  When Augustus conquered Egypt, they tried to show him their resurrected kings.  Wright went on to write that Augustus said that, “he wanted to see kings, not corpses.”  

Our current culture tries to address resurrection in terms of zombies and cryogenic freezing.  There was an article in USA Today last week about an advance in spinal cord repair in hopes of attaching a head to a body.  Neither of our current fascinations is actual resurrection.  They are man’s wish to live on as promised by the one who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ.

The major religions of the world have no claim to resurrection.  In all their teachings we find man having to live up to a certain standard to achieve God’s favor.  The resurrection destroys that concept.  We don’t achieve God’s favor by achieving some standard that isn’t even established in the Bible.  I would think that if God had a standard by which man could make it, he would have given it to us. Actually, he actual did.  It was perfection.  We spend time trying to figure out how to attach a frozen head to a body, but we don’t spend much time trying to figure out how to achieve a God-like standard of perfection.  We don’t because it is clear; perfection is not possible for us.  

So we take perfection and decide the best we can do is be “good” enough.  So, our quest to live with God is to be good enough?  How good?  If God is so good, why didn’t he give us the equation of “good enough?”  It’s because we missed the real standard to live eternally.  The real standard is holiness.  Holiness is where we are body, soul and spirit in complete 100% unity with the mind and will of God.  Anybody want to take a shot at that one?

Jesus is the only one who even an atheist would say is the  one who could be the answer.  Is it a myth that he was crucified and was our sacrifice for our sin?  That is what it all comes down to.  No other theological debate is necessary if Jesus was not the Son of God, the holy one who in the form of a man died for our sin.  All he asks of us is to believe and follow Him.  That’s it.  No perfection.  No standard of goodness.  No demand for holiness when the one who makes us knows it is impossible.  The only thing is faith.  

It’s a faith that looks at the big picture and has to answer one question,  Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?  If it is true it satisfies any question and silences all debate.  The resurrection brings the rest of the teachings of Christ together.  We celebrate today the truth that defines all other “truth.”  

I’ve heard some say we have to determine whether Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord?  That distracts from the foundation that affirms all other claims of and by Jesus…the resurrection.  

Before anyone puts Jesus in the myth category or thinks it’s a crazy zombie story, do the research.  Decide for yourself.  There is only one question that has to be asked.  Is the resurrection true?  What do you believe?  

As I walked into the room,I sensed something was wrong with my dear friend.  He had a look on his face I had not seen before.  After four years, I was surprised!  He had handled just about everything thrown his way.  I asked him what was up.  His answer surprised me as he broke down into tears.

“John, there is going to be one that will get you,” he muttered.  “I wish I could say to look out for it, but you can’t.  You just don’t know which one will get you,” he continued.  At this point I had no idea what he was talking about.  ‘It’s Jim,” he said.  “Jim’s death has got me deep down,”  he finished.”  That was all I could get out of him as he sat at the table and wept.

Jim was a member of the church.  They did not have any special relationship.  He was an elderly man who suddenly died of a heart attack.  For some reason, this was the one that caught my best friend deep down.  Later, when he was able to talk about it, he said that while he was in seminary, they talked about the one death that will get your attention.

A lot of people don’t realize how much pastors are around death.  For me as a police and fire chaplain, death scenes have become the norm.  I had no idea I would see as much death as I have.  Sometimes I take some time off to process after a critical scene.  In a sense, I try to cushion the blow.  

That was until yesterday.  Little did I think the death of our 15-year-old Papillon dog, Jake, would shake my world.  It was a bittersweet day.  On the one hand, my new dog’s birthday was yesterday.  On the other hand, we had to say goodbye to the happiest dog I have ever known.  We have seen a lot of pets come and go.  Sure it tugs at our heart a bit.  Usually after a good cry we are able to get up and get going.  This one has me.  

I’m tired of death, suffering, and the pain of living in a fallen world.  Maybe it has me since we have lost three long time dogs this past year.  Perhaps, it’s the pending loss of my mother, who the doctor informed us after her latest hospital visit  is “on the clock.”  Her brain is dying.  My sister and I agree; she is already gone but her body remains.  

It’s more than that though.  I’ve seen the death of the young and the old.  I’ve seen death that takes a long time.  I’ve seen it happen real fast.  Too fast actually.  It’s not just the death.  It’s the veil of death that covers our existence.  

I so much want to stop all counseling and just say, “Pick one.”  Either choose life or choose death, but you can’t have both.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red, played by Morgan Freeman,, and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, point out we either “get busy living or get busy dying.”  I think it’s at that level Jake’s death has ventured in to my soul, like Jim’s death touched the soul of my dear friend.

I understand why we are so attracted to Disney World, drugs, alcohol, and anything that can numb the reality.  In Disney everyone lives happier ever after.  With drugs and alcohol, we like to think we can live happier ever after.   Only, we don’t.  Actually, we cause the death of a lot of relationships along the way.

As another friend texted yesterday, death just leaves us empty.  So does divorce.  So does the moving away of a friend.  So does the slow loss of our young abilities.  So does a member of the church who slowly drifts away.  So does dementia.  It’s a side of life we don’t want to look at.  But it’s that world in which Jesus enters.

Believing in Jesus is not only a way to get to heaven.  We have over emphasized the Jesus of John chapter 3.  Jesus also comes to give us life through his death and victory over the grave. He crushes death!  When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just waiting to go to heaven, even though that will be real nice.  No, we are to be carriers of life.  Everything outside of a life in Christ is death.  

Here it is April ,and we are going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is important to celebrate.  It’s also important to grasp that life in Christ is indeed life that is to produce more life.  It is to redeem a broken marriage.  It is to heal the broken-hearted.  It is bring hope to hopelessness.  It is to be that person who remembers those who mourn weeks and months after this world steals from us.  It is this life that reminds us this is not home.  It is this life that is to be infectious.  

Fellow believers in Christ we don’t have a choice.  There is no “get busy dying.”  We have been given a new life.   A new life in Christ that in its very essence gives us victory over the forces of death in our world.  Instead of complaining, encourage.  Instead of demanding, lend a hand.  Instead of remaining silent, share the good news of the risen Lord.  Instead of shying away, step forward and lend a hand.   Yes, loss hurts, but there is more to come.  

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden!”  Matthew 5:14