Tag Archive: Sin


I can tell it’s time for a vacation.  The articles of the  last few weeks have been hard to write.  Usually, when the mind is not putting things together, it’s time to take a break.  I tell people all the time when I sense they are running on empty, “Even Jesus took a break, and you ain’t Jesus.”  My time away is still ,as of today, 16 days away.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.  In the mean time readers, you may have to put up with my ramblings that may seem to run all over the place.  It’s how my tired mind works.  Or doesn’t.  

I like to listen to Johnny Cash’s music.  His songs are so full of life.  People who have had struggles and I mean serious struggles seem to relate to his songs.  My personal favorite is “A Boy Named Sue.”  I remember the first time I heard that one.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Johnny came out with that one in 1969.  I was 10 years old.  I thought it was so funny that someone would name his boy, Sue.  

Just the other day my iPod shuffled the classic hit into play mode.  Again, a smile crossed my face as I ventured back to 1969.  Only this time, not only did I enjoy Johnny’s live rendition, I focused on the words of his dad.  He named him Sue because he knew he was not going to be along, and he wanted his boy to grow up tough.  A bit over the top, but the message comes through.  He loved his son enough to give him a girl’s name.  Let’s just say it was a different world in 1969.  

We could argue all day long that if that dad really loved his boy he would hot have wandered away.  I use the word “wander” on purpose.  Jesus describes us as wandering sheep in Luke 15.  Do you know why sheep wander? It’s easy.  They are natural wanderers!  Sometimes I think we forget the basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus had no real issues with our nature.  Our fallen nature should not surprise anyone.  In that amazing chapter written by Dr. Luke, Jesus is addressing the group who thought they had their act together.  He describes us as lost sheep, lost coins, and rebellious kids.  In all of this, Jesus does not issue one single negative comment.  Instead, he talks about his love and grace.  His love to find us and welcome us home.  HIs grace to restore us in relationship with Him.  

I have way too many discussions with fellow “Christians” who want to talk about the reasons we are losing the next generation.  We want to blame technology.  We want to blame the education system.  We want to blame the youth group leaders.  We want to blame just about anything we can get our hands on.  That is, as long as you don’t blame me.  You can blame me, though.  I will admit I’m a natural wanderer.  I get lost at times and, yes, I too can shake my fist at my God and take off on my own path.  Any one of those three will impact my church, my family, and my community.  That is, if I don’t have a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of God and how they engage one another.

It is at this point we need to stop our debating and useless blame shifting.  The struggle to give the gospel to the next generation has been an issue since man sinned.  After Adam and Eve came Cain, and he killed his brother.   Noah had an issue with Ham.  David, yes, the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, had serious next generation problems.  In case you don’t know, his one son sexually abused his sister. David’s son Absalom killed the abuser-brother.  Eventually, Absalom rebelled against dad, but, was killed fighting against him.  Don’t forget Solomon, the one son left.  He had serious women issues.  What did David do in all this?  From what we see, not much at all.  

There are plenty of other next generation problems in Scripture as well as the entire history of the church.  It is a common problem.  We waste too much time trying to fix blame.  Fixing blame takes the heat off of those trying to find a solution.  

In the end of the day, each one of us needs to take personal responsibility as we address the next generations.  Instead of judgment, we need to express grace.  Instead of fixing blame on everyone and everything else, we extend mercy by taking responsibility for our failures and sin.  Instead of building walls expecting the next generation to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we express our love by walking with them as the Prodigal Father did in Luke 15 with our arms wide open looking to embrace our natural wanderers.

We as adult individuals either live our lives thinking we are the potter, or we live our lives understanding we are the clay, being honest with our human nature and responding with great love, grace, and mercy.  It’s truly the Jesus way.  

I can hear Johnny Cash now…”I hear the train a coming…”. I hear the vacation train coming around the bend.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyday, BT Article, March 4, 2018

“How long have you been listening to people’s stories,” she asked.  As I leaned back in my chair my mind lit up like a wildfire feeding on dry timber.  As the words “some 17 years now,” my mind was racing.  NASCAR had nothing on my brain that day.  I walked through 17 years in mere seconds.

My first opportunity to care for a troubled soul was a young man heavily addicted to drugs.  He wasn’t looking for an answer.  He wanted someone to pat him on the back and tell him everything would be fine.  He wanted to keep his drugs and get an affirmation at the same time.  He knocked on the wrong door.

As the synapses of the brain fired I saw person after person, remembering names and faces I thought I had forgotten.  It’s those faces combined with the stories that make me laugh on Sunday mornings. We think we are sitting next to good well behaved Christians.  Far from it.  It’s not a faith in people.  It’s a faith in the work of Christ.

Sometimes I get surprised at the level of sin but I seldom get surprised anymore at the sin.  While sexual issues dominate our culture in and out of the church there are plenty of other soul sucking issues that as the writer of Hebrews said, “cling to us.”  You did read that right.  Christianity is not the faith that demands people get it all right.  It’s quite the opposite.  It is the faith in Jesus Christ since we can’t get it right.  No wonder the Apostle Paul told us to “work out our salvation daily.”  The sin is covered by the blood of Jesus but that doesn’t mean the sin will leave us alone.

The clinging sin is ugly.  I seldom leave the pews and yet I’ve seen adultery, addiction, murder, sexual deviancy, liars, narcissists, misogynists, and any other “ist” you can think of.  Let’s not forget the psychopaths.  Busted dreams, busted marriages, and broken people leaving death and destruction in their path are constantly in the door of every church across the world.  Often they sit in silence fearing judgement and avoidance instead of the love and grace promised on our websites and road signs.

I got to admit, I like these people.  In fact, I often prefer to share life with the prodigals.  I’m one.  It’s the broken that Jesus invites to his banquet table.  It has been described as the banquet for the damned.  Only they are not rejected by Jesus.  Only Jesus followers.  If I was going to start a church (which I’m not) I would call it the 1st Church of the Broken and Rejected.  I don’t know who would come but I know who would not.

Of all the different people God has given me the grace to walk with over the years there is one type that I dread.  They seem more impervious to the gospel then any of the above mentioned people groups.  Usually the “sinners”, Christians and non, know something is wrong.  The other group tends to think they got life especially their sin life under control.  It’s the self-righteous that won’t sit in the Church of the Broken and Rejected.  They might get dirty.  If only they knew.  The sin of self-righteous might be the dirtiest of all.  It’s the one who is always right that is often more hard hearted to the gospel then those who can look at their history and see pain and sorrow at every step.

The sinner knows they need Jesus.

Yet, the good news of Jesus can change the heart of the self-righteous.  It’s what makes the apostle Paul’s conversion so amazing.  He was in a pursuit to end Christianity and he believed he was doing it for God.  He had the education.  He had the training.  He had it all right and yet his question when he is knocked down sums it up.  He asks, “Who are you Lord?”   Immediately Paul knew even in his quest for God he did not stack up in the presence of the Holy One.  Nobody does.  That’s why we all need Jesus.  From the preacher to the prostitute we need his grace. Everyday.