For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Mark [10:45]

The Healing Power of Serving

He is eighty-five and all alone. Each Sunday, he goes to church and looks for something to do. The woman in charge of the clothing ministry, Peggy, gave him clothes to fold that her posse could hand out. He sat down and folded the clothes. Then he started coming during the week. Every week he folded more clothes.

He had served in Vietnam and came home an unwanted vet. He raised a family and lived a good life. Then he retired, his wife died, and his kids moved away. He started to decline with no one to help raise, work for, or tend to. Sensing he had to move and do something, he decided to go to church. A small church but with an active congregation. Soon he was folding clothes and getting involved.

His days were no longer dull but meaningful. His health decline slowed, and he had new friends. Life was no long drudgery; he was back in the game.

The women who helped the man are called Peggy’s Posse. Like the Vietnam vet, they were also drifting a few years earlier. Peggy, the group leader, asked the minister to give them something to do. The minister told them about a clothing initiative he wanted to start. Peggy talked to her friends, and soon shut-in women were at the church organizing clothing and distributing it to people who needed them.

They quickly started clothing drives to help those with scarce resources. First, the group reached out to local schools, who promptly responded. Next, they opened the church to receive clothing that would otherwise be discarded. Soon they had racks to put clothing on. Finally, they used the church van to distribute the clothing throughout Atlantic City. In a short period, they had a well-run machine.

Others joined in, like the local police and other citizens from their community. But it was also a time of community for Peggy’s posse. On the days they worked throughout the church, they shared stories and were in communion. They had developed a purpose and were joyous.

So why is it that real joy is found in serving? We have all heard it is better to give than receive. Jesus gives us a clue in His own ministry.

Jesus had often told the twelve Apostles, For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark [10:45]) His purpose wasn’t to be waited on but to help others. Also, what’s interesting in this quote by Jesus is that he called himself the Son of Man. While Jesus is commonly called the Son of God, he never stated the same. Jesus always referred to himself as the Son of Man.

When Jesus visited Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he rode in on a young donkey, which was considered the lowest of all farm animals. When other kings rode into a city, they rode in on majestic horses to show their power. In Jesus’s case, he rode on a donkey to show his humbleness.

It is easy sometimes to want to be served, and it is often nice to have someone wait on you. But Jesus tells us it is far better to serve than be served. Jesus, who created us, created us in God’s image. Through Jesus, we can see serving is in the image of God.

Peggy, her posse, and the Vietnam veteran rekindled their lives not by receiving but by serving. They went from shut-ins to community organizers. By producing fruit in their lives, they found Joy. Despair was replaced with wondering how they were going to get things done.

When they handed out the clothing, they experienced a joy that created tears. Each of them will tell you of their thankfulness they could help. When they heard words of blessings from those they helped, it gave them a sense of purpose. The exact purpose Jesus instilled in them.

It might seem contradictory that working hard for others is actually receiving. For example, one of my favorite people, Mead, tells me his favorite time at work is when he has helped a customer. Or he will tell me about the unique sense of joy when he uses his days off doing something for someone else.

Jesus served and also instilled in us the desire to serve. By being made in the image of God, it is what we were made to do.

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

John 14:1

In 155 AD, a Roman official told an eighty-six-year-old man to burn incense in honor of the emperor of Rome, who the Romans considered a God. The man, Polycarp, shook his head and said, “No!”

Now angry, the Roman official again told Polycarp, “Deny your loyalty to Jesus and burn the incense or be burned at the stake.”

Stoically, Polycarp refused and said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”

The Roman official looked sternly at Polycarp and curtly uttered, “Burn him!”

Polycarp, in turn, bravely said, “I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ.”

Polycarp was led to a pile of wood with a  tall wooden stake in the center. He was strapped onto the stake with leather. Then the guards lit the dry wood. As the fire grew and began to grow around Polycarp, he said nothing. However, it soon became apparent not enough wood was placed to consume Polycarp. Finally, a guard stepped near Polycarp and pierced his side. After which, Polycarp died.

Polycarp was born in 69 AD and was the bishop of Smyrna at the time of his death. He was made the bishop of Smyrna by the Apostle John. Yes, the same John who walked with Jesus! Not only that, before being made a bishop, he had spent considerable time with John as a student. Amazingly, Polycarp, during his time with John, heard stories about Jesus from a first-person witness to Jesus!

I  had heard about Polycarp at Theological school and generally knew he was important as a first first-century scholar and historian. But at no time in seven years of attending theological school did I hear there were well-regarded writings about him being an eyewitness to the Apostle John. I knew most of the Apostles died as Martyrs well before early non-Biblical Christian writings occurred. However, John was the only Apostle not to die as a martyr. In fact, there is evidence he lived until 100 AD.

The Apostle John was the only Apostle not to die as a Martyr. He also died of old age and, during his lifetime, became known as the Son of Love. Throughout his later years, he had many students, of which Polycarp was one.

Perhaps I missed this in my education, but I immediately stopped when I recently read a story about Polycarp and found his association with John buried in the article. I asked myself, Wait a minute, we have a well-respected ancient scholar who knew John? This was big; we have a firm eyewitness audit trail to Jesus! Wow! And not only that, the connecting piece, Polycarp, is a well-respected and trusted scholar who is often quoted in scholarly articles. So to me, this was a big revelation, very big!

So some may say, “Is that really true?” Well, there is plenty of evidence to confirm Polycarp existed, was a student of John, and was martyred. Two well-regarded early Christian historians and contemporaries, Irenaeus and Tertullian, individually confirmed this connection in their respective writings. In his book On Illustrious Men, Jerome, another early Christian historian, and scholar, he has also confirmed his existence and relationship with John.

Plus, there is more to know! Polycarp was one of the three people called Apostolic Fathers, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch. So what exactly are Apostolic Fathers? It seems these three were early historians and writers, considered leaders of the early church. In fact, Clement was the fourth Pope from 88-97 AD. But to be called an Apostolic Father, besides being influential, one had to have personally worked or studied with an Apostle.

Polycarp was an early scholar, historian, bishop, and a student of John’s. Clement knew Peter well. In fact, it is written that Peter consecrated Clement. Ignatius, a prolific early Christian writer, was also a student of John. Additionally, all three men, besides being prolific authors, developed many theologically important thoughts. These were the big three, after the Apostles had died off, that carried forward the message and lessons of Jesus.

Either I should have paid closer attention in Theological school, or more should have been made of their value to our faith by these three men. In fact, another little-known fact is that Clement is actually mentioned in Philippians 4:3.

In their day, they were famous, like our presidents or the king and queen of England. The amount written by them and about them by well-known scholars is impressive. Type Apostolic Fathers into your search engine and discover these three important men.

Here is the point. Recently, I received a rather harsh Twitter message stating Jesus didn’t exist and that I was following a fairy tale. Actually, the wording was far more offensive and unfit to print. But here is actual proof Jesus was real! While we all have faith, it is nice to know when our faith is attacked or when we may have doubt; there were documented witnesses to the people who walked with Jesus.

Especially a person who said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong.”

So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Exodus 3:8

I was recently listening to an old sermon by Billy Graham. In the sermon, he mentioned his land of milk and honey was Heaven. This interesting statement made me curious about why he would make this bold statement. I thought the land of milk and honey was for the Israelites, given to them by God millenniums earlier. And today’s verse is the first of twenty bible verses spelling out this promise. So I started some research.

God indeed promised this land of Canaan to the Israelites. But interestingly, scholars think it only took eleven days to travel from Egypt to Canaan—a relatively short journey for them to make. But we are also told it took them forty years to get to Canaan. So which is true? It seems both are and let me explain.

The first group of Israelites likely made it to the Jordan River in eleven days. However, when the first group arrived, they refused to cross! Why wouldn’t they cross the Jordan River? It seems soon after they arrived, Moses sent a leader from each of the twelve tribes to investigate the land. Stunningly, even though they did find prosperous signs, ten of the twelve became fearful and gave adverse reports. Thus causing the Israelites to refuse to trust God and not cross over the River Jordan. While two, Joshua and Caleb, gave glowing reports.

Because of their obstinate refusal to trust God, God had the first group of Israelites wander in the desert for forty years. Only a few survived this journey, notably Moses, Joshua, and Caleb. Both Joshua and Caleb were two of the twelve who had initially investigated and given glowing reports about the land survived. Children were born during the forty years of wandering, creating a new generation of Israelites. Most of the original people who had been promised the land of milk and honey died. Leaving a new generation to enter the land of milk and honey. Led by Joshua, they crossed over to the land of milk and honey.

As a side note Moses while he was with the Israelites during the second arrival at the Jordan River, he was told by God he would not enter. So Moses died on top of Mount Nebo, overlooking the land promised by God.

It was Joshua who actually led the Israelites into the promised land of milk and honey. Those who refused to trust God’s promise died in the desert. As a side note, Israel means “One who contends with God.”

The first group didn’t have faith and trust in God. The second group had faith and trust in God.

So this doesn’t wholly explain why Billy Graham made this comment about Heaven being his promised land of milk and honey. However, it is important to explain the origin and history of the phrase.

Now Billy Graham was one of the most prolific and respected preachers of the last sixty years, and I believe he wouldn’t have made such a bold statement without support. So I started researching more about Heaven as the land of milk and honey.

It is definitely not a mainstream concept, but there are articles to support the idea. Knowing this, I asked myself, why would I believe this comment? First, you could reach this conclusion if you look at the Bible as containing metaphorical references.

Here is how. Let’s start with, as Christians; God makes us a promise through our faith in Jesus; we are saved and protected. Then if we assume Egypt metaphorically represents the world, and Jesus provides us with a safe refuge from the world through our faith. Then perhaps we can metaphorically think of the land of milk and honey as Heaven. Especially if we, as Christians, view our journey of faith ends in Heaven.

Now I do not believe that the only reason for declaring ourselves as Christians is to go to Heaven. Indeed, our faith in Jesus as our savior implies this is a result. However, I believe this is a very narrow and opportunistic view. There is far more to following Jesus, like loving God/Jesus and our neighbor. As well as believing Jesus is paramount in our lives and being obedient to the words of Jesus. Plus, things like reading the Bible regularly, attending church, being charitable, and graciously showing our faith.

As the Apostle Paul says, we all fail. But does this failure eliminate our chance to go to Heaven? No more than doing good works help us get to Heaven. Instead, it is our faith in Jesus that steers that course.

On another point, how can we be sure there is a heaven? I have found certainty through my father’s death. I still feel his presence and see oddities in my day. For instance, many times when I hike, I feel my father. Right after his death, as I sat wondering if he was safe, a strange bird came and sat unusually close to me in the early morning, which I took as a sign he was safe. I find coins deep in the woods and feel him near. Strange coincidences keep happening, and I am grateful.

If you talk to hospice workers, they will agree strange things happen just before and after a person’s death. Certainly, we have heard of people seeing Jesus through near-death experiences. Of course, some will say they aren’t true, but when you look at the odds, it is more likely they are true than not.

I also needed to research if others believed the same thing and if it is biblically sound to say Heaven is our place of milk and honey. Or am I being overly hopeful? So I called my brother-in-law, Kenny, a wonderful pastor. But also the most knowledgeable of all the Biblical scholars I know. At first, Kenny was a little concerned that I had stretched my Methodist roots too far because this thought is very Methodist! But, after Kenny’s deeply detailed explanation of the Israelites and their journey to the promised land, he confirmed that Billy Graham was possibly correct. So, while not ready to sign up for this unusual thought, he was not opposed.

So if we are on a journey of faith and Billy Graham made this bold statement, perhaps it is true. Others I have read also have made this same conclusion. So while it isn’t a mainstream thought, there is logic to Graham’s comment.

After doing all this research, I now believe Heaven is our land of milk and honey. Not just because I researched, but I feel it as well. But also, my goal isn’t just Heaven. Instead, it is also to serve Jesus with faith.

While I think Heaven is the end of our journey—a land of our milk and honey. I also feel ours is not to know when the journey ends, but our task is to be the best believers we can be and always to try to be better every day.

So I thank Billy Graham for this unusual statement!

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8

After my annual wellness checkup, my doctor told me to give up sweets! Wow, after a lifetime of being a fan of sweets and any sweets, this was a tough request. However, the doctor was very pointed about doing this. Her reasoning was as I approached seventy, I would undoubtedly get Diabetes. So with this warning, I gave up sweets.

In a matter of four weeks, I lost thirteen pounds. The doctor explained despite all my hiking and activity; I wouldn’t lose any weight. My family has a strong history of Diabetes; my grandmother, father, and two siblings have Diabetes. Her point was as I aged, so did my Pancreas, and it seemed inevitable it would happen to me as well.

The Pancreas is vital in processing sugar; any excess is immediately processed as fat. Not only that, as the Pancreas gets older, its ability to regulate insulin weakens. In my case, I produced too much insulin, which left me hungry after every meal. The excess insulin creates the need to eat more to eliminate the extra insulin.

So I gave up the sweets, and after two weeks, I no longer craved sweets. The late-night snacks disappeared, and the weight came off. At first, when I hiked, I got tired quickly. Then over time, my body adjusted, and  I would have small snacks, like nuts, for extra fuel. Then it appears I developed a minor nut allergy! So, I substituted other snacks, like oranges and whole-grain bread. That seemed to work.

Recently, I changed my hiking goals from ten miles to sixteen. To make sixteen, I needed to do twelve miles effortlessly to even think about sixteen. On the day, I was going to do the twelve-mile trail hike, I stopped at a local convivence store and bought a Snicker bar, just in case I needed it. Then, I got in my car and drove an hour and a half to a mountain called Siler Bald in southwest North Carolina.

After I arrived, I reviewed my backpack—three liters of zero-sugar Gatorade, one orange, and two small sandwiches. For six hours of hiking, that should be enough. At the last minute, I remembered the Snicker bar, and with a bit of guilt, I put it in the pack. I headed out on a beautiful early spring day and walked to the top of the first mountain. Then after a long descent, I was getting ready to hike up one and a half miles to the top of another mountain. To this point, I had hiked over nine miles. But I was feeling very fatigued.

I debated what to do. I was well hydrated, so that wasn’t causing the fatigue. I had eaten a  sandwich and an orange; I was well-fed. Then I thought perhaps the Snicker bar, my supposed enemy. Out of choices, I guiltily ate the Snicker bar. In the past, I had used Snicker bars for that last push of the day. My thinking was maybe this was the exception to no sugar.

Remarkably, after ten minutes, I was back to normal. And when I had finished the climb, I felt great. The trip back to the car was all downhill, another one and a half miles. When I finished, surprisingly, I was not tired or sore. It seemed my enemy, sugar, had helped.

As I drove home, I recalled the Snicker bar commercials where people were not themselves and then ate a Snicker Bar to revive themselves. A commercial whose claim really worked. Now, this didn’t mean I could go back to sugar during a regular day. But on long hiking days, I could still have my Snicker bar.

In a world where some things are good today and then change to being bad. We are often confused about what to believe. This was the case with the Snicker Bar; most times, for pre-diabetic people, the Snicker Bar is akin to poison. Yet other days, it is worthwhile.

We sometimes hear old math is bad and new math is good. Then later, we read the opposite. It seems life is filled with these see-saw thoughts. You watch the news on one channel, and you get a completely different view on another. Some people like a particular author, and others find them boring. Some people like Ford trucks, and others will tell you why the Ram truck is better.

Life is like that a lot. There doesn’t seem to be much that is consistent. For the individual, it seems what was up is now down. What was true is now false. The Snicker Bar is bad sometimes, and other times good. As I thought about all these mixed messages, I wondered, So what or whom can we always count on?

Later I remembered the verse in Hebrews, where it is written, “Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I find this statement profound. In a world of many varied opinions, and what was good is now bad, and what was bad is now good, Jesus is always the same.

In times of stress, Jesus is always a refuge. His words spoken two thousand years ago have survived the test of time. His grace and mercy for the first-century citizen are the same for the twenty-first citizen. So in our lives, Jesus is always present and knocking on our door with the same message many centuries later.

So, I won’t have a Snicker Bar unless I am on a long hike. Then it is good, but at other times it is bad. But I have Jesus on both the easy hikes and long hikes. He is always just the same, good!

On my sixteen-mile hike, I will bring a Snickers bar.

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude;

– 1 Timothy 4:4

I parked my van at a large parking near the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee. As I usually did, I reviewed my backpack’s contents to ensure I had enough food and water for a five-hour hike. I had three liters of water or Gatorade, my Snickers bar, 2 BelVita cookie packages, and a well-filled peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Probably more than I needed, but more is better than not enough.

Then I ensured I had my emergency kit in case of an injury to myself or someone else. Next, I made sure I had my bear spray. Finally, I switched my phone to GPS mode to track where I was and the height of the climb in front of me. Switching to GPS mode also entails going to Airplane mode so the GPS doesn’t drain the battery.

Then I made my regular mental reminders. The first was to enjoy the hike and not treat it like a competition. This a helpful reminder to ensure I didn’t miss anything along the way, and this attitude also provides I drink and eat properly. There is always the tendency when you go too fast to give up the important water and snack breaks. Plus, you won’t take the time to experience the woods and views. For competitive people, it is important to remind ourselves it’s about the hike, not the speed.

My one last thing to do is say a prayer of thankfulness and protection. Usually, when Connie and I hiked, we did this just after we were on the trail. It always seems inappropriate to pray in the parking lot and feels much better when we are standing on the trail.

On this day, I crossed the street in front of the parking lot and spotted the three-by-six-inch white blaze on a tree that let me know I was on the Appalachian Trail. Up a few stairs by the blaze, and a quick right put me right on the trail. When I looked up after making the turn, I was suddenly hit with the sun shining precisely on the path of the trail. Almost as if the sun’s rays followed the path I was to take. Amazingly, the shadow of the trees outlined the path perfectly.

As I looked up, the sun was like a crown encasing the tops of the trees. At that moment, I knew where to say my prayer and to tell God I was thankful. There was a warmth to the sun, almost as if God was inviting me into God’s creation. But then, peace settled in, and while I knew the hike would be tough, I was thankful to be able to share in this place.

I stopped to take a picture to capture this unusual image. A photo I would later study many times. Not because I am a great photographer, I am not! But to see the miracle in my day. A perfectly outlined path. An unusual creation from God.

Later, a half-mile climb almost straight up had to be encountered. There were the cliffs, which required hand-over-hand climbing without hiking poles. There was the walk on an exposed path to a view of a valley some fifteen hundred feet below. There were rocks littering the tail and fallen trees to climb over. All reminders of what a normal hike on the Appalachian Trail looks like.

On my five-hour trek, I climbed two thousand feet. I had lunch at a wonderful picnic table far away from the road, making me wonder how it got there. As is usually the case met a few other hikers, whom you take the time to greet. We would talk about where we have been and where we are going. No formal script, just friendly reminders of how wonderful the hiking community can be. No judgment because everyone hikes their own hike.

On this day, the first step on the trail and into the sun, the warmth of God, was what I remember from this day. The grandeur of a simple scene of trees, a path, and golden sun. A reminder all that exists took billions of years to be just right for God to remind me to look and enjoy God’s world.

I am thankful!

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

– Philippians 2:3-4

Ten years ago, I was helping out at a large Methodist church in New Jersey. One Saturday morning, the church had a conference meeting to review its finances and administration with people from the local bishop’s headquarters. Folks were coming to meet with the minister and committee heads to review their operation.

As usual, I showed up early, worried about being late. As I waited, a car drove up, and a friendly man stepped out and opened his trunk. Immediately, I assumed he was there to attend the meeting, likely from the bishop’s headquarters. I went to the man and asked him if I could help him.

When I first approached him asking if I could help, he gave me a guarded stare and assessed what I was up to. His natural defensiveness resulted from growing up in a tough part of New Jersey, where scams abounded. After a few minutes of sizing me up, his face changed and contained a wry smile. He said, “Sure, and thanks for the help.”

We took his many boxes and bags into the church meeting room. Then we did the usual formalities of introducing ourselves. The man, John Cardillo, was the headquarters chief finance officer. He was there this Saturday to show the members and minister how to run their church financially.

Soon other people showed up, and the meeting started. As I watched John conduct the meeting, I became intrigued by his mannerisms and style. He talked patiently and with a smile. I watched how he easily explained church finances with grace and a smile. I thought to myself; this man knew how to communicate and win people over. He spoke humbly and answered questions thoroughly with a tone of respect. The more I observed John, I learned he was more interested in helping than promoting his agenda.

John was perfect; he wasn’t boring, which many finance people like myself can be. His delivery was clear and friendly. John seemed to know how to get people to like and listen to him. In a very subtle way, his humility emerged as he talked. There was no boasting or commands, just him trying to help other people—everything about John was friendly and thoughtful.

As I continued to help out at The United Methodist Church, I learned more about John. John drove almost an hour to the headquarters from Monday to Friday, arriving at five AM, well before everyone else. Most nights, he stayed well past five. On top of this, he would work Saturdays visiting churches to help them with their finances. In most churches, the committee heads were made up of people with jobs of their own, and Saturday was the only day they had free, making John have to visit them on Saturday.

John never complained about his burden; he kept his head down and worked. I learned to see John in the morning if I needed his help. I always went early because I liked to talk to John and knew he would have the time. He put his work aside when I entered his office and listened to my requests. His answers were always unhurried and correct.

As time wore on, I got to know this man better. Unfortunately, his favorite sports team was the New York Jets, who each Sunday seemed to lose-often in comical ways. But John stayed loyal to his team. He had Catholic roots and, in fact, had worked at Catholic Charities before accepting a head finance job with the United Methodist Church.

John had a large number of loyal friends, primarily because of his humbleness. John could have easily been more successful outside the church world. I am sure he would have risen the ranks quickly in private industry and been compensated far more than he was with the church. But Jesus put John to work in the church, and John knew this. Sure he expressed frustrations with the imbalance in his pay. But he continued steadfastly doing his job at a very high level.

My friend Pastor Lou called me last week to let me know John was close to his final journey. He was racked with liver cancer and in great pain. Lou and John’s family spent his last moments together. Then, finally and mercifully, in a quiet moment, he passed into our Lord’s hand.

I am sad John is gone, but happy for knowing him and knowing he is safe with our Lord. John didn’t lead a life of material wealth or extravagance. Instead, he led a simple life built on humble loyalty to his work, friends, family, and his Lord.

We don’t often read about humble people; they don’t make the news. But I know in Jesus’ eyes, John was a star. The Apostle Paul in Philippians describes how we should live and perfectly describes how John lived. Paul says; Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Be well John, until we meet again.


In memory of  John F. Cardillo 

July 18, 1956  –  December 30, 2022

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once, the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

– John 5:8-9

One of my favorite things to read is stories about people who overcome difficult life circumstances. These people choose to be Victors and not Victims despite the odds. The latest story I found was about former NFL all-pro Warwick Dunn.

On January 7th, 1993, in Baton Rouge, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer, was on a private police detail escorting a local merchant to make a late-night cash deposit. Two men approached her and the merchant. The men asked for the cash bag, and the merchant resisted, which resulted in gunfire. One of the bullets hit Betty, and she was killed.

Betty left behind six children; the oldest was the future All-Pro running back, Warrick Dunn. Warrick had just turned eighteen two days earlier and, as the oldest, was left in charge of his five siblings. Warrick was a gifted athlete, excelling as a high school football player and track star.

Warrick became head of his family and, with the help of his grandmother, raised the other five children. At the same time, Warrick attended Florida State, won a national championship, and was a three-time ACC selection. Warrick also ran track for Florida State and was an Associated Press All-American.

Warrick went on to play in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. A career where he gained over fifteen thousand all-purpose yards – the 14th best all time.

While Warrick had a remarkable NFL career, it was in his second life that he excelled as well. After he retired, he set up a  charity called Holidays For Homes to raise money to help single-parent families move into homes they could not afford – 150 families moved into new homes.

He also set up Warrick Dunn charities and was named the Walter Payton man of the year award, along with the Bart Starr Award. In other community services, Warrick worked with other professional athletes, such as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Mario Lemieux, and many others.

Because of his integrity and willingness to help others, Arthur Blank invited him to become a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. While Warrick and his siblings went on to prosper after their mother’s tragic death, his attitude of not being a victim set the course for his and their lives. He had chosen to become a victor.

His life reminds me of a story in the Gospel of John. In this story, Jesus approaches a man lying on the ground by the healing pool of Bethesda. The man had been coming to the pool for thirty-eight years and was never healed. One morning, Jesus sees the man at the pool and asks, “Do you want to get well?”

The man replies, “I have no one to help me in the water, and when I try, someone else gets in the way.

Sensing a state of victimhood, Jesus tells the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”

The man understands the meaning behind Jesus’ request, realizing he has been playing the victim for thirty-eight years. Listening to Jesus, he gets up, takes control of his life, and walks. Not all of Jesus’ miracles are physical; in this case, it was sage advice. The man had a simple choice: continue floundering by the pool or walk. He chose to walk.

Not every miracle in life is physical; many times, they are by making brave choices. Jesus knew the man could walk on his own but had chosen not to walk. He was essentially trapped by the comfort of going to the same place for many years, despite it not being the most productive life. All Jesus did was tell him to change and walk a different life.

After finding out about his mother’s death, Warrick could have given up, like the man at the well. I am sure the burden of losing your mother and then having to raise five children was enormous. Yet, he chose the path of moving forward and not lying down as a victim. Warrick went on to raise the children with his grandmother. He became an NFL star, and most importantly, he reached out to others the help them pick up their mat and walk.

Life isn’t always easy. Jesus knows that. He simply asks for us to have faith and walk forward. He asks us every day, Do you want to get well? Sometimes it’s little things that get us down or, for others, really big events. Sometimes it is easier to use our obstacles as crutches than the task of overcoming our obstacles. Every day, we have the choice: to become a Victim or a Victor.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. 

– John [1:14]


Over two thousand years ago, Jesus arrived on earth. As the Son of God, he was both human and divine. A simple gift from God for us in human form. In today’s verse, Jesus is called the Word. If we substitute Word with Jesus, it makes the verse clearer. In other words, “Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us.”

A wonderful gift from God to those of us here on earth. Jesus was the first gift from the first Christmas. The word Christmas comes from Middle English and means “Christ’s mass.” Simply translated to mean the anointed one was sent—a present for humankind from God.

Today, Christmas is celebrated throughout the world on December 25th. Although there are many traditions around Christmas, some parts of the world only celebrate Christmas on the twenty-fifth. At the same time, in other regions, Christmas lasts twelve days and ends with the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th.

Presents are exchanged, and dinners are held. There are candlelight services and the final lighting of the advent candle. It is a time when families and friends gather and celebrate this momentous day.

It is also a busy time of preparation and shopping. Unfortunately, many of us get lost in getting everything right. While many have a wonderful holiday, others are left alone. Christmas can be a time of gifts but also a time of loneliness and despair.

Since a number of years ago, Christmas has meant something different to me. It occurred after an unusual act of kindness I had heard about.

A woman named Beth was homeless and near destitution. She was living in a shelter and working at a Dunkin Donuts. She had only two things: a car and a child. Her simple goal was to find housing for her and her daughter in the new year.

On Christmas eve, she had to work. She waited on customers, and this night, her boss asked her to scrap gum off the bottom of the tables. While upset about this request, she still complied for fear of losing her job.

As she scraped gum off the bottom of the tables, she noticed a solitary woman about her age crying and slumped over, sitting at a booth.

After an hour or so and close to closing, Beth saw the woman wasn’t emerging from her despair. So when she clocked out, she went to the woman and asked if she could help.

The woman told her she was broke, hungry, and had no place to go. It was raining very hard, and Beth noticed the woman was poorly dressed. Beth listened to her story and found her heart breaking. She took her outside and drove her to the shelter she was staying. She got her checked in and helped her get settled.

All the money Beth had on her that night was her tips and her food money. She was close to having enough saved in the bank to make the down payment on a new apartment. The money she had with her would allow her to make the deposit for a new home

In the morning, she asked the woman what she could do to help. The woman told her she wanted to go home to her parents and start over. To accomplish this, she needed a bus ticket. Beth took her to the bus station and bought her a ticket home. Then went across the street and bought her breakfast. The woman got on the bus to start her life over.

Beth later heard from the woman; she had reconciled with her parents and was now working. On a rainy evening, the woman had been visited by another woman, Beth, who had the spirit of giving – a spirit of Christmas. She gave her some of the money she was saving to use as a down payment to get an apartment. But, she explained to me later while she needed the money for herself and her daughter, she felt this woman needed it more.

The following week, Beth found a better job, and her new landlord, after hearing about why Beth didn’t have all the money she needed, allowed her to move into her new apartment.

Beth moved on to resolving the issues which had created her homelessness. Her new job helped her pay for her life. Her daughter started school, and she remembers the first morning her daughter got on a school bus. A grateful for time for her; she had a home and a job, and her daughter could now have a normal life.

When you ask her today, “What was your favorite Christmas?” She will tell you it was the night she could help someone else. A memory she uses to help her understand the meaning of Christmas.

God sent Jesus to help us. So that first Christmas, we not only got Jesus, our savior. But, we also received an example of the meaning of Christmas- giving to others.

“Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

– John [11:43]-44

Miraculously, Lazarus emerged from his death tomb, saved by Jesus. Many of those who witnessed this event turned to believing in the power of Jesus. But some did not and went back to Jerusalem to tell Caiaphas, the chief priest, and the other leaders what they had seen.

Immediately, Caiaphas and the other priests called a meeting of the Sanhedrin to discuss this latest feat performed by Jesus. The few who had gone to see the leaders were seeking favors from the leadership in Jerusalem. In turn, Caiaphas and the others were alarmed, seeing this as an event that could encourage the existing population to rise up against them.

During the meeting, they all agreed it was time to get rid of Jesus. For the past year, Jesus had been saving the blind, healing the lame, and speaking to huge crowds. Now Jesus had raised the dead! Because of this last event, Caiaphas and the other leaders now knew Jesus had become competition for the control of the masses.

Caiaphas was the chief priest, and head of the ruling Jewish body called the Sanhedrin. He was in the fifteenth year of his reign. His father-in-law, Annus, who had reigned for nine years, had appointed Caiaphas as his successor. Combined, they had held the chief priest position for almost a quarter of a century.

During his reign, Caiaphas solidified his power with the Jewish aristocrats and the Roman rulers. However, at the same time, he had made life for the average citizen very difficult. As Caiaphas grew in power, the people became poorer.

After deciding to get rid of Jesus, Jesus could no longer move about publicly. So instead, he went to Ephraim in Samaria. A place he would stay until his return to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

What amazes me is that instead of seeking Jesus out to find out more, instead, they chose to kill him. It would seem to me after such a powerful action of raising the dead, Caiaphas would want to learn more and perhaps see Jesus as who he was, the Lord.

So why didn’t Caiaphas and the others turn to Jesus and, at the very least, find out more? It seems they were stuck in their own narratives, and Jesus directly opposed the lives they were leading. Jesus was a change in the course of how Caiaphas thought.

Caiaphas had become so enamored with his life and power that there was no room for other viewpoints. Any different view, he squashed. Those around him had learned this and only told him want they thought he wanted to hear. Conversation amongst them had collapsed into making sure Caiaphas didn’t get angry.

Caiaphas and his group had lost the art of critical thinking. When differing points of view rose up, the individual would be shamed and discarded. Instead of hearing the person with a different opinion, their ideas were seen as extreme and threats. As a result, the person was usually ostracized.

Looking back at these events in the 21st century, we can clearly see the flaw. Jesus had saved a person from death, yet no one in power wanted to know more. We can all agree they lacked the skill of critical thinking.

Critical thinking in the dictionary is defined as: the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Simply, critical thinking allows events and statements to change our viewpoints and perhaps our behavior. A method of thinking that prevents our thoughts from getting stale and outdated.

What if Caiaphas had honestly sought out Jesus to learn more? We could assume he would have become a follower of Jesus as well. Instead, Caiaphas chose the path of denial and elimination.

By ignoring Jesus and seeking to destroy him, Caiaphas, in turn, lost everything.

A few months later, Caiaphas successfully had Jesus crucified on the cross. But the outcome for Caiaphas was bleak. When the Roman rulers learned about this event, Caiaphas was removed from power and forced to leave Jerusalem in 36AD.

Everything thing he had was gone. All because he denied the reality of Jesus.

Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

– Romans [8:34]

While in Theological school, I took a course on Sunday worship. The professor, Dr. Heather Elkins, a kind and wise woman, was always a favorite professor. I enjoyed taking her classes and often saw if one would fit my schedule. She is a woman with a gleeful demeanor but has a high level of seriousness when talking about Jesus and all things Christian.

I admired Dr. Elkins because of her sincerity. What she said to us was always sincere and without agenda. She saw things through a lens of a very interesting life.

Many years earlier, she went to theological school when women weren’t ministers or even entered into the study of ministry. When she graduated, no assignment was given to her. So she went home to West Virginia and set up her own church at a truck stop.

There she would sit and minister to those who found her sitting in a booth in the back. This was a  foundational time in her life. At her booth, she would listen objectively to those who came to visit.

As women became more acceptable to the Methodist church, she re-entered life as both a minister and a college professor.

But her time as a truck stop minister had chiseled her. You knew you could talk with her because she actually listened. As she had to when sitting across from desperate people in a remote truck stop café. She had learned to avoid judgment and still deliver her message with kindness.

Jesus had caught her early in life, and he was her goal. And nothing was more important to her than his act on the cross to save humankind.

One day, she started class by saying, “Good Morning!” And we all replied, “Good Morning!”

Then she asked us, “Why is it a good morning?”

While we knew she never asked a question without a specific purpose, we still gave her halfhearted answers.

She then told us, “Be careful when you greet your congregation on Sunday morning with the phrase, ‘Good Morning.’, because not everyone will be having a good morning.”

I thought about her comment and knew she was right. Unfortunately, not everyone in church has a good morning on any given Sunday.

The previous Sunday, I was helping a church by running their audio system. I was sitting in an alcove, high above the congregation. I glanced down and saw a woman sitting alone in apparent stress. Her head was bowed, and she was crying. A solitary figure was sitting in a crowded church, yet alone in her life. She was not having a good morning.

Because of Dr. Elkins’ question, I thought about the solitary woman. After church, I  went to find her and try to help. Unfortunately, she was gone by the time I got down from the alcove. As I was completing my thoughts about the woman, Dr. Elkins spoke.

She told us instead of saying “Good Morning,” say, “It is a good day because Jesus rose.” This was the thought the solitary woman in the church needed to know; he arose for her and us!

Over the years, this comment has stuck with me, Jesus rose on the third day. No matter how dire things seemed in my life, I always have Jesus’ resurrection as a safe spot. Because Jesus rose, I became free from sin, forgiven, and redeemed through my faith. A mental place I could always use to lift my spirit. Dr. Elkins was right because he rose; every day is a good day.

No matter the difficulty of the day or period of our life, our belief in Jesus’ resurrection is our guarantee of salvation, redemption, and freedom.

When the human heart is tormented by turmoil, Jesus and the resurrection erase the need to worry. His singular act on the wonderful day we call Easter erased the need for all human anxiety.

As we go about our days, either filled with busyness or worry, it can be hard to remember Jesus’ gift for humankind that first Easter. But through our faith, it is always true, no matter our circumstances.