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He hung up the phone.  He knew it was trouble.  He knew deep down it would be the last time he spoke with his brother.  No one was going to die; but the relationship, which was on life support, was.  

It had been going on for some time.  It was one of those ,what do they call it, enabling relationships.  It wasn’t so much that they needed each other.  Due to the blood line, they were expected to tolerate each other.  

The older brother was a master manipulator.  He was a juggler.  He did not juggle things.  He juggled people.  Some might say he was a narcissist.  Others might go so far as to label him a psychopath or a sociopath.  It didn’t need to be labeled.  He simply used people for his own benefit.   

The younger brother knew something was wrong.  It started one Christmas.  He got a race track he always wanted.  Making a long story very short, the  older brother ended up ruining it and blaming it on the defeated youngster.  

Part 2 was even worse.  Their sister wore wigs.  That’s what they did back in the 70’s.  One day the wig ended up with a huge hunk cut out of it.  It was clear that a razor was the weapon of choice.  Guess who got blamed and severely punished?  You know it!  Even though the younger brother had a very viable alibi, he couldn’t stand up for himself yet.  During the punishment, the older brother never said a word.  He won!  That his how his life was to be.  The older one never lost. 

A few years later, during a game of one-on-one street hockey in the yard, the relationship issues began to show the ugly side.  In the middle of the game, a friend of the older son rode past.  “I’ll be right back.  Wait for me,” he yelled to his brother.  The younger brother waited.  And he waited.  After what seemed like an hour, he quietly walked off the court.  That day began the descent.  He knew it ,but, as he used to say, “That’s my brother.”

After the younger brother married, the couple were sitting at a table engaging in conversation with the, by now, arrogant juggler.  In mid sentence, a more prominent family member walked in the room.  Without finishing his thought, the juggler dropped the conversation in mid sentence and chased after his next victim.  As the younger brother’s wife looked at him, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered what everybody had been muttering for some 30 years now, “That’s just him.  Don’t worry about it.”  

The stories could go on and on.  Throughout their life the older brother took on the image of the Biblical older brother, especially the one in the Prodigal Son story found in Luke 15.  He knew how to keep those he wanted close and satisfied.  He also knew how to manipulate the others.  

He had a good reputation with those on the outside.  He knew what words to use.  It was like he was a card shark, counting cards and knowing the percentages for his next play.  When God is somehow attached to users and manipulators, it makes the picture very blurry.

I have come to learn that, in many family situations, the idea of the older vs. younger brother situation in Luke 15 is not just a classic parable by Jesus but a picture of actual co-dependent relationships in our families, and without question, in our churches.  

It seems that when love, grace ,and mercy are to be idealized, the abuser (yes, that is what they are) finds fertile soil to toil his manipulative practices. We often forget about the older son in the Prodigal Son parable.  He doesn’t seem like a primary character.  Not only that, but we like to focus on the Father and the wayward younger son due to the incredible love and grace.  It’s easy to forget about what looks like a successful, obedient, faithful son.  

I have looked at that one for years.  My eyes were opened as I sat listening to teaching on this one.  The speaker looked right at me (it seemed like it) when he said, “Few realize the older son did not love his father either.  He only wanted what his father had.”  Ahh, who says the Bible isn’t grand.  They understood modern psychology thousands of years ago.  At the end of the day, those who use people, juggle their relationships to look good, and abuse those closest to them with words and attacks don’t love the person in front of them.  They want what they have.  They want their attention and praise.  

The younger brothers spent years trying to figure out what to do with these enabling, co-dependency relationships in their family and in their church.  I think I know why the younger son asked his dad for his inheritance and took off when he got it.  He wanted to get out of the relationship with the older brother.  When he came home, he did not come home to make amends with the brother.  He came home to the father.  

After so many years, the younger brother has figured out what is the best way to handle this one.  He shut the door to the older brother much like Esau and Jacob.  Jacob came home after many years, but there is no indication the relationship with Esau was renewed.  In fact, Jacob put a distance between him and Esau when peace was established.  It wasn’t that he feared his brother.  He  just knew who he was. 

Maybe some of you reading this article are being used and abused by a family member or church member.  More than likely you have tried to practice love, grace, and mercy.  I have come to figure out that shutting the door to such relationships is love, grace and mercy. 

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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.  

I do love golf.  There is only one problem.  Golf does not love me.  

As a young adult, I could pull out the clubs and shoot in the 80’s and not blink twice.  I never took the game super seriously, so getting down to par (around 72) was probably not going to happen.  Shooting in the 80’s would work for me.  Most of the guys I played with struggled to break 100.  They would get very irritated when winter ended and the golf courses opened.  Here I show up and shoot an 84 while they tried their hardest to not take an “8” and break the hundred barrier.  In those days I loved the game and the game loved me.

That all changed in an instant.  I was playing flag football.  I was the quarterback and driving for a score.  Instead of pulling my flags, the big guy on the opposing team two-handed touched me right in the middle of my chest summersaulting me backwards.  Did you know that when a quarterback throws the ball ,his opposite arm and hand flies behind him?  Yeah, I didn’t either.  It does.  I figured it out when I got up from the hard hit and grabbed my wrist.  My arm was in the right place only my palm was up when it should have been down.  The wrist was a mess. Little did I know at that point but my arm had a splinter break of the bone.  It was going to be a long recovery.

The doctor wanted to operate.  He said the bones would not line up, and I would lose power in my left wrist.  I have a personal philosophy.  If you don’t have to cut open the body…don’t.  I told him to set it and let it go.  He warned me I would not be hitting homeruns as a softball player and ,if I played golf, there was going to be a slice.  He wasn’t kidding.  Instantly ,I had a banana slice.  

About the only fun I had with it was setting up for the slice with someone I never golfed with.  They would interrupt me when they noticed I lined up far left.  I told them to take a video.  They were about to see some amazing golf.  I figure I can hit the ball 300 yards.  The only problem is it travels 150 yards straight and 150 yards to the right.  

No use losing any sleep over it all.  I will never win the Master’s tournament.  Golf doesn’t put food on my table.  I’ll live.  Lately, with the help of my friend Bob Jarrell, I’ve been able to get the boomerang under control.  At least I can enjoy the game some.  

Today, I got in nine holes over at Okatie Creek.  I didn’t hit the ball all that bad.  I didn’t hit it all that good either.  I was disappointed.  Last week I shot a 44 on the back nine and was hoping good things were ahead.  

My friend noticed I was peeking.  In case you don’t know the game of golf, that’s when you lift your head and don’t keep it down with your eyes focused on the ball.  It’s hard to hit a good shot when you are not looking at the ball.  It’s a common golfers error.  An old friend said to “spit” where the ball once sat after you hit the ball.  He laughed, “That will keep your head down.”  Well, I wasn’t spitting today, and my head was all over the place.  

My buddy asked me if I knew why we pull our heads.  I answered, “We want to see where the shot went.”  He laughed once again.  “Nope,” he said with a smile.  He continued to educate me, “It’s our pride.”  It didn’t take long to admit he was right.  We want to admire our own shot instead of letting our playing partner follow the trajectory.  

We talked some more.  It’s like life actually.  Our pride takes our focus off the important things of life.  Those being God and our loved ones.  We don’t let things pan out as they should.  Each of us wants control.  So instead of spending some time in the Word of God ,I’d rather pull my head out of it and plan my day without being reminded God is in control.  Instead of focusing on my family, I’ll just hope they can catch up with me.  When they don’t, tempers flair.  Meanwhile, I miss connecting with them on an intimate, caring level.  

Just like golf, we blame everything else.  Let’s see, I’ve blamed the clubs, the turf, the ball, the lie, the weather, the grip, and the golf course.  There is a common denominator.  ME!  

When we focus on everything other than the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we are bound to get in some sort of trouble.  The sand traps of life are hard to miss when our heads are looking all around.  

We all have  some form of Attention Deficit Disorder.  Thank you Jesus our faith is not dependent upon us.  Instead, our faith is made whole by the one who kept his focus as he journeyed to the cross.  Our hope is indeed Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  I just wonder one thing.  Can Jesus hit a one iron?  I can’t, even with my head down.

It’s fun to get email from readers.  It lets me know somebody actually reads this column.  This week, a reader asked me, based on the June 23rd article that I titled “Searching,” what was I searching for.  Once again my sarcastic button wanted to be pressed with “I’m supposed to ask those questions, not you.”  I’m getting better.  I did not even type such a rude response.  Jesus, keep whispering in my ear please.  

I did sit back and think about his question a bit.  I thought about all the things I have chased in the past.  The list is too long to put in this article.  I don’t think the Bluffton Today has enough room for all my wanderings.  

Probably the top three quests I have engaged on would be respect, wealth, and an acknowledgment from my dad that I was valued.  There are long stories behind all three.  I will be brief.  I think I heard the editor’s sigh of relief.  

Last week I wrote about being a different thinker than the rest of my family.  When one feels like the odd-ball we tend to be the odd-ball.  I was raised in a family that did not demand success but it was quietly expected.  Being the youngest and the odd-ball I tended to thirst for respect.  I was my own worse enemy.  I had a chance to go to be in University of Maryland’s doctorate program.  I turned the offer down.  I don’t know why I did that.  To this day it might be the only thing I have done that I truly regret.  I do know one thing.  It would not have satisfied my desire to be respected.  I know it was only a temporary solution.  

For some time I like most Americans who bought the American dream chased up the ladder searching for financial security and a sense of wealth.  Let me just say this, it only takes one major error or event to take all the mullah away.  Wealth does feel good at the time but it is very fleeting.  The biggest problem is once you get “there” (wherever that is) it has to sustained.  Even at that we tend to want more.  It doesn’t matter how much money one makes.  We will spend it or never think we have enough.  Jesus said you can’t serve two masters.  He was right.  

The one that has probably caused me the most problems is the seeking acknowledgement from my dad that I was valued.  It wasn’t my fathers problem.  It was my interpretation of life.  Honestly, dad didn’t necessarily go out of his way to express value to anyone.  He was somewhat a quiet man.  He was obsessed with his business.  He worked hard and his parents didn’t pat him on the back either.  He didn’t degrade any of us either.  Somehow, I wanted Dad to express my value and I never really got it.  I then tried to get it from others.  Thankfully, my friend Bob about 15 years ago picked up on it and he worked with me on it.  I don’t need Dad’s pat on the back.  All I need is my Heavenly Father’s love.  That’s all anyone needs.  Human moms and dads will let us down.  I know.  I’m a dad.

That’s the short versions.  I have also done other ventures seeking God only knows what.  In a few days I will turn 60 years old.  I ‘m still not sure how that happened.  Just yesterday I was 40.  The old body doesn’t do what it used to.  The brain thinks it can but everything seems to move in slow motion.  Here I am entering the last phase of my life and I was asked, “What are you searching for?”  I can answer clearly. 
I’m searching for peace.  I’m tired of the fight.  Some of it is my life has to become simpler.  Less grass to cut.  Less junk in the garage.  Don’t look now, my garage is jammed.  I can’t wait till the next yard sale.  My motto used to be ‘If we haven’t touched it in three years, it’s time to go.”  Now it’s, “If we haven’t looked or touched it in one year it’s way over due to go.”  The biggest thing is I want peace in my relationships.  In the book of James (Jesus’ half brother) he asks a good question.  “Why are there fights and arguments among you?”  I can answer that one.  My wife wants to go to the Okatie Ale House for dinner and I want to go to New York City Pizza.  She wants chicken fajitas and I want pizza.  Better yet, she wants to go to Disney World for vacation and I want to go to the mountains.  Get the picture.

James answered the question as I did.  He wrote, “You want something and you don’t get it.”  He even says, “You ask of God but it is too late.”  You know it’s too late when you are praying to change someone else and not you.  

I’m tired of wanting.  In church work our wants just take on a “righteous” aura.  In reality it’s the same thing as when I was making big bucks fixing cars.  I want things my way.  Do you think my desires bring peace to anyone much less myself.  No way possible.  

I can get rid of the stuff that clutters my life.  I can slow down a bit and get some things off my plate.  That is all good.  But to gain peace in my life especially in regards to my family and friends as well as my neighbors (that’s what Jesus called them) I need to practice a simple Jesus equation.  He said, “In order to find your life you must lose your life.”  Help Me Jesus.  Please.  

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. 

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.”