Archive for February, 2019


The outfielder picked up the base hit as it rolled nicely along the turf.  He aligned himself for his throw to home plate.  The ball rocketed out of his hand as the baserunner rounded third and headed for home.  The throw landed short and skipped to the catcher, who waited anxiously for the throw.  The runner slid head first into home, reaching his hand forward.  The catcher made the catch and lunged to tag the speedy runner.  As the dust settled, the umpire screeched, “Safe,” signaling wildly with his arms.  

Don’t look now but spring training has begun for Major League Baseball.  Around the baseball diamonds in Florida and Arizona, players and umpires have begun preparing for the upcoming season.  All want to be “safe” when they touch home plate.  

I remember the days of youth ministry where “safe” had a different meaning.  When we held parent meetings over and over again, year after year, we would hear, “We want a place where our children will be safe.”  There is that word again.  I have to admit I can be a bit of a smart aleck.  My mind works overtime when I want to poke somebody.  Instead of referring to the baseball safe or the safe where we place our valuables, I would ask them politely what was their definition of “safe.”  Amazingly, this simple question often left them speechless.

This past week, a young church attender and I were having a stirring conversation about faith, the church, and his life.  He admitted he has not been a consistent church attender.  With a deadpan look, he said, “My church and my pastor are too safe.”  My mind went back to my youth days and wanted to poke him.  However, the look on his face oozed seriousness.  So, I asked the simple question once again, “What do you mean by safe?”  

Being a young guy, he did not want nor need church to be a safe place.  Safe means we don’t talk too much about sin, and we don’t challenge ourselves with Jesus either.  He needed the wild and crazy Jesus to challenge him out of his safe life.  My mind was working overtime by now.  I looked at him as we drove down the road (not recommended for safe driving) and asked, “When you open the Bible do you see a safe Jesus?”  “Heck no,” he replied.  “I see a very unsafe Jesus.”  

With one of those silly grins I can get I looked at him a little longer than before.  He grinned back as well.  I said the same thing to him I would tell teenagers parents, “Jesus isn’t safe!”  Jesus is far from it.  

Open the Bible sometime and look for a safe Jesus.  You won’t find one.  Jesus disrupts lives, and our default button demands comfort.  Jesus confronts the comfortable.  It was Tim Keller who defined the prodigal (recklessly spendthrift) as the Father (representing the Heavenly Father Jesus knew) not so much the wayward son.  The prodigal is far from safe.

Safe people want a Jesus who does not offend them.  I like to say a church is a place to call yourself a sinner, but the local bar is where you can tell someone what kind of sinner you are. Let’s not talk too much about sin.  Let’s just make it safe to be a sinner.

On the other hand let’s not be confronted too much with Jesus.  Let’s believe in Jesus so we won’t experience hell and be a “good” person is the usual trend.  Don’t challenge us too much with Jesus; we might just follow!  Following Jesus takes in all his teachings, which extend way beyond John 3:16.  

Jesus said, “Whoever will lose his life will find it.”  That doesn’t sound too safe to me.  He also said, “You can’t serve two masters, for you will love the one and hate the other.”  A safe Jesus lets us have our cake and eat it too.  Didn’t one of the first calls of Jesus implore the first disciples to “Follow me,” and they dropped their nets?  Those nets represent all sorts of things.  It was their life.  It was their family.  It was their sense of identity and success.  Dropping those nets to follow Jesus was dangerous!  

We as humans continue to look for the real deal.  Bono sang, “and I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”  He marched in front of a generation who is looking for a faith that is authentic.  A faith that is authentic with its failings and authentic in its hope.  A Christian expression that tries to dress up the ugly bride is like trying to sell a car without an engine by repainting the exterior.  The gospel is dangerous, and at the same time priceless.  It calls one to drop their nets. At the same time it that our unquenchable thirst can be addressed by Jesus, whose blood forgives me of all my sinful and wayward ways.  

It’s a faith that isn’t afraid of our sin. It’s a faith that rests solely on Jesus.  It’s a faith that is far from safe.  “Drop those nets and follow me,” Jesus called.  It’s only then that one can be safe.  Safe from our own imaginations.  

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I’m turning 60 years old this year.  I’m not sure how I got this old.  Just yesterday I was 45.  It seems like yesterday we moved to South Carolina.  Fourteen years later and it seems like yesterday the moving van pulled up.  It took some time.  Baltimore is no longer home.  Bluffton is home.  It helps when the grandkids live right around the corner. Such transitions take time.  I don’t know where the last 14 years have gone.  

Since I can now live in Sun City (I don’t), and I’m entering my sixties, I decided to write to the older generations.  Just today I got a chance to talk to a 21 year old.  He was so young.  My kids are in their late 30’s.  Having a chance to engage a kid was energizing for sure.  In many aspects his life is drastically different than my world.  He doesn’t know life without a cell phone.  I remember days we worried about the influence of television.  He doesn’t even watch it.  He watches his cell phone.  

Recently, I was in a meeting with two different generations.  One of the older men sat and listened for the entire hour.  He didn’t say a word.  As we left, one of the young guys referred to his silence.  He replied, “I’m listening and learning.”  What was he learning?  He was learning about the conflicts and challenges the young guys face.  He was learning there was a lot he did not know.  So he listened.

More and more, especially in the church, the older generation (Baby Boomers) are becoming detached from the technologically infused younger generations.  The detachment means the kids don’t call.  It means if the Boomers don’t engage the Internet, more than likely they won’t be in communication with their grandkids.  Last week I Face-Timed my mother who lives in West Virginia.  She found it amazing to see her youngest son some 650 miles away.  For the first time in a long time, she didn’t ask when we were going to stop by.  The technology might be scary for us old guys, but it’s quite amazing.  

We like to blame the younger generations for the detachment.  It’s not their fault.  It’s nobody’s fault.  Let’s be truthful.  It’s hard enough to maintain the relationships right in from of us much less keeping the long distance ones going.  Some of the detachment is distance.  We blame them for not staying in contact.  They blame us for moving away.  Meanwhile, we refuse to learn the new technology that can connect us with them on the other side of the world.  

On top of distance, there are the cultural influences that separate us.  I still hear the Boomers complaining about no prayer in school.  I hate to say it, but that bus left the station a long time ago, and it’s not coming back.  Today, my grandkids have to figure out transgenders, as well as the broken family unit.  Often they have to do so on their own.  

Meanwhile, our generation complains that the younger generation is selfish and egocentric.  We must be honest.  We are just as bad, if not worse.  When the Bible talks about thinking about others more than ourselves and we don’t apply it to our children and grandchildren, we are the selfish and narcissistic ones.  When we demand they respond to us when we played our part in the failed relationship, we violate the basics of Jesus’ words about loving our neighbor, which means laying down our life for their sake of our neighbor.  We fail to understand that our kids are Biblically defined as our neighbor.  We don’t know them.  It’s long over due to stop blaming anybody and start listening. Listening to learn and to know.

We are studying the Psalms on Sunday during the education hour.  I have been reminded that Psalms say a lot about generational relationships.  It doesn’t surprise me that our generation only knows Bible passages that point fingers at our kids.  Psalms 71 says we have a responsibility to proclaim the power of God and his marvelous deeds to the next generation.  Somehow, we replaced God.  We declare our deeds – we think we are the greatest generation.  No wonder they quit listening.  

 In Psalm 78 Asaph asks God to have their children set their hope in God and not be like their fathers who are a stubborn and rebellious generation whose heart was not faithful to God.  Faithfulness is not defined by church attendance.  It’s defined by loving God and loving others.  Anybody notice that Jesus loved others by listening first and responding second?

Psalm 145 repeats Psalm 71.  Instead of talking about us and pointing fingers at them we are to declare the work of our Lord. What is the work of the Lord?  He loved us.  With that love he moves us to love others not just ourselves.  

Maybe we exasperated our children (Ephesians 5).  There is only one act of love to redeem our relationships with our kids.  Ask for forgiveness.  By laying our lives down we will then be considered the greatest generation.  

Americans like to fix things.  We struggle with the idea that something can’t be fixed.  When something reaches that state, if not before, we throw it away and go looking for a replacement.   

If we deem an item unfixable or, better yet, too expensive to fix, we throw it away.  I was told by a car sales manager that they design most sales campaigns for the desire to own the next model, not obsoleteness.  Few wait till their car is on it’s last legs to purchase their next car.  Not only are we bent on fixing things we can be quick to throw them away as well.

We like to think we don’t don’t function that way with people. When it’s people, there are issues that cannot be fixed. There is this group of men I meet with on Tuesday nights.  It’s called Pirate Monks.  Pirate Monks is for men who are struggling in life with anything at all to come and participate with our #1 goal in mind.  That goal is to speak honestly from the 1st person perspective.   

Every meeting we remind the participants to allow someone to get their words out, and we are not there to fix them.  We remind each other to only ask questions after someone speaks.  It doesn’t take long for the men to go down a rabbit hole.  The questions turn into statements.  The statements are directed to the “honest” participant in order to fix them.  We will deny it, but we really do value our own opinion.  

This past week I had to turn to one of the guys and state, “Ask a question!”  Eventually it all kicked in, and we began to ask good questions.  A good question is not for the speaker to gain information.  A really good question makes the responder think.  A great question will stick with someone a long time.  

Jesus asked great questions.     From time to time, those he asked questions to could not respond.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t.  The answer penetrated the heart.  In the old days we used to call it “meddlin.”  However, a good question from someone that loves us isn’t meddling but rather great love.  

Some of the hundreds of questions Jesus asked stick out.  He didn’t need the answer.  He needed others to see the answer.  Some that stand out to me include:

“Why do you doubt?”

“Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

“Where is your faith?”

“What are you looking for?”

“If I am telling  the truth, why do you not believe me?”

These are just a sampling of what I call “questions of the heart.”  My favorite is, “Who are you looking for?”  While this piercing question was directed at the soldiers who came to arrest him, it is a question we can ask every day.  We all seem to be looking for someone, not so much something.  We are looking for someone to love us, care for us, encourage us, validate us, and stay with us no matter what.  Oh, there are plenty of people that speak enticing words to us.  We get so easily seduced with words. When we get tired of empty words, we tend to resort to things to fill our yearnings.  The sense of peace doesn’t last long.   

I was reading a book the other day that revealed the first recorded words between God and man.  It was something I didn’t think about.  The question can be found in Genesis 3.  God asked, “Where are you?”  I have not been able to get that one out of my brain since.

God knew the answer.  Man was hiding from him.  God wasn’t waiting to hear the answer.  His question was for Adam and Eve to hear their own words.  From the beginning we see the amazing art of a good question.

As Christians we live in a world that is sick and tired of us telling them what they have to believe and what they have to do.  I can’t say I blame them at all.  We often expect others to live like Jesus, and, when they don’t, we act surprised.  Once, someone else reveals his or her issues, we think have to fix em.  Do this.  Do that.  All you need is my formula.  The list of fix-its go on forever, and we become god.

God didn’t show up in the garden and say, “I know where you are Adam.  Come on out and get what’s coming to you.”  Not at all.  He needed Adam to grasp the situation.  He wanted Adam to hear his own words.  It was Adam who needed to figure out where he was.  It was Adam in his relationship with God that had to say, “I’m afraid.  I’m naked.  I’m hiding.”  Ahh, the right question reveals the heart.  It’s the heart that needs change, not the behavior.

Next time your spouse is in a bad place, try a good question and don’t expect an answer.  Next time your kids got your blood boiling, ask a really good question and look out for the answer.  Next time a friend is running crazy, ask a great question and be prepared to walk that extra mile.  Till we learn to ask a good question, let’s try shutting up so we can hear their heart.  A little prayer seeking the right question goes a long way as well.

So, where are you?  What are you looking for?  Who are you looking for? 

This past week I traveled to Wake Forest, NC for training.  Honestly, I hate driving long distances.  It bores me to tears.  I used to like it.  Things change.  Anyway, as I drove up and down the road my mind began to race.  When it races anything is possible.  

I became transfixed on the idea that my trip resembles society.  Here I was driving past towns, through cities with all sorts of people around me.  I had a general idea where I was at all times.  There were places that stood out.  How can anyone miss South of The Border?  The billboards are so silly yet so funny.  I wonder how many of us have stopped just to check it out.  I bet it’s more than most want to admit.  

Driving up and down the road is no different than living in my neighborhood and even going to church.  We all whiz through our daily lives passing people on the left and on the right.  When we slow down a little bit, people pass us without looking back.  We know where we are.  We stop and look at things, especially those that get our attention ,just like South of the Border.  However, we seldom have the time to talk with anybody.  If we can’t talk with anyone, we don’t have the chance to know them.  They don’t get to know me either.

Just about every person I have counseled, including many teenagers, somewhere along the line talks about being lonely.  Some have more friends than anyone can count.  Some are involved in everything under the sun.  They run from one event to the other with little chance to catch their breath.  Surrounded by a great crowd, they declare loneliness.  How is this possible?  It’s very possible.  Being known and knowing someone is not a priority to anyone.  Yet it’s something that is a necessity for a healthy and intuitive life.  Left on our own is not a good place to be.  We grow when we engage others.  The biggest thing we grow in is grace and love.  They are attributes that need personal engagement.  

I can understand why hurt and discouraged people leave the church scene.  I don’t believe it is good, but I get it.  What good is time spent attending if the people are no different than those driving to the next event up I-95?  We see them.  We might even follow them for a while like I followed a driver for about 75 miles.  We were driving in tandem, following the same tract and going the same speed.  We acknowledged each other with a nod of the head and a slight wave at times.  But he got off an exit where I was not headed, and our relationship ended.  All we had was a nod and a wave.  

At church we are often in a hurry to get somewhere and only get a nod and a handshake.  I heard of a gentleman who was trying out a church his friend attended.  He liked the church and reported that it really was a nice place.  However, for 6 weeks he stood in the narthex or vestibule (hallway for non-church goers) and shook all sorts of hands.  In those 6 weeks nobody invited him to their house, out to lunch, or even to invite him to grab a donut and cup of coffee in the fellowship hall.  Like he said, “the church was friendly but not too warm.”  They were in a hurry to get to the next thing on the schedule.  Off the exit they went.

Jesus was constantly on the road.  He walked roads and crossed seas in boats.  As I look into the gospels, I see Jesus stopping to engage people.  Many were people that most avoided.  They were outcasts in their society.  Unclean and untouchable.  But Jesus stopped to engage them.  He asked them questions.  He touched their lives.  He knew their names, and he knew their story, and he still stopped.  

In today’s world I’m convinced more than ever the Children of God must purpose to stop and touch those God puts in their path.  Leave living like your home is in the fast lane of I-16 headed to Atlanta.  Those in our culture are done with the church that invites them in and leaves them to fend for themselves.  They’re also done with people who say they love, only to be abandoned.  

Too late in life I get it that the gospel is for the ones I used to avoid in life.  I get it now that the idea of Jesus to make me bigger and better is a false gospel.  John the Baptist had it right when he declared, “He must increase and I must decrease.”  It’s not our nature unless we stop and look to the one who laid his life down to engage us with his love.  

When we sinned, the first recorded words of God to man are found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis.  God asked a very interesting question.  He asked, “Where are you?”  That question is very applicable today.  Where are we?  We tend to be either head down, forward ho, or we have our heads up, looking to touch those in need with the love and grace of Jesus.  The person who needs our touch is probably right in front of us.