Archive for March, 2019


I was walking the dog the other day and things got quite crazy.  I’m serious when I tell people I’m learning more about me than anything with this crazy lab/hound mix.  God has a strange way of making the light come on in our lives.  If only we would pay attention.  

I was using a harness that buckled under his chest.  When he expanded his chest in an extreme situation (other dogs, birds, butterflies, etc.) he would from time to time literally pop the buckle.  The first time was over another dog that he wanted to meet.  

The good news is he did not run away from me.  Instead, with the other dog and owner standing idly by, probably quite amused as well, Vader ran circles around us over and over again.  I know not to chase him.  That is a total waste of time.  Instead I waited for him to run out of gas.  Do you know how long it takes an 11-month-old hound to run out of gas?  It took quite a bit.  Eventually, as he lay exhausted on the ground, I was able to grab his leg and gain control.

The second time was over a lady jogging down the street.  He didn’t want to bite her.  He wanted to meet her and make her his friend.  Again, once I got his attention, I sat on the ground trying to convince him to come to me with imaginary treats.  He is smart.  I looked stupid.  After a prolonged time of running like a wild dog in circles in some stranger’s front yard, I was able to get the upper hand on him.  

It was time to retire the harness.  Enough was enough.  He is very strong in the upper body, and it was going to take a much stronger harness to handle this one.  The third time was a totally different situation.  With the new harness firmly around him, I bent over to tie my shoe and, for a moment, let go of the lead.  He figured it out quickly and again ran wild circles around me.  It didn’t take as long this time.  I was able to jump on the lead to corral the wild beast.  

I’m glad the third time was at 5:00 a.m.  There are not too many people awake that time of the morning.  I’m glad also, because it had rained the night before, and, when I jumped on his lead ,I came up completely soaked.  I was wondering what possessed me to get a puppy.  Those thoughts quickly left when he looked up and gave me a big old lick on the cheek.  He knows how to sucker his owner.  

As we finished our walk that morning, I remembered his rampage interrupted my prayer time.  Walking the dog for about 2 miles has given me time to pray, and, boy, do I need it.  It’s actually been great.  Being outside in nature gives me a real sense of presence with my God.  All I have to do is remember to hold on to the leash.  Anyway, I went back to prayer as my heart started to beat at a reasonable rate.

I asked the Lord, “What do you want of me today?”  At that moment, I looked down at the mutt.  The light went on.  I could almost hear God say, “What makes you think you are any different when you walk away from My lead?”  I looked up at the moon and uttered a humble, “Touche.”

I was then contemplating how many times I ran circles around Jesus without following his lead.  I never really run away, but I don’t follow Him.  I want to have my life walk my way.  I don’t really want to be on God’s lead.  Best yet, I want to be close enough to him to enjoy the life he has given me.  Just let me lead!

It doesn’t work that way.  Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd is out in the lead.  The sheep follow.  Why?  Sheep are no different than my dog.  Let something of interest fly by, walk by, stand by and any other “by” you can find.  Off we go.  It’s our nature.  Every one of us in the human form have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to some extent.  It really doesn’t take much for us to bust out and run circles around God.

Now, here’s the incredible point.  He doesn’t leave us to our own way.  His love is so great we really can’t fathom it.  Jesus said he was the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.  In those days the corrals did not have gates.  The shepherd would lay down and sleep in the entrance way.  The sheep couldn’t get out, and the wild beasts and thieves could not get them.  What a love!  If one happens to slip away, he will go and get the wandering lamb.  It’s His nature.  

Let’s take things a step further.  The love of Jesus is all he needs.  Jesus doesn’t run out and get a better harness.  He doesn’t double down on the leash.  He doesn’t get so mad he is ready to give us away.  Not at all.  His love is what brings the wayward sheep home.  It’s his love that draws us to his caressing hands.  And those hands have the nail marks in them.  

As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the resurrection, consider his love.  After we have run circles around the idols of our hearts, he simply says, “Come unto me you who are tired, and I will give you rest.”  No beatings.  No displays of dismay.  Nothing but the caress of his great love.  Let’s walk again.  And again.  And again.  The soothing message of the cross.  

Got to go…it’s time for Vader’s evening walk.  It should be interesting.  I wonder what God has in store tonight.  

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A member of our church recently asked me to get rid of the squirrels that roam around on Sunday morning.  The look on my face must have given away my confusion, as he began to get a big grin on his face.  He told me they come out every Sunday when the preacher begins his sermon, and all he can do is follow the critters up and down the tree.  

It’s been that kind of week. Maybe it’s been that kind of month.   The squirrels are winning.  Often when there is a lot of confusion, it leaves us exhausted.  There is another effect as well that few of us acknowledge.  Confusion paralyzes.  It not only takes our attention away from important people and issues, it leaves us dead in our tracks.  We don’t live in a vacuum.  When two forces are working against each other, it’s like a tug-of-war; it doesn’t move anyone very far in either direction.  

It’s been that kind of season.  Recently I told a friend it will be the first year in over 25 years that I will not be playing fantasy baseball.  He was surprised.  I love baseball.  I love competition.  However, I have become disconnected from the game and don’t really know the teams or the players anymore.  Not only are there squirrels in my life, I feel I am slowly getting disconnected from the world around me.  Tug-of-wars and squirrels are paralyzing.  

It’s hard to tell what’s important in all the mess.  That is another one of those other issues of a world gone nuts.  I personally love our modern technology.  However, one thing it has done is put more squirrels in my life.  Most of those long tailed creatures do not improve my life at all.  They take a valuable commodity with them.  They take time.

Recently, I went to a seminar on stress.  I learned a lot from it.  The teacher talked about his stress issues.  He realized he needed to purposely take some things out of his life to lower his stress levels.  So, he has divorced himself from the news media.  He removed all news apps from his phone and does not watch the news at night.  He talked about how it allowed him time to get his priorities in better order.  He talked about being calmer.  His PTSD condition has improved greatly.  He eliminated the ever intake of information that is totally out of his control.  He not only lowered his stress levels.  He gained time back.  

You know what happens when we purposely eliminate useless elements of our lives that have sucked us dry?  We gain time.  That time allows us to get perspective back.  It allows us to see the squirrels that are running around gaining our attention and pulling us away from the important things like God, spouse, family, and our neighbors.  

I saw a report that volunteerism is decreasing across America.  Some of it could be the aging church population.  However, much has to do with the ever-increasing squeeze in our lives.  I don’t think I have met one couple under 50 lately that feels they have things under control.  Most are trying to survive the work climate that changed in the early 2000’s where, due to technology less people are expected to do more work.

I ran into a truck mechanic the other day whose boss has instituted a time management system that makes him accountable for every minute of his work day.  There is no time to take a bathroom break or simply pause to have a conversation with his fellow mechanics.  Got to make that buck!  If he misses his times too often he has to write a report explaining his failure to meet time demands and/or run the risk of losing his job.  He has become so task conscience he told me he feels he is on the verge of anxiety attacks.  He also talked about losing touch with his fellow employees in the shop.  The squeeze is on.  Did I mention they used to have 4 mechanics in their shop?  Now they are down to 2.  More work.  Less people.  Make the bucks for someone else.  Have no personal life.

The big squeeze is on.  I am concerned.  Eventually it all has to implode.  There are only so many hours in a day.  An individual can only pay attention to so much, and the much is increasing daily.  And we as church leaders wonder why younger generations come into the building (if you are lucky) and hope they can get out without feeling guilty about not volunteering.  

Keep everybody doing something.  Throw more squirrels out there.  Confuse the masses.  Get them either disconnected from the important things or so grossly over stimulated they have no idea what is important.  Paul, the apostle, talked about this when he warned us of the philosophies of the world.  One of the biggest false philosophies is that our worth and greatness are wrapped up in our business.  

It is that kind of season.  We as believers in Christ may have to be very conscious of this cultural phenomenon.  We may have to purpose to take a few steps backwards.  Jesus often said, “Peace, be still.”  Purposing to bring stillness and peace to our lives limits the squirrels, and it gives us a chance to wade through the confusion. 

The driver was not happy.  He hadn’t been happy for a long time.  The flat tire on the rear of his truck short circuited his plans.  As he approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge the blow out would need to be changed.  Little did he know his plans were going to change more than the left rear tire.

He pulled to the side of the road.  For a few minutes he had to think where the jack might be and how the spare tire could be lowered.  It had been a long time since he had to use either one of them.  He was startled when a man knocked on his window.  He didn’t see the other pickup stop behind him.  “Do you need some help?” the Good Samaritan asked.  

He needed help, that’s for sure.  They looked for the jack and couldn’t find one.  He had no idea his son had changed a tire months before and left the jack in the garage.   Not only that, but his spare tire was flat as well.   His son didn’t tell him he never fixed the tire.

The Good Samaritan asked if he would like a ride.  He may as well.  His plans were totally disrupted.  Since they were already on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge approach, there was only one way to go…over to the main land.  About half way across, the disgruntled traveler looked longingly at the water below.  “Would you like to grab some coffee on the other side?” the gracious driver asked.  With little words to spare, he muttered, “Sure, why not?”

Once over the Bay Bridge, they found a local coffee shop waiting for weary travelers needing a cup of brew.   The driver noticed the seemingly weary man was not in a hurry to get a tow truck.  In fact, he was brooding over everything including ,his cup of hot coffee.  The Good Samaritan now turned into a potential friend when he asked, “Is there something you would like to talk about? You seem to have a lot on your mind.”  Again, he received the answer, “Sure, why not?”

After approximately two hours as they talked, the truth was revealed.  The weary and disgruntled man was driving to the top of the bridge to jump off and end his life.  His family was in disarray, and not much had gone right for some time.  His new friend told him his profession, “I’m a pastor of a church on the Eastern Shore.”  At this point, there was only one way to go.  “Do you mind if I tell you about the hope I have found?” he asked.  “Sure, why not?”

The Good Samaritan told his story.  It was a sad story at first.  Premature deaths, trouble with alcohol, and plenty more to send anyones life into a tailspin.  “But,” and there is the best word in the Bible.  But, Jesus had other plans.  After hearing his story, the weary traveler wanted to know more about Jesus.  To make a long story short, after about 5 hours together, he decided to follow Jesus.  

So, why did I tell you this story?  The pastor who stopped to help a man in need had a history of stopping his own life to engage others.  He had the reputation for looking around and reading people.  This was not his first flat tire engagement and it won’t be his last.  This would not be his only weary traveler on the road of life.  He saw them as people who needed to meet the One who promised life.  He also happened to be the pastor of the fastest growing church on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  

I was having breakfast this week with a good friend who is also a local pastor.  We had asked the waitress last month how we could pray for her.  She replied, “My son needs prayer.”  She didn’t give details.  This month another waitress we asked said she was going through a divorce and asked prayer not only for herself but for her soon to be ex-husband.  A few minutes later, the waitress from last month stopped by.  She asked us to continue to pray for her son.  He has a drug abuse issue.  Both the son and the mother needed prayer.  They got it.  

We talk about the demise of the modern day church.  We are pulling all the stops out in the book from shorter services, song selections, and programs upon programs.  We are looking in the wrong place.  Look outward.  

My friend commented how easy it was for the hurting waitresses to share their short stories.  “Hurting people are everywhere,” he languished.  Yes, they are.  They are in church pews every Sunday.  Only they have become conditioned to hide and avoid their pain.  

Jesus came across a lot of suffering people.  He didn’t hide in his office.  He didn’t make excuses such as, “I’m not here for that.”  No, he touched people all the way to the cross even giving hope to one who was on a cross right next to him. 

The main reason for the demise of the modern day Christian church is the inward attention trying to make comfortable people happy.  Instead, it’s time to change a spare tire, talk to a waitress, and get our heads up looking for those who can’t find a high enough bridge.  The gospel is good news.   When we look outward instead of inward we can see others.  They are looking for an answer.

Sometimes (honestly, most of the time), I do not like to tell anyone I am an ordained minister.  When I used to be active with my real estate license part time I would always tell them I was in real estate. The main reason is people often will not be themselves when they find out.  I was so glad my neighbor didn’t tell anyone I was a minister at the Super Bowl Party.  I dodged a bullet.  It’s not that people want to have deep religious conversations. The main reason is people often will not be themselves when they find out.

I remember one time our insurance salesman came to the house.  He was quite himself till we got to filling out the forms.  When we got to the “employment” section, I had to tell him.  I tried to let it out as fast as I could, but he was quite swift on the uptake.  I guess it’s good to have an insurance salesman quick on the uptake.  Suddenly, he changed right before my eyes.  I actually stopped him at one point and told him to relax.  He was not going to burst into flames before my eyes.  

I’m also a chaplain for the Bluffton police and fire department.  Most people don’t act differently with the title “chaplain” like they do with a “minister.”  Maybe they quickly realize a chaplain for emergency responders sees and experiences the dark side of life a bit more than the average pastor.  They do not identify chaplain with minister.  

Identity can be very interesting in our culture.  Often, all of us experience multiple identities and we are not mentally ill.  I can be identified as a minister, husband, father, grandfather, friend, counselor, chaplain, and neighbor.  It is not uncommon to take on one hat and put on another.  We run into problems when the hat determines the person.  

When it comes to being a believer in Jesus Christ, we might add a bunch more hats to the rack.  We can be “Joe pew-sitter, teacher, elder, deacon, missionary, student, and more.  Add denominations and…lets not go there.  I find it interesting that our hat often defines us instead of our Christ defining how we function under the hat.  

I got schooled recently, and it was quite an education.  I was informed a lady I have known for about 2 years has had stage 4 cancer for the past 6 years.  I had no idea.  The only reason I found out is her most recent doctor’s report was not very good.  The cancer is winning.  As I spoke with her, she set me straight; “I don’t want to be defined by my cancer.  I want my cancer to be defined by my God.”  I cannot get her words out of my head.  She didn’t just say the words; she lives them. 

I want to be known the same way.  I’ve got to be honest once again.  Christians are some of the biggest complainers out there.  We even pray like God is supposed to allow us to live forever and never fight such things as cancer and other diseases.  As my friend said, “Why not me when it comes to cancer.”  Her eternity is determined, and she doesn’t have to fear it.  As she continued, “Why not live well…I got the bases covered.”  I love her more than ever.  

We complain about so much.  Unfortunately, non-believers know we can complain.  Ask any waiter or waitress which day of the week they hate to see come.  It’s Sunday.  More food gets sent back to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon than any other time.  It’s the day the Christians don’t go home to eat after church.  

Our identity is not an identity associated with love, grace, and mercy.  Our identity is often defined by the hat we have on.  It might even be that our identity is by the clothes we wear or the attitude we possess.  The Apostle Paul told us in Philippians to have the attitude of Christ.  I wonder how much food Jesus would send back to the kitchen any Sunday afternoon.  

All the hats I wear are quite fun.  I hope that the day I die they will write on my tombstone…”He wore a lot of hats, but he was the same guy under them all.”  

Thank, you my friend, for reminding me of my redeemed identity.  “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”