Archive for May, 2019


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. 

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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.”  

I told the family we were going to make the trip from Orlando to Weeki Wachee to see the talking mermaids.  They all turned their head in unison and laughed.  “Talking mermaids?” they asked mockingly.  I would have wagered my next paycheck that the mermaids in Weeki Wachee talk under water.  I was sure of it.  I told them I’ve seen them and heard them.  By now, my family thought I was crazy with a capital C.  They also were not very happy I was dragging them away from the vacation capital of the world to see “talking mermaids” a few hours away.  

I won’t bore you with the details of that failed excursion, but we did see mermaids.  The only problem was they didn’t talk under water.  They mouthed the words from a prepared audio presentation.  Let’s just say, I continue to bear the burden of “talking” mermaids, and it was over 20 years ago now.  

It amazes me the perspective we have as children.  My parents, for some reason, took us to see the mermaids about 50 years ago.  That’s how long the Weeki Wachee mermaid show has been in existence.  We probably went because Dad hated crowds. I was mesmerized as a 10- year-old.  As a young boy, I was amazed by every aspect.  

Now, as I think back to that day, I know why everybody else had a weird smirk on their face and never talked about going back.  My mom giggled as we left.  It didn’t leave me scarred or anything.  Instead, I am intrigued with the various moments in life that have left clear precise pictures in our brains and those that don’t.  I wonder how it works that certain times, events, and people are clearly stamped in minds.  

On my office wall there are various displays of art and photography.  There is one picture that is distinctively different than the others.  It is an old print that hung in my parents’ living room for years.  As that same 10-year-old that thought mermaids talked, I would have sworn the picture was as big as an automobile.  I can remember sitting on the steps leading upstairs and staring at it for hours sometimes.  I would make up a story surrounding the event it depicts.  For some odd reason, the Road to Emmaus picture with Jesus talking to two men left an impression on me.  So much so that when mom asked if I wanted anything as she moved, I asked her for the print.  She knew I would make that one request.  

As I look at it today, it clearly is set in a western motif of what was a Middle Eastern setting.  I don’t really care.  That is not the point of the picture.  It’s also not as big and not quite as beautiful as I remember it.  However, the quality of the print is not the point.  It’s the three men off to the lower right side.  Jesus and the two men are clearly talking as they walked.  From the Scriptures, it’s right after the resurrection.  Jesus shows up to these two discouraged and doubting men as they were traveling back home after realizing their hope, Jesus, had been crucified.  

As they walked, Jesus appeared and walked with them for quite some time, talking about life events, and their emotions, and thoughts both good and bad.  The journey was long, but Jesus went the distance.  Why didn’t he just say, “Here I am boys; don’t worry.”  We don’t know, but one thing is for sure, once he ate with them at their rest stop, they couldn’t declare that he was a ghost.  Instead of a ghost, they met the living Jesus.  

So why does this one stand out to me?  On the wall in front of me are picture of eagles, nature, an alligator, my dog, some flower-pots, and the Beaufort marina.  The artist, Sonja Robinson of Savannah, gave me her Talmadge bride painting that sits to my left.   They get attention, but the Road to Emmaus print gathers my heart.

Jesus walking along the road, talking to two men.  Jesus taking the time to comfort weary hearts.  Jesus living out his teachings about walking an extra mile with someone in need.  Jesus doing what he said.  Jesus.  

Here I am of feeble mind having talking mermaids and the Road to Emmaus print plastered inside my cranium.  The difference 40 years later?  One is clearly a fantasy.  One continues to reveal the truth.  Jesus is on my road of life talking to me on a regular basis.  He is still encouraging me when I have days of doubts.  He is still leading me when I can barely see one step in front of me.  He is still walking and talking with me.  It was his promise.  And mermaids don’t talk.

As the grandkids pilled in to the truck yesterday, it didn’t take long till the energetic boy issued his proclamation, “I want to go fishing.”  My blood ran cold.  The weather was perfect.  The tide was running high.  It was later in the afternoon ,and I was looking for excuses to avoid the call to go fishing.  “Well,” I stalled looking for a way out, “you have homework to do, and I’m not sure there will be enough time.”  Because he is only 7 years old, the “homework” routine worked.  He dejectedly replied, “I guess we will have to wait till school is out for the summer.”  “Indeed,” I happily sang, “wait till summer.”  I only have 3 weeks till “fishing season” begins.  

I have to admit somewhat sheepishly, I am not a big fan of fishing.  Here I live in an area of our country surrounded by water, and I don’t care for fishing.  Not only that ,but I stink at fishing.  I have no idea how to get that fish to jump on the hook.  So far I have taken the grandkids fishing 3 times.  We have caught a stick, turtle and alligator but no fish.  Earthworms have given their life for us, and we have nothing to show for our effort.  It’s not that we don’t try.  We just don’t know what we are doing.  

My father did not fish.  My grandfather did, but he only took me out once or twice.  It wasn’t in our normal life.  Baseball, soccer and just about all other team sports were but not fishing.  I think the other problem is that there is a difference between fishing and catching.  We really don’t understand that fishing is one thing, and catching is the other.  We don’t like spending time without results.  It’s the American way.  Somebody can be a great fisherman and yet not catch a single fish.  But, we only pay attention to the catchers.  

It is this context that I open the Bible and find Jesus talking about fishing.  Early in the earthly ministry, Jesus called his first followers that were called disciples.  His first four were actually fishermen.  Jesus then said, “I will make you fishers of men.”  Honestly, I wonder what was going through their minds.  Regardless, they dropped their nets, left the security of their families, and followed him.  

We often take certain stories and forget the dynamics around them.  This story of being called to be fishers of men comes right after Jesus calls out to them in the boats and tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.  They catch so many fish they have to call in a second boat to handle the amount of fish.  So, what were they thinking when Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men?”  Andy Stanley, popular minister,  points out that he doubts they heard the second part and only heard “Follow me.”  Of course they would follow.  This carpenter’s son knew how to catch.  

Along the way, Jesus is left with a few followers, including these fishermen, and he turns to them and asks them why they stayed.  Not a one said, “You said you would make us fishers of men.”  Peter, one of the first ones, did say something to the effect “You are all we got.”  In other words, we put all our eggs in your basket, and we have nothing outside of following you.  

It’s interesting that later, after the resurrection, these guys were not out looking for Jesus but rather returned to their nets.  Guess how many fish they were catching.  None.  Zippo.  Zero.  Jesus again shows up and calls for them to cast the net on the other side.  Again, fish are everywhere.  It was Jesus’ way of reminding them that they are not here to fish for the ones with scales and gills but rather the ones that walk on two feet.  

Now, here we are two thousand and some years later.  Their call was our call.  I’m sure as Andy Stanley also agreed, we often accept Jesus as our Savior for selfish reasons.  Few came to believe to fulfill the calling to be fishers of men.  

But, Jesus calls us to fish for men.  We tend to leave that to the professionals.  It’s those who teach and preach who are the fishers.  Sorry, being a follower means God is making us into fishers of men.  

The disciples had to drop their nets and put all their eggs in Jesus’ basket.  Then their training had them following the same Master.  Jesus was right, “one cannot have two masters.”  In all of this, we might be missing the point.  Jesus is the catcher.  All he told them is he would make them fishers of men.  Remember the boat scene.  Who caught two boatloads of fish?  Not the professional fishermen but rather the carpenters son.  All we are called to do is fish.  

So I take the grandkids fishing.  My grandson will tell you we love to fish.  He will tell you his Poppie takes him fishing.  It isn’t about the catching.  That’s out of my hands.  The fishing with the kiddos, that’s something I can do.   

With Jesus, fishing can be quite an experience.  It’s easy.  All we have to do is put the hook in the water.  Where do we fish?  Anywhere.  When do we fish?  All the time.