Archive for July, 2019


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.