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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.”  

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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. 

When in high school, I had a best friend.  If anyone asked me today the name of my best friend he will still be at the top of the list.  It’s not because we have done amazing things together.  It’s not because we talk every week.  In fact it’s been years since I’ve even seen him.  For some reason, we are brothers.  Yes, there are two other guys that are right up there, but there is just something that makes my high school brother one notch ahead.  

His parents moved to California my senior year and his junior year.  He decided not to move with them and instead moved in with us.  That was a magical year.  We did just about everything together.  It created a union that is beyond explanation.

We were separated for a long time.  We had committed to being in each others weddings.  He was in mine.  I found out via a card that he even was married.  I thought our friendship had come to an end.  That was until our paths crossed years later.  Every time our paths cross, something happens.  Just this week my phone rang.  It was him.  He left a message and asked me to call back.  He wanted to talk.  Without hesitation, I called.  I’m glad I did.

Bruce is a medical doctor.  He has been practicing for years.  No, let me rephrase that; he had been practicing for years.  He had an established practice in the Knoxville, Tennessee area.  He walked away from it all.  He no longer wanted to run a business.  He wanted to talk about Jesus.  

His wife was all in.  He is now a medical missionary taking medicine to the “least of these.”  We use those words, and yet they don’t come close to describing the poverty he walked into.  He packed his backpack with medicine and walks the streets of Guatemala, Mexico, and in the very near future, will walk in Beirut, Lebanon.  He isn’t worried about retiring.  He is no longer worried about making more money than he could possibly ever use.  He wants to talk about Jesus.  He said he loves using medicine to talk about Jesus.  The “least of these” will listen about Jesus.  He was tired of talking to people about Jesus who really didn’t think they needed Jesus.  

Amazing.  What makes a 58-year-old man with life set walk away to walk the impoverished streets caring for men, women and children with not only medical care but with the name of Jesus Christ as well?  

Sometimes when Jesus puts things together, it’s down right scary.  The past few weeks I’ve been mulling over Matthew 4:19 and 20.  It was Jesus calling his first disciples.  Here they were, adult successful fishermen.  In those days, if you left your family business, you were at great risk.  Your identity and success were based on your heritage.  Jesus called them to follow him to become fishers of men.  Say what?  Fishers of men!  

They followed, but I love verse 20.  It says they dropped their nets and followed Jesus.  My brother dropped his nets.  He answered the call we as believers are all called to.  It’s a three part harmony.  “Follow me,”  -Jesus called.  He defined the calling, telling them to be good guys and wait around till he comes again? Wrong!  He called them “fishers of men.”  The third part was not a command.  It was their response.  They dropped their nets.  

We can’t hold on to our nets and follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  It’s a false teaching of the modern age.  So, Bruce and I shared thoughts and stories for a few minutes.  Stories of the calling sometimes I find hard to find.  My personal calling was to reach people the church tends to miss.  I thank God the leadership of my church understands the calling.  Little did I know it would take me to prisons, half-way houses, and rooms full of addicts ,and more broken people than we like to admit.  

The only thing that gets in the way is the same thing that got in the way of my friend for so many years.  We were raised in an era where the gospel was more about being a convert, hold a moral code, and wait till one gets to heaven.  We somehow missed the same call at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry that was similar to the first calling.  He said, “Go and make disciples.”  He did not say “converts.”  He said disciples.  Disciples follow.  Disciples fish for men.  Disciples drop nets.  

Jesus often leaves me speechless.  I needed Bruce’s phone call.  I needed to be reminded of my own calling.  It’s not who I am.  I can’t be a fisher of men on my own. I needed to drop some nets once again.  Those nets are tempting.  Even the disciples ran back to their nets after the resurrection.  It’s where Jesus found them once again.  Jesus has a way of finding us.  When that happens ,we have to drop the nets.  There really is not a choice.

 

It is hard to believe that I have had the privilege of writing a weekly article for the Bluffton Today for close to 8 years now.  It all started on a kayak trip.  The then editor of the paper was part of our kayak group called Lowcountry Unfiltered.  

One day I told him the spiritually-based articles were so heavily minded I didn’t find them any earthly good.  Little was I prepared for his response.  He said, “I agree; how about you write one weekly?”  Since my mouth often works faster than my brain, I told him I would.  It has been an interesting journey.  From time to time, I look back on some of the early articles and wonder how the Bluffton Today kept me on.  

Over time, I have been honored by various community members mentioning they read these articles every week.   I am often surprised.  I have learned a lot over those years about the readers.  They tend not to be church based.  They tend to have pain and suffering in their past that is hard to get over.  Often that pain and suffering hasve come from their church experience.  

When we are suffering and the wounds are fresh, I have learned that Sunday morning just doesn’t do it.  When I mention this to most weekly church goers, they seemed surprised.  A word that I heard today from a past church-goer is “real.”  Those suffering don’t find church to be “real.”  The issues that cause pain and suffering are minimized, and the idea that Christ followers are to have a happy life is wrong as wrong can be.  So they feel marginalized on any given Sunday morning.  

What happens over time is that nobody in the church reaches back out to them, and they don’t want to go back to the scene of the crime.  That is totally understandable.  The problem is we need the “church.”  We don’t need the expression, but, rather, we need an “authentic” church experience.  It can be hard to find our current expression in the Bible.  The suffering church struggles to find significance and its place.  

Something has to change.  

For the past 8 years, I have avoided using this column for self-promotion of my church or ministry.  There have been a few ministry ventures I have mentioned, such as Family Promise of Beaufort County and ACTion Mentoring at Hardeeville Elementary School,, as well as the Backpack Buddies sponsored by Crossroads Community Support Services.  These programs reach out to those in need and need as much print as possible.  However, today I’m going to talk about a new venture that I would like to invite readers to consider.

On Saturday nights at 6:30 p.m. starting May 4th Grace Coastal Church has supported me in sponsoring a service called “Come as You Are: Healing for the Broken-hearted.”  It is stripped of most elements of Sunday and focuses on an authentic experience based on Acts 2.  In Acts 2, we see the early church devoted to 4 elements.  They are:  the teachings of the Apostles on Jesus, Prayer, Fellowship, and Breaking Bread.  That’s what we are going to do.  

On Saturday nights, we want to BE the church, not just attend church.  We won’t leave Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  We want to be focused on Christ and Christ alone.  Who needs the gospel? I do, and so does everybody else.  There will be a lot of prayer.  Without question, prayer is a game changer.  So, let’s pray and let’s pray a lot.  The church is not about weekly attendance.  It’s about people.  As we gain traction, we anticipate having many participate and share their lives and their Jesus.  That’s fellowship.  After the 45 minute meeting time, our service does not end until we enjoy a simple meal together.  At that time, I will entertain a Q and A time for issues that come up during the service.  No use having a service and sending anyone home confused.  Let’s walk through this journey together.  

I don’t think of how we are going to make this work.  I’m not even sure what it means to have something “work” in ministry.  All I know is it’s Biblical.  It’s real.  I know many people who are hurt, struggling and broken and need a place to heal their broken hearts.  

If you are broken hearted and just can’t seem to find Christ on a typical Sunday morning, I invite you to Grace Coastal Church on Saturday nights at 6:30.  Talk to me when you come.  Wherever Jesus went, he touched and healed people.  Hearts need to be healed.  We don’t know if we are aiding healing unless we talk about it.  That had to be the end result of Acts 2.  Looking for an authentic expression?  So am I.  

I know without question a lot of readers are nursing broken hearts.  All I can offer is an opportunity to walk together looking for Jesus to provide his healing touch.  He said he came “to heal the broken-hearted and set the prisoners free.”  It’s time we did so as well. Let’s keep it simple.  Let’s look to Jesus.  He is our only hope for sure.  

Today is the most important day in the Christian faith.  Some consider Christmas to be.  It is an important one for sure, but the day we remember the resurrection is the exclamation point to the Christmas proclamation of “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Man.”  For that reason, Christians around the world will gather  not only to celebrate but also remember the importance of the day the angel proclaimed, “He is not here; he has risen!”  

The claim of virgin birth was not a new one in ancient times.  Various “gods” claimed to be born of a virgin.  It is somewhat of an easy claim.  Once birth has taken place nobody can affirm or deny it.  It is quite remarkable that since the virgin birth of Christ no “religious” figure has ever claimed it again.  There are somewhere around 32 other claims.  In some respects Jesus’ virgin birth was not so “extraordinary” as we consider today.  

However, N.T. Wright  notes that there is not one claim to resurrection.  Homer could not fathom a way back, and Plato taught that even if there was a way back, no one would want to do so.  The Egyptians thought resurrection was possible.  This was the reason their queens, armies, and others were buried with them.  When Augustus conquered Egypt, they tried to show him their resurrected kings.  Wright went on to write that Augustus said that, “he wanted to see kings, not corpses.”  

Our current culture tries to address resurrection in terms of zombies and cryogenic freezing.  There was an article in USA Today last week about an advance in spinal cord repair in hopes of attaching a head to a body.  Neither of our current fascinations is actual resurrection.  They are man’s wish to live on as promised by the one who rose from the dead, Jesus Christ.

The major religions of the world have no claim to resurrection.  In all their teachings we find man having to live up to a certain standard to achieve God’s favor.  The resurrection destroys that concept.  We don’t achieve God’s favor by achieving some standard that isn’t even established in the Bible.  I would think that if God had a standard by which man could make it, he would have given it to us. Actually, he actual did.  It was perfection.  We spend time trying to figure out how to attach a frozen head to a body, but we don’t spend much time trying to figure out how to achieve a God-like standard of perfection.  We don’t because it is clear; perfection is not possible for us.  

So we take perfection and decide the best we can do is be “good” enough.  So, our quest to live with God is to be good enough?  How good?  If God is so good, why didn’t he give us the equation of “good enough?”  It’s because we missed the real standard to live eternally.  The real standard is holiness.  Holiness is where we are body, soul and spirit in complete 100% unity with the mind and will of God.  Anybody want to take a shot at that one?

Jesus is the only one who even an atheist would say is the  one who could be the answer.  Is it a myth that he was crucified and was our sacrifice for our sin?  That is what it all comes down to.  No other theological debate is necessary if Jesus was not the Son of God, the holy one who in the form of a man died for our sin.  All he asks of us is to believe and follow Him.  That’s it.  No perfection.  No standard of goodness.  No demand for holiness when the one who makes us knows it is impossible.  The only thing is faith.  

It’s a faith that looks at the big picture and has to answer one question,  Is the resurrection of Jesus Christ true?  If it is true it satisfies any question and silences all debate.  The resurrection brings the rest of the teachings of Christ together.  We celebrate today the truth that defines all other “truth.”  

I’ve heard some say we have to determine whether Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or Lord?  That distracts from the foundation that affirms all other claims of and by Jesus…the resurrection.  

Before anyone puts Jesus in the myth category or thinks it’s a crazy zombie story, do the research.  Decide for yourself.  There is only one question that has to be asked.  Is the resurrection true?  What do you believe?  

As I walked into the room,I sensed something was wrong with my dear friend.  He had a look on his face I had not seen before.  After four years, I was surprised!  He had handled just about everything thrown his way.  I asked him what was up.  His answer surprised me as he broke down into tears.

“John, there is going to be one that will get you,” he muttered.  “I wish I could say to look out for it, but you can’t.  You just don’t know which one will get you,” he continued.  At this point I had no idea what he was talking about.  ‘It’s Jim,” he said.  “Jim’s death has got me deep down,”  he finished.”  That was all I could get out of him as he sat at the table and wept.

Jim was a member of the church.  They did not have any special relationship.  He was an elderly man who suddenly died of a heart attack.  For some reason, this was the one that caught my best friend deep down.  Later, when he was able to talk about it, he said that while he was in seminary, they talked about the one death that will get your attention.

A lot of people don’t realize how much pastors are around death.  For me as a police and fire chaplain, death scenes have become the norm.  I had no idea I would see as much death as I have.  Sometimes I take some time off to process after a critical scene.  In a sense, I try to cushion the blow.  

That was until yesterday.  Little did I think the death of our 15-year-old Papillon dog, Jake, would shake my world.  It was a bittersweet day.  On the one hand, my new dog’s birthday was yesterday.  On the other hand, we had to say goodbye to the happiest dog I have ever known.  We have seen a lot of pets come and go.  Sure it tugs at our heart a bit.  Usually after a good cry we are able to get up and get going.  This one has me.  

I’m tired of death, suffering, and the pain of living in a fallen world.  Maybe it has me since we have lost three long time dogs this past year.  Perhaps, it’s the pending loss of my mother, who the doctor informed us after her latest hospital visit  is “on the clock.”  Her brain is dying.  My sister and I agree; she is already gone but her body remains.  

It’s more than that though.  I’ve seen the death of the young and the old.  I’ve seen death that takes a long time.  I’ve seen it happen real fast.  Too fast actually.  It’s not just the death.  It’s the veil of death that covers our existence.  

I so much want to stop all counseling and just say, “Pick one.”  Either choose life or choose death, but you can’t have both.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Red, played by Morgan Freeman,, and Andy, played by Tim Robbins, point out we either “get busy living or get busy dying.”  I think it’s at that level Jake’s death has ventured in to my soul, like Jim’s death touched the soul of my dear friend.

I understand why we are so attracted to Disney World, drugs, alcohol, and anything that can numb the reality.  In Disney everyone lives happier ever after.  With drugs and alcohol, we like to think we can live happier ever after.   Only, we don’t.  Actually, we cause the death of a lot of relationships along the way.

As another friend texted yesterday, death just leaves us empty.  So does divorce.  So does the moving away of a friend.  So does the slow loss of our young abilities.  So does a member of the church who slowly drifts away.  So does dementia.  It’s a side of life we don’t want to look at.  But it’s that world in which Jesus enters.

Believing in Jesus is not only a way to get to heaven.  We have over emphasized the Jesus of John chapter 3.  Jesus also comes to give us life through his death and victory over the grave. He crushes death!  When we follow Jesus, we aren’t just waiting to go to heaven, even though that will be real nice.  No, we are to be carriers of life.  Everything outside of a life in Christ is death.  

Here it is April ,and we are going to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is important to celebrate.  It’s also important to grasp that life in Christ is indeed life that is to produce more life.  It is to redeem a broken marriage.  It is to heal the broken-hearted.  It is bring hope to hopelessness.  It is to be that person who remembers those who mourn weeks and months after this world steals from us.  It is this life that reminds us this is not home.  It is this life that is to be infectious.  

Fellow believers in Christ we don’t have a choice.  There is no “get busy dying.”  We have been given a new life.   A new life in Christ that in its very essence gives us victory over the forces of death in our world.  Instead of complaining, encourage.  Instead of demanding, lend a hand.  Instead of remaining silent, share the good news of the risen Lord.  Instead of shying away, step forward and lend a hand.   Yes, loss hurts, but there is more to come.  

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden!”  Matthew 5:14

This past Sunday was a day of rest.  Literally, I was tired and decided to take it easy doing something I haven’t done in a while.  I watched sports all afternoon.  Golf and NCAA basketball and NASCAR.  I had hoped to catch a little bit of the Yankees/Orioles game.  A rain delay knocked them off the air.  It would have been nice to watch since I don’t know most of the team.  They let most of the veterans go and are working on a total rebuild.  

Channel surfing was fun.  Every time a commercial came on it was off to the next sport event.  Sure I missed some of the action, especially the NASCAR race.  Since they mostly go in left turn circles over and over again, how much does one really miss?  

Half time of the basketball game gave me a chance to get caught up with everything else.  As of right now Michigan St. is beating Duke.  Kyle Busch is leading the Texas race.  I’m not sure who is winning the golf event.  They are in match play this week.  Even the O’s are leading the Yankees by 1.  Half time might give the teams a chance to catch their breath, but it gives the sports enthusiast a chance to roll through the entire lineup.  

Each sport has its “break” time. Basketball has half-time.  NASCAR has pit stops and caution flags.  Baseball has the 7th inning stretch.  Hockey has 2 intermissions.  Golf might not have an actual break, but there is enough time between shots to run and grab a snack.  Often I wish life had a half time or a pit stop.  It would be nice to have a 7th inning stretch.  

More and more, it seems that life will not give anyone a break.  Maybe it’s the area where we live.  It’s an expensive county, and many have to work multiple jobs.  Kids seem to be involved in a ton of extra-curricular activities.  Moms are running the kids everywhere and anywhere.  I don’t find too many people who have a time to catch their break.

Even at church it’s hard sometimes to catch a break.  I’m not sure I even know what that looks like.  In the 1980’s, community or small groups sprang up as a reaction to a transient society.  One more thing we expect people to attend.  In Acts 2 we see where the early church gathered daily for teaching, prayer, fellowship and breaking bread.  Daily!  Daily?  Did they really meet every day of the week?  The last time I checked that is what daily meant.  If I mentioned that to my church body I’d better go look for a new job.  It seems hard enough to make it to church on Sunday and attend a community group consistently.  Times have changed for sure.   

I meet a lot of people who literally need a half time.  Wouldn’t it be neat if we turned 40 and were told to take a month off with pay?  We seem to wait till retirement to take a break.  By then we don’t want to take a break; we want to quit.  Quit everything.  

So why do they take these breaks in sports?  They do so to make adjustments.  Adjustments against the opponent and adjustments since what a team may be doing might not be working for them on this particular day.  Wouldn’t that be sweet?

I think it can be.  I think we can have pit stops and seventh inning stretches.  I’m not sure we know how valuable they really are.  We are working on developing “Silas” relationships at a group for men called Pirate Monks.  We want a “Silas” to call the other person once a day to encourage them.  Not a one said they could not take the phone call.  A pit stop can make a ton of difference.  

We can take half times.  Turn off the television.  Silence the phone and be still.  Be still so we can know God and get our priorities sorted out.  When life gets going so fast, there is no time to think, so we become complainers and blame shifters.  A half time gives us the opportunity to see what we need to change to make it  throughthe second half.  

I love having dinner with my family.  It’s my personal half time.  We are working harder and harder at putting the cell phones away, turning off all electrical gadgets, even for the little ones, and engaging in conversation.  A question that may get asked from time to time is “What do you think God wants in such a situation?”  Instead of the answer being about how everybody else needs to get their acts together, we talk about how we are to get our acts together.  We can’t change people who are not in the room ,but we can change our attitude and thought processes.  No wonder few “think of others better than themselves” like the Apostle Paul said.  We need to take the time to get ourselves straightened out. 

God knows us so well that He put in His word the actual instruction to “be still.”  If He were with us today He would be saying, “Half time,” or “Time for a pit stop.”  It’s for our good. 

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.  

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.