Tag Archive: Christianity


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. 

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.  

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

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.  

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.”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why do you doubt?”

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

“Where is your faith?”

“What are you looking for?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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