Tag Archive: Christianity


It has been about 10 days since Hurricane Dorian visited the Lowcountry.  Here in Bluffton, God shined upon us as the rain did not come, and the winds remained below destruction levels.  As chaplain for the Bluffton Police Department, I found it relieving to venture out on Thursday morning and to find very minimal damage and no loss of life.  

While the hurricane itself did not pack a big punch for us, the waiting process was unnerving.  Somebody joked that it was like being stalked by a turtle.  For others it was pure misery.

The Bahamas took the full force.  As well as remembering them in prayer, consider how you or your church may assist in any way possible to meet  needs of the battered population.  They will need assistance for a long time to come.  

While we did not suffer greatly from the winds, rains, and tides, we suffered from anxiety and worry.  The many spaghetti models will drive a sane person completely crazy.  One thing for sure about Dorian…it was unpredictable.  Only the living God knew where it was going and how fast it would get there.  As we waited we worried.

The general population surprised me with their response.  Of the last 4 hurricane scares, I believe on this one we had the least amount of people evacuate.  Even when the predictions called for a worsening situation, possibly on the level of Hurricane Matthew, there seemed to be a bit of malaise with this one.  

I went to Old Town Bluffton to take some pictures and became amazed that none of the businesses on Calhoun Street or the Promenade were boarded up.  On the other hand, half of my neighborhood shuttered, and some even put sandbags around their doors.  We are a community that has never seen high water, even during Hurricane Matthew.  Some left as soon as the evacuation orders were given, and some won’t leave no matter what happens.  It would be an interesting social behavior study.  

Stress causes all sorts of issues.  Jesus said that worry does not add a day to our lives.  We now know it not only doesn’t add a single day to our lives, but, it probably takes a few off.  Without question, the name “Dorian” will cause anxiety for some time.  On top of it all, we still have at least 6 more weeks of hurricane season.  

Our hurricane scare resembles life.  We can’t avoid the storms of life.  They are going to come.  There is no evacuating life.  Storms come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Sometimes they get us all worked up.  The big storms like Dorian might not cause much change in our life. Other times a small storm can pop up and cause tremendous damage to our soul.  It’s life.  

How anyone reacts to a life storm is unpredictable.   We like to think we have life all planned out like our evacuation plans.  However, we don’t really know what might go on inside of us when the pink slip comes,  when our closest relationships fail, when the doctor gives horrid news, when the stock market plummets and recession sets in big time,  and when we face the forces of death.  Will we respond with a sense of “who cares” or will we be sandbagging our hearts and egos?  

Jesus and the disciples were in a storm while traveling by boat to the next town.  It was pretty bad.  The disciples were anticipating death.  Jesus was asleep.  When they woke him up, Jesus called out, “Peace (Shalom), Be Still,” and the waves and wind went calm.   Everybody focuses on Jesus calming the storm.    His response was classic.  He asked them, “Why are you so afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  Believing and following Jesus is much more than buying hell insurance.  It’s about losing our lives and literally putting them in the hands of Jesus, even when we feel we are going to die.

We all have our favorite news station.  We all have our trusted weather man or service (mine is Ventusky).  We do the same with our health.  We actually do the same with the critical issues of life.  Instead of putting our lives in the hands of people, Jesus wants us to put our lives first in his hands.  That does not mean we don’t board up our windows.  It doesn’t mean we never go to the doctor.  It doesn’t mean we don’t seek a new job.  What it means is to call upon Him when the storm clouds begin to appear instead of waiting till we are on the roof, waiting for the helicopter to pull us off the roof. 

Jesus calmed the storm ,but who he really calmed were the excited disciples.  They went from screaming for Jesus to wake up to whispering to one another about Jesus’ ability to make good out of bad.  As a believer, shalom.  The good news is like the disciples, we are in the boat of life with Jesus.  He didn’t promise no storms.  But, he does promise to be with us through the storms.  With him ,we can claim the same as King David in the Psalms.  “As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”  Why?  Jesus is walking right ahead of me.  That’s the place of the Good Shepherd. 

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As I walked the dog this morning, I realized it was trash day.  Even if I were blind, I would know it was trash day.  The smell was obvious.  Did you know there is a local company that will contract with you to clean your trashcan?  You heard it here first.  If you keep your trashcan in the garage, you might want to give them a call.  

As we walked, it was interesting to observe the trash.  Before you laugh too hard, remember my brain is not wired in the normal way.  Usually I talk with Jesus as I walk the dog at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m.  Today, trash had my attention.  You can learn a lot about people by looking at their trash.  It makes sense that law enforcement looks into the trash.  It’s loaded.  Literally.  Is this making you paranoid?  I hope not.

As I observed the rubbish in my neighborhood, I can tell you who has a healthy, or should I say unhealthy, intake of alcohol.  I can find the smokers.  If we pause long enough, we can tell diets and other habits as well.  It is getting easier to tell the choice of soap or shampoo as well.  It’s not buried in the bags.  The plastic bottles are sitting on top in the recycle bin.  

If the average home has 1.5 bags of trash per person per week (I read that somewhere; just don’t ask where), it would be easy to figure out how many people are living in each house.  Some of the cans are so full each week, forget getting the lid down.  

One thing for sure is we create a lot of garbage.  It is hard to fathom the amount of garbage the entire town of Bluffton creates in one week.  I’m just talking normal bags of trash. Oh, by the way, if I was a thief, I would be able to pinpoint the homes that have new televisions, computers, and sound systems.  Add the “extra” garbage, and our little town creates mountains of trash.  

The Bible talks trash.  It really does.  I feel bad for most of the Bible heroes.  Their trash is out there for generations to observe.  It smells bad too.  Adam and Eve get slammed for being the founding couple for the ultimate trash.  They had to feel horrible as they were escorted out of the garden into a world defined by its smelly refuse.  

David had plenty of family filth.  How would you like to be known as the man after God’s own heart, who first pursued another man’s wife and had him killed?  We will give him credit for killing Goliath, but, then again, as a father, his family comes completely apart.  David is just one of the many men and women whose rubbish defined them.  

I don’t need to go through the list.  It’s pretty ugly.  I realized the other day as I was preparing the topic for our new Saturday night “Come As You Are” service that every person in the Bible that Jesus engages is a representation of me (all of us actually) at many levels.  I’m a leper.  I’m the adulterous woman.  I’m a Pharisee.  I’m the blind guy.  I’m the paralyzed man who needed friends in order to be touched by Jesus.  Every person is a representation of humanity.  The worst one to be is the rich man who wouldn’t sell his possessions to follow Jesus.  I’m him at times.  What makes that one so hard is Jesus said that we can’t serve two masters.  His word use hits this world hard, when he says we love the one and hate the other.  The other night as I conversed with some faithful friends, one of the guys said he hates it when he is hostile towards Jesus.  My first response was “I’m not hostile towards God.  How can he say that?”  But I am hostile at God when I choose to serve this world.  My trash is stinking bad.  

I had to sort out my hostility for a few days.  Makes trash day look good ,doesn’t it?  Just like our physical life, we all have trash.  It’s funny, actually, that we show up on Sunday acting like we don’t have any.  I don’t know about you, but my trash-can tends to be full and overflowing, and boy does it smell.  That company would have to come to my life every day to clean my can it’s so stinky.  

I am reminded that my cleaner does come every day.  In fact, he never leaves me.  Jesus doesn’t look at my trash.  He’s already taken care of it.  I used to wonder why he asked us to confess our sins when he already knows.  It’s not for him.  It’s for us.  It reminds us how amazing his grace really is.  That’s my hope.  That’s my faith that gives me great confidence that no matter how full and stinky my trash can, my Lord Jesus has it covered.  I love the old hymn when it says, “What can wash away my sins?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”  He doesn’t clean my outward container.  He covers my wicked heart.  No need to recycle.  It’s been taken care of.

I love the “Secret Lives of Pets” movies. Illumination Entertainment produced this animated speciality.  They must have put a lot of effort into learning the movements of different pets.  I often wondered what my dog was doing when I was away.  So, I got one of those spy cams.  He does not have a secret life.  He sleeps.  

Our world is getting more and more revealed.  There are driving cams everywhere.  I would tell you some secrets about the cams and what they can do but, I am sworn to secrecy.  I can tell you that they are everywhere.

Any wise businessman will have a video security system.  Just this week, a local business was robbed and then broken into a few days later.  It’s all on video.  Many owners have installed video cams to catch their own employees in the act.  Whenever you go shopping, smile.  You are on candid camera.  

I’ve actually heard of people who video their journeys in the car.  I recently saw a bicyclist with a video recorder on the top of his helmet.  I had the opportunity to ask him about it.  He replied, “I was run over once.  I will not be run over again without video evidence.”  I thought he might have it to record the beauty around him.  Who ever would have thought such?

It doesn’t stop there.  Our cell phones may be one of the best recording devices we will ever own.  Not much goes on that is not recorded by someone, somewhere.  We no longer have to carry heavy equipment.  It’s now in the palm of our hands.  My grandkids use it a lot.  I would, only it does not cross my mind to video things like most do today.  

Our church staff has been talking about live streaming the sermon.  It is not uncommon for a church to do so.  In a sense, you can see the church before you have to be the church.  I probably got that one turned around.  One can be the church before they have to see the church is probably more of a Biblical truth.  It’s no different than keeping an eye on the traffic cams, the baby cam, the doggie cam, and any other cam you can come up with other than Cam Newton.  

One would think with all the video feeds, security cameras, and cell phones our crime rate would drop.  It doesn’t.  It’s like we are not paying any attention that someone is watching.  Red light tickets from traffic cams keep coming.  Recently, a local restaurant was held up and broken into a few days later.  It’s clear the individual knew there was a camera.  He hid his face.  Cameras seem to be for the good people.  

I was reading in Revelation the other day.  It’s like we are on a life cam.  It says in chapter 20 that everyone is going to be judged according to what they had done.  Everybody!  If everything is a heart issue it is probably going to be more than a video cam.  It’s going to display our thoughts and motives as well.  I hope everybody is taking a nap when it’s my turn.  I wonder if the volume can be turned down.  On the other hand, it might be some good entertainment.  Here’s John trying to be a good boy.  Everybody will be laughing for sure.  It will be ugly.  

I think it’s amazing how many people think they will get into heaven because they are good enough.  When those videos are shown, I don’t think anyone will be thinking they are good enough.  Since the Bible says perfection is the only standard, I’ll bet every penny I have that those videos will show how woefully short we all fall.  

There will be an editor for the believers.  According to the next few verses, there is only one thing that edits the ending.  Is your name written in the Book of Life?  The only way it gets there is to follow Jesus.  Our editor will have scars in his hands, feet, and probably on his brow from the crown of thorns.  His back will show the marks of the vile whipping.  However, his embrace will be all that is needed to set the record straight.  

I don’t know about you, but I do know my life video showing all my public and private life will show a need for a Redeemer.  The good news, the gospel, is that Redeemer lives.  I put my hope in Jesus, the Redeemer and editor of my life video.  According to the Scripture, all other ground is sinking sand.  

Even though it is the middle of summer and we have many more days to go till fall, there is change in the air.  The change has nothing to do with nature’s seasons.  The change is for the modern day church ,and it has nothing to do with the type of music sung or which version of the Bible is used on Sunday.  Its cultural change, and it’s coming fast.

Unless you have paid no attention to the news and live in a cave, we should be aware that our culture is not changing but rather has changed.  News flash!  There is more change in the air, and we are not going to like it.  

It is a fact that the voting base will shift to the younger generations in the next election. The baby boomer generation, which is the most conservative and “Christian” of the existing generations, will lose its political clout.  Let me rephrase that.  It has lost it.  There are more people of age that we would classify as “millennial” who can vote than baby-boomers.  As the Eagles sang in 2007, “It’s Your World Now.”  Honestly, we of the baby-boomer generation don’t like it and are scared about it.  

I’m not so sure we are scared for gospel reasons.  I personally think we are scared for life-style reasons.  That’s a discussion for another day.  It will probably have gospel implications.  I’m not being a prophet, but these are some changes in the next era we will probably see, barring a revival unparalleled in our history.  Again, I don’t think they are all that bad.  It all depends on how one looks at them.

One of the first changes coming will be the loss of tax exempt status and possible taxation on certain things we never dreamed would be taxed in the church.  It doesn’t even have to be due to religious reasons.  Our government is running out of money.  If there is a pot of gold out there somewhere, they will get it one day.  It has already happened to a certain extent.  By raising the exemption level so high, fewer “givers” are able to claim their gifts and tithes as a tax exemption.  It’s only the beginning.  

As I said before, that’s ok.  We will be called to give our gifts and tithes by God’s calling not the tax deduction.  If the government taxes our properties for the right of holding religious services, then we will find out where our hearts lie.  That happens often throughout the Bible.  Look up the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5.  Their heart was not with God but rather how they looked before man.  Everything really is a heart issue even if we don’t realize it.  Giving our offering is a heart issues as well even when we don’t get a tax deduction.    

I do believe a day is coming when bi-vocational pastors will be the norm instead of the oddity.  Most churches in America are small in size.  There are more pastors serving in churches under 200 than in those over 200 in attendance.  With the financial situation and the already aging of American congregations, along with the decrease in attendance by the younger generations, there will be fewer and fewer churches able to support the pastor much less have a paid staff.  If these churches want to continue, they will have to sort out the issues that will arise with a bi-vocational pastor in place.

Again, that’s ok.  I see two possible benefits.  Pastors might make better decisions since their main pay check is no longer dependent on keeping the members happy.  Along with that, members may realize they cannot replace the pastor they have so easily and therefore extend grace more than ever before.  

Along with bi-vocational pastors comes churches with less or no paid professional staff.  The burden of ministry will fall to the attenders.  Did I just hear local pastors say “Amen.”  All of this will probably put many things back in their right place.  Instead of putting on a show, we might just relate to one another.  Instead of depending on the youth pastor to show our kids the way, they will have to get it from us (of course they still do, we just don’t realize it).  Instead of being a busy church, we might become missional churches.  Paying less staff leaves more money for “the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the sick, the stranger, the imprisoned.”  (Matthew 25).  See, it’s not all that bad.

The biggest change ahead is already happening.  It is not going to be popular to be a Christian ,much less a verbal Christian.  The shift has happened.  It happened when Generations X and Y (by the way, they are close to retirement now) walked out of the church instead of staying with their spiritual family.  Their children are growing up with very little God influence.  Therefore, it’s simple math.  It’s a spiritual war.  The apostle Paul said we are “wresting with principalities of the air,” meaning there is a constant war against the name of Jesus.  It’s coming fast.

That’s ok.  We don’t have to pay large sums of money to go on mission trips.  Our mission field lives right next door.  It is a great time to be a Christian when the lines get drawn.  It might hurt.  The Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians about two graces given to us by Jesus.  One is the grace of salvation.  The second is the grace of suffering.  We all are aware that if something has great value we will suffer for it.  As far as I can tell, there is nothing more valuable than the name of Jesus.  

That is OK! 

We sat in the upper level section 3 every game that we attended.  The Baltimore Clippers (American Hockey League) were competitive and a constant force striving for the Calder Cup.  This particular year they had a shot at the cup.  I remember a stifling defense, a goalie who did not wear a mask (not mandatory at that time), and just enough offense to win close games.  For a ten-year-old boy it was hockey heaven.  

This particular game was right before the playoffs.  The place was sold out.  We had to sit in section 11 instead of 3.  It didn’t matter.  We were at the game.  Only things didn’t quite go as planned.  Here we were down by 3 with six minutes to go.  The defense was weak that night.  The offense was nonexistent.  

In order to beat the rush we headed for the exit.  This one was over.  Since we sat in different seats, the exit was much farther away.  As we headed for the lower level, the crowd broke into a sustained cheer.  A goal had been scored.  It was now 5 minutes to go and down by 2.  Had the tide turned?

There was a buzz in the crowd.  It could be felt in the hallways.  We decided to cross the stage to catch the #3 bus home.  As we hit the stage, the crowd burst into maddening exuberance.  With 2 minutes and 30 seconds left, we scored to only be down by 1.  Nobody sat in silence.  Everyone who was headed for the exits, including us stopped dead in our tracks.  Not only had the tide turned, the tsunami was overtaking the entire coliseum.  The Clippers were alive and so were their fans.  Enthusiasm reigned.  

I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.  The entire place was electric.  The Clippers skated circles around the Hershey Bears.  The crowd was plain nuts.  They tied the score within seconds of the faceoff.  Maybe we could win in overtime.  We contemplated returning to our seats.  

No need.  With 35 seconds left on the clock, the Clippers had succeeded in tallying the winning goal.  That’s right! four goals in less than six minutes.  I have never experienced such a scene.  Electric enthusiasm was contagious.  Everybody yelled and screamed and jumped for joy.  The players were grinning from ear to ear.  Once the final horn sounded, the place almost collapsed due to the noise.  At least it seemed like it.  I can verify because I was standing on the stage.  The bad boy was vibrating.  

The electric wave proceeded out onto the streets and onto the waiting buses.  I don’t remember all the details, but as for me, I was a-buzz as I laid my head on the pillow that night.  Something had happened that few will ever see.  What was lost, was won!  

I’ve met a few people over the years who live in constant ecstasy.  There is something about life that they are tuned into that few find.  It doesn’t matter what’s going on; they seem to have that winning grin the Clippers had that night.  My father-in-law was one of those persons.  As my mother would say, “Come hell or high water he would still be dancing all night long.”  Trouble wasn’t a downer.  It was an opportunity.  

Now, 50 years later since I witnessed one of the most amazing comebacks in sports history (at least I think so), I sit in many religious meetings wondering what happened to the enthusiasm.  Stages are not vibrating.  We seem to have to purposely generate any excitement to make it look like we are happy.  Strike up the band.  Shout from the pulpit.  Do something to awaken the masses.  

We have come to believe that Jesus came to this earth.  As the Son of God, he walked with us and didn’t catch the next plane back.  He sacrificially bought us with his own blood as he was beaten and nailed to the cross of shame.  The only righteous one we murdered.  Instead of remaining in the grave, he conquered that as well, rising from the dead the third day and showing himself to a large amount of people.  He ascended into heaven, preparing to return for us, and, in the meantime sent his Holy Spirit to be with us at all times.  

Now I don’t know about you, but that sounds a lot more exciting than a come from behind victory by a minor league hockey team that is now defunct and has been for a long, long time.  So we come on Sunday with drudgery and solemness.  Not only was He who was dead alive, but by his sacrifice we as believers were once lost but now are found!  

Let the stage vibrate from our enthusiastic reply.  In Luke 15 Jesus talks about the celebrations in heaven when we who are lost are found.  So, where is the celebration?  Where is the enthusiasm?  Let’s not make for the exits.  That’s for those who think all is lost.  Our hope is not in our ability to score one for Jesus.  Our hope is in the one who beat death.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”  It’s time to celebrate!  Party on! 

I turn 60 this week.  I have been told it’s all downhill from here.  I like downhill.  It’s those long walks up the hill to sled back down that are tiring.  It’s the slow climb to the top, the clickity-clacking sound the rollercoaster makes that drives me nuts.  That downhill ride is a blast.  I’m looking forward to the next 20 years if God is so willing to give me that many.  The ride should be a blast, and I don’t even plan on retiring anytime soon.  I can’t.  

I really don’t have a problem with age.  Some people freak out at certain birthdays that end in zero.  I have not had that problem at all.  My father retired around the age of sixty.  I watched him go from being a vibrant member of society to having the weather and history channel be the highlight of his day.  On the other hand, my father-in-law could not retire and worked a profitable life into his 80’s.  That’s how I desire to go out.  With my boots still on.  Let’s face it, there is only so much golf one can play to maintain happiness.  

I look at life as being in four twenty-year segments.  The first 20 years are the learning years.  Pretty much based on the path of the first 20 your life is set in a certain direction.  It might deviate to the left or right a little, but the die is cast.  

The second 20 years are the “years of change.”  We go from single to married.  We become parents.  Often in our world, many will change careers.  Usually this will occur in the “years of change.”  It’s during this time our income changes, and probably our housing will change a few times as well.  Few live in the same house anymore.  The change is so fast, it tends to eat us for lunch.  In today’s world, it’s worse than ever.  For those who can adjust, it works well.  For those who struggle with change, they will tend to be in the counselors office a lot or should be.  Those 20 years fly by.

The third set of 20’s tend to be the settling years.  It’s these years that empty nest sets in, and we get to have some of the life we thought it would be without kids.  Grandkids make life grand  if you get them in your 50’s.  I always say, “If I knew grandkids were this good, I would have skipped kids.”  In many respects I think I did skip kids.  Life was going so fast, I struggle to remember.  

From 40 to 60 we tend to settle into set patterns, set lifestyles, and set habits.  The only time it changes is if something goes really wrong.  We tend to stay in our jobs at this point even if we are not too fond of them.  Life can get quite boring in the settling years.  We go from chasing kids and playing softball to reading books and watching television.  I guess now we don’t so much watch television.  Instead we surf the Internet.  We end up with dogs and cats who take the place of our kids.  

So here I am entering the last 20 years.  Yes, I realize many are living beyond the age of eighty.  It’s not that I’m forgetting that fact.  I simply see the last twenty as twenty plus.  The only difference is it gets slower.  I am entering the wisdom years.

For many, it’s the age the torch is passed from our parents to us.  We lose them and wake up to find we are the ones the kids and others come to for advice.  Not only that, but, by this time, we are what-ever we are.  Few pick up new practices or habits at this point.  You can tell when you enter the wisdom years.  Conversations begin with “I remember when…”

The real difference in the wisdom years is we now know what works and doesn’t work.  We have tried different things, traveled many different paths, listened to just about everybody and deep down we now know.  Our words “I think” become “I know.”  The only problem we face is will anybody listen.  

In Biblical days, the wisdom years were respected.  There was value in experiences and life journeys.  In the church, we might call them “elders.”  It is not a position in my opinion of anyone below the wisdom years.  There was a reason God wanted older people in a place of spiritual care.  We should be not so much mellower but rather understand by now that the only thing that does work in our life’s relationships is God’s love and grace.  God only knows how many disappointments it takes one to learn this lesson.  

One reason I believe the older generation stopped being respected is we stopped learning.  The wisdom years don’t end learning.  We are always to be learning.  Why?  So our wisdom can be applied to the day at hand.  We should learn the new fangled technology.  We should read relevant material and listen to today’s music.  Why? You ask again.  It shows we care for the next generation more than than our own.  

There is a job to be done according to Psalm 78:4 – 6 that reads, “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done…so that the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born.”  Forget retirement.  We need to not just tell them.  We need to show them.  

It’s fun to get email from readers.  It lets me know somebody actually reads this column.  This week, a reader asked me, based on the June 23rd article that I titled “Searching,” what was I searching for.  Once again my sarcastic button wanted to be pressed with “I’m supposed to ask those questions, not you.”  I’m getting better.  I did not even type such a rude response.  Jesus, keep whispering in my ear please.  

I did sit back and think about his question a bit.  I thought about all the things I have chased in the past.  The list is too long to put in this article.  I don’t think the Bluffton Today has enough room for all my wanderings.  

Probably the top three quests I have engaged on would be respect, wealth, and an acknowledgment from my dad that I was valued.  There are long stories behind all three.  I will be brief.  I think I heard the editor’s sigh of relief.  

Last week I wrote about being a different thinker than the rest of my family.  When one feels like the odd-ball we tend to be the odd-ball.  I was raised in a family that did not demand success but it was quietly expected.  Being the youngest and the odd-ball I tended to thirst for respect.  I was my own worse enemy.  I had a chance to go to be in University of Maryland’s doctorate program.  I turned the offer down.  I don’t know why I did that.  To this day it might be the only thing I have done that I truly regret.  I do know one thing.  It would not have satisfied my desire to be respected.  I know it was only a temporary solution.  

For some time I like most Americans who bought the American dream chased up the ladder searching for financial security and a sense of wealth.  Let me just say this, it only takes one major error or event to take all the mullah away.  Wealth does feel good at the time but it is very fleeting.  The biggest problem is once you get “there” (wherever that is) it has to sustained.  Even at that we tend to want more.  It doesn’t matter how much money one makes.  We will spend it or never think we have enough.  Jesus said you can’t serve two masters.  He was right.  

The one that has probably caused me the most problems is the seeking acknowledgement from my dad that I was valued.  It wasn’t my fathers problem.  It was my interpretation of life.  Honestly, dad didn’t necessarily go out of his way to express value to anyone.  He was somewhat a quiet man.  He was obsessed with his business.  He worked hard and his parents didn’t pat him on the back either.  He didn’t degrade any of us either.  Somehow, I wanted Dad to express my value and I never really got it.  I then tried to get it from others.  Thankfully, my friend Bob about 15 years ago picked up on it and he worked with me on it.  I don’t need Dad’s pat on the back.  All I need is my Heavenly Father’s love.  That’s all anyone needs.  Human moms and dads will let us down.  I know.  I’m a dad.

That’s the short versions.  I have also done other ventures seeking God only knows what.  In a few days I will turn 60 years old.  I ‘m still not sure how that happened.  Just yesterday I was 40.  The old body doesn’t do what it used to.  The brain thinks it can but everything seems to move in slow motion.  Here I am entering the last phase of my life and I was asked, “What are you searching for?”  I can answer clearly. 
I’m searching for peace.  I’m tired of the fight.  Some of it is my life has to become simpler.  Less grass to cut.  Less junk in the garage.  Don’t look now, my garage is jammed.  I can’t wait till the next yard sale.  My motto used to be ‘If we haven’t touched it in three years, it’s time to go.”  Now it’s, “If we haven’t looked or touched it in one year it’s way over due to go.”  The biggest thing is I want peace in my relationships.  In the book of James (Jesus’ half brother) he asks a good question.  “Why are there fights and arguments among you?”  I can answer that one.  My wife wants to go to the Okatie Ale House for dinner and I want to go to New York City Pizza.  She wants chicken fajitas and I want pizza.  Better yet, she wants to go to Disney World for vacation and I want to go to the mountains.  Get the picture.

James answered the question as I did.  He wrote, “You want something and you don’t get it.”  He even says, “You ask of God but it is too late.”  You know it’s too late when you are praying to change someone else and not you.  

I’m tired of wanting.  In church work our wants just take on a “righteous” aura.  In reality it’s the same thing as when I was making big bucks fixing cars.  I want things my way.  Do you think my desires bring peace to anyone much less myself.  No way possible.  

I can get rid of the stuff that clutters my life.  I can slow down a bit and get some things off my plate.  That is all good.  But to gain peace in my life especially in regards to my family and friends as well as my neighbors (that’s what Jesus called them) I need to practice a simple Jesus equation.  He said, “In order to find your life you must lose your life.”  Help Me Jesus.  Please.  

I remember when I was knee high to a grasshopper, and the teacher said we were going to have a test the next day.  I’m not sure a 10-year-old has a functional faith, but, that day, prayer was engaged.  It was the typical prayer of a boy who would rather be outside than sitting in the house studying.  It went something like this, “Jesus, help me on my test.  Amen.”  It was more a prayer of protection from my parents’ wrath if I brought home a bad grade. I should note that my parents were not full of wrath.  However, making me stay indoors and do homework was enough wrath to make me tremble. 

When I was a little bit younger, I would argue with my mother during the summer months.  She had a set bedtime for me.  However, during months like June and July, the sun did not go totally down till 8:30ish, and, with the twilight, there was enough light outside till about 9:15.  Bed before then was torture, and I let them know it.  I seldom won.  My prayers followed the same pattern, “Jesus, let mom and dad forget what time it is.”  My prayers were not answered with a “Yes.”  At 10-years-old I was not sure God had ears.  

I have heard a lot of prayers over the years.  Our prayers seem to stay juvenile.  We pray that anyone who is ill gets well.  We pray that anyone on deaths door lives.  We pray for financial prosperity.  We pray for things.  I bet many, if not a few who read this column, have prayed, “Let me win the lottery, and I will give you more than the tithe.  Jesus, I promise to do good things with the money.  Just let me win.”  It doesn’t matter that the overwhelming majority of people who have won the lottery end up worse than before they won.  

Recently, I actually ran into a person who didn’t win the big game but won a substantial amount of mullah playing the lottery.  He told me he would never play again.  With a forlorn look on his face and with a deadpan voice he said, “The winnings ruined my life.”  I was thinking, better watch what you pray for.

As I got a little older, I thought it was good to pray Biblical things.  One day I prayed, “Lord, give us patience.”  An elderly man interrupted the prayer meeting and asked if I knew what I was praying for.  My look must have given away my dismay.  He finished with, “You just prayed for trials and tribulations.”  After a brief moment of silence, he added, “That’s how we get patience.”  I’m not sure I ever prayed for patience again.  

Just like in my preteen years, at the core of our prayers is a selfish desire.  We tend to pray for things to turn out the way we want them to be.  Not that we can’t pray for people.  It’s just we pray asking Jesus to do things our way and give the outcome that will make us happy.  So that we aren’t too selfish we add, “if it be Your will.”  There we go.  Now, we can tell God how we want life to be, and it’s officially religious.  

This morning a dear friend texted me, “I brought nothing to God this morning, and He gave me back everything.”  In his text, we see a reflection of Jesus’ words when he said, “Blessed are those who are poor of spirit.”  Poor of spirit is not taking the #1 position of potter but, instead, remembering we are the clay.  Our prayers should reflect this “beautiful attitude.”  

In the past 6 months, I have had trouble asking God for anything.   Instead, I ask God how he would like to use me today.  I ask him who He wants me to minister to with his word today.  I ask Him how would He like to use me to declare His glory on this earth.  I ask Him to use me to bring peace to the chaos of others’ lives.  Why?  He is the potter and I am the clay.  

Our prayers need to reflect our position.  They also need to reflect His sovereignty (in charge).  A friend with cancer might be a friend who God desires to declare His Word to a doctor or a nurse.  A friend who has lost a loved one may be used by God to declare the gospel to more people at a funeral than at any other time in his life.  A neighbor suffering a car wreck may be used by God to speak of Him to a tow truck driver, a police officer or, better yet, to the one who ran into her.

A friend of mine was in a minor car accident.  She was complaining about the other driver, the lack of attention by the police and now the car repair service.  She was going to call her lawyer and try to get thousands from something that wasn’t worth even hundreds.    I asked her if she thought of looking at the situation a bit differently.  “Like how?” she mumbled.  I asked her to consider if she would mind if I prayed for her to be in touch with the voice of Jesus.  Angrily she replied, “What good will that do?”  In all seriousness I responded, “My prayer is not about fixing your issues.  They will never be fixed to your liking.  Prayer is about getting you in the right position to be used by God.”  She turned around and left.  I don’t think she was too happy.  Would you be?

I can’t watch or read the news anymore.  The talking heads have taken over, and they think they are experts on everything and everybody.  We don’t know what to believe anymore.  It is all overdone.  Even the Weather Channel is cooking stories.  The overreaction by our media has left us full of anxiety.  We seem to have forgotten the Chicken Little fable.  By the way, Chicken Littles real name is…Henny Penny.  Henny Penny freaks out and makes everyone believe “The Sky is Falling.”  In the overdone distraction, they miss the real danger.  Somehow and someway I think it’s happening in the Christian world.  

I keep coming across articles that talk about the evangelical/church crisis.  Christianity Today released a piece on this very topic.  Even the New York Times published an article.  Google it and watch the 18 pages of listings appear.  There are books being written about it.  

What seems to be the issue?  Without question, we are in a Post-Christian era where the Christian voice has gone hoarse.  Maybe it has not actually gone hoarse, but, without question, it is falling on deaf ears.  The day the church held sway is probably over.  As one pastor I talk with on a regular basis said, “The horse is out of the barn, and he ain’t coming back.”  

The cultural tsunami that many warned about has occurred.  Basic morality has changed.  But, it has been changing long before now.  I remember a college roommate of mine saying, “Whatever is accepted in secular society will be accepted in the church in approximately 10 years.”  I did not necessarily agree with him 40 years ago, but, now that I have some miles under my feet, I think he was on to something.  We like to think we (Christians) change the culture.  The opposite is probably more true; culture tends to change us.  Our culture of relativism leaves us to our own gyrations.  They don’t care.  We resort to screaming to try and be heard, and yet they just turn up the volume in their own world.  We have not figured out how to impact that world even though God gave us a manual.  Instead, here in 2019 we still expect the world to come to us.  “Build it and they will come” died a long time ago.

Here we sit, shut out from spheres of influence, and, along with that ,few actually seek us out anymore.  Church attendance is in decline.  A recent statistic I heard was that 10 churches a week are closing their doors.  Denominations are sliding downward.  The sex abuse that laid hidden in all of Christianity has nailed the doors shut for many.  Fewer pay any attention and fewer still are coming in the front door.  

We are having our issues with the back door being wide open as well.  We have known for a long time we can’t keep our own kids in the pews.  It is making some wonder about the truth of gospel transformation.  They say these trite prayers to ease a parent’s conscience and they bolt when challenged by alternate philosophies and lifestyles.  We know that 85% of our own kids are leaving the faith.  The biggest difference today?  They are not coming back.  

Nobody is listening.  Fewer are coming, and we can’t seal the back door exodus.  Sound the alarm!  We are in a crisis!  

Or are we?

We tend to apply business principles to the church and can’t quite understand that it’s not a business.  Many treat it like a business and think they are selling Jesus.  Jesus can’t be sold.  He is not a commodity or a service to be rendered.  

If we do apply business principles, yes, there is probably a crisis.  What happens when we are more worried about the little kingdom of God (“my” church) instead of the true, universal, kingdom of God?  We apply business principles.  We develop more gimmicks.  We work hard to keep the masses happy.  We think the sheep are more important than the shepherd.  If all else fails, get a better salesperson.  

Most articles and books I read on this issue are looking to place blame.  Once blame is assessed we can then develop a formula to “fix it.”  Western culture likes to fix things.  Blame the pastor…fire him.  Blame the style of worship…change it.  Blame the people…make them feel guilty and shameful.  Blame the leadership…complain louder.  Blame the church as a whole…start a new one.  If all else fails…leave the church.  Isn’t that what people do in the business world?  Blame the boss…fire him.  Blame your system…get a new one.  Blame the customers…get critical.  Blame the department heads…put the heat on.  Blame the business…let it go bankrupt and start a new one.  Blame the changing culture…retire early.  Just fix it.  

Trust me…there is a lot of blaming and a lot of fixing going on.

There is a Biblical answer if anyone is interested.  The blame? We have elevated ourselves at every turn.  The answer?  Return to Him, as Jesus said, “with all your heart, all your mind and all your strength.”  Failure to do so?  That’s the crisis, and it’s personal. 

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.”