Tag Archive: Grace Coastal Church


I can tell it’s time for a vacation.  The articles of the  last few weeks have been hard to write.  Usually, when the mind is not putting things together, it’s time to take a break.  I tell people all the time when I sense they are running on empty, “Even Jesus took a break, and you ain’t Jesus.”  My time away is still ,as of today, 16 days away.  I see light at the end of the tunnel.  In the mean time readers, you may have to put up with my ramblings that may seem to run all over the place.  It’s how my tired mind works.  Or doesn’t.  

I like to listen to Johnny Cash’s music.  His songs are so full of life.  People who have had struggles and I mean serious struggles seem to relate to his songs.  My personal favorite is “A Boy Named Sue.”  I remember the first time I heard that one.  I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  Johnny came out with that one in 1969.  I was 10 years old.  I thought it was so funny that someone would name his boy, Sue.  

Just the other day my iPod shuffled the classic hit into play mode.  Again, a smile crossed my face as I ventured back to 1969.  Only this time, not only did I enjoy Johnny’s live rendition, I focused on the words of his dad.  He named him Sue because he knew he was not going to be along, and he wanted his boy to grow up tough.  A bit over the top, but the message comes through.  He loved his son enough to give him a girl’s name.  Let’s just say it was a different world in 1969.  

We could argue all day long that if that dad really loved his boy he would hot have wandered away.  I use the word “wander” on purpose.  Jesus describes us as wandering sheep in Luke 15.  Do you know why sheep wander? It’s easy.  They are natural wanderers!  Sometimes I think we forget the basics of Jesus’ teachings.  Jesus had no real issues with our nature.  Our fallen nature should not surprise anyone.  In that amazing chapter written by Dr. Luke, Jesus is addressing the group who thought they had their act together.  He describes us as lost sheep, lost coins, and rebellious kids.  In all of this, Jesus does not issue one single negative comment.  Instead, he talks about his love and grace.  His love to find us and welcome us home.  HIs grace to restore us in relationship with Him.  

I have way too many discussions with fellow “Christians” who want to talk about the reasons we are losing the next generation.  We want to blame technology.  We want to blame the education system.  We want to blame the youth group leaders.  We want to blame just about anything we can get our hands on.  That is, as long as you don’t blame me.  You can blame me, though.  I will admit I’m a natural wanderer.  I get lost at times and, yes, I too can shake my fist at my God and take off on my own path.  Any one of those three will impact my church, my family, and my community.  That is, if I don’t have a sound understanding of the nature of man and the nature of God and how they engage one another.

It is at this point we need to stop our debating and useless blame shifting.  The struggle to give the gospel to the next generation has been an issue since man sinned.  After Adam and Eve came Cain, and he killed his brother.   Noah had an issue with Ham.  David, yes, the great King David, a man after God’s own heart, had serious next generation problems.  In case you don’t know, his one son sexually abused his sister. David’s son Absalom killed the abuser-brother.  Eventually, Absalom rebelled against dad, but, was killed fighting against him.  Don’t forget Solomon, the one son left.  He had serious women issues.  What did David do in all this?  From what we see, not much at all.  

There are plenty of other next generation problems in Scripture as well as the entire history of the church.  It is a common problem.  We waste too much time trying to fix blame.  Fixing blame takes the heat off of those trying to find a solution.  

In the end of the day, each one of us needs to take personal responsibility as we address the next generations.  Instead of judgment, we need to express grace.  Instead of fixing blame on everyone and everything else, we extend mercy by taking responsibility for our failures and sin.  Instead of building walls expecting the next generation to leap tall buildings in a single bound, we express our love by walking with them as the Prodigal Father did in Luke 15 with our arms wide open looking to embrace our natural wanderers.

We as adult individuals either live our lives thinking we are the potter, or we live our lives understanding we are the clay, being honest with our human nature and responding with great love, grace, and mercy.  It’s truly the Jesus way.  

I can hear Johnny Cash now…”I hear the train a coming…”. I hear the vacation train coming around the bend.  

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I do love golf.  There is only one problem.  Golf does not love me.  

As a young adult, I could pull out the clubs and shoot in the 80’s and not blink twice.  I never took the game super seriously, so getting down to par (around 72) was probably not going to happen.  Shooting in the 80’s would work for me.  Most of the guys I played with struggled to break 100.  They would get very irritated when winter ended and the golf courses opened.  Here I show up and shoot an 84 while they tried their hardest to not take an “8” and break the hundred barrier.  In those days I loved the game and the game loved me.

That all changed in an instant.  I was playing flag football.  I was the quarterback and driving for a score.  Instead of pulling my flags, the big guy on the opposing team two-handed touched me right in the middle of my chest summersaulting me backwards.  Did you know that when a quarterback throws the ball ,his opposite arm and hand flies behind him?  Yeah, I didn’t either.  It does.  I figured it out when I got up from the hard hit and grabbed my wrist.  My arm was in the right place only my palm was up when it should have been down.  The wrist was a mess. Little did I know at that point but my arm had a splinter break of the bone.  It was going to be a long recovery.

The doctor wanted to operate.  He said the bones would not line up, and I would lose power in my left wrist.  I have a personal philosophy.  If you don’t have to cut open the body…don’t.  I told him to set it and let it go.  He warned me I would not be hitting homeruns as a softball player and ,if I played golf, there was going to be a slice.  He wasn’t kidding.  Instantly ,I had a banana slice.  

About the only fun I had with it was setting up for the slice with someone I never golfed with.  They would interrupt me when they noticed I lined up far left.  I told them to take a video.  They were about to see some amazing golf.  I figure I can hit the ball 300 yards.  The only problem is it travels 150 yards straight and 150 yards to the right.  

No use losing any sleep over it all.  I will never win the Master’s tournament.  Golf doesn’t put food on my table.  I’ll live.  Lately, with the help of my friend Bob Jarrell, I’ve been able to get the boomerang under control.  At least I can enjoy the game some.  

Today, I got in nine holes over at Okatie Creek.  I didn’t hit the ball all that bad.  I didn’t hit it all that good either.  I was disappointed.  Last week I shot a 44 on the back nine and was hoping good things were ahead.  

My friend noticed I was peeking.  In case you don’t know the game of golf, that’s when you lift your head and don’t keep it down with your eyes focused on the ball.  It’s hard to hit a good shot when you are not looking at the ball.  It’s a common golfers error.  An old friend said to “spit” where the ball once sat after you hit the ball.  He laughed, “That will keep your head down.”  Well, I wasn’t spitting today, and my head was all over the place.  

My buddy asked me if I knew why we pull our heads.  I answered, “We want to see where the shot went.”  He laughed once again.  “Nope,” he said with a smile.  He continued to educate me, “It’s our pride.”  It didn’t take long to admit he was right.  We want to admire our own shot instead of letting our playing partner follow the trajectory.  

We talked some more.  It’s like life actually.  Our pride takes our focus off the important things of life.  Those being God and our loved ones.  We don’t let things pan out as they should.  Each of us wants control.  So instead of spending some time in the Word of God ,I’d rather pull my head out of it and plan my day without being reminded God is in control.  Instead of focusing on my family, I’ll just hope they can catch up with me.  When they don’t, tempers flair.  Meanwhile, I miss connecting with them on an intimate, caring level.  

Just like golf, we blame everything else.  Let’s see, I’ve blamed the clubs, the turf, the ball, the lie, the weather, the grip, and the golf course.  There is a common denominator.  ME!  

When we focus on everything other than the grace and love of Jesus Christ, we are bound to get in some sort of trouble.  The sand traps of life are hard to miss when our heads are looking all around.  

We all have  some form of Attention Deficit Disorder.  Thank you Jesus our faith is not dependent upon us.  Instead, our faith is made whole by the one who kept his focus as he journeyed to the cross.  Our hope is indeed Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  I just wonder one thing.  Can Jesus hit a one iron?  I can’t, even with my head down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes I think I’m demented.  Something is wrong between the ears.  Those who know me are laughing right now, I’m sure of it.  Because I was born the last of four, my uncles used to joke that I was dropped at birth.  It’s safe to say my brain does not work the same as others.  My family was full of analytical brainiacs with accounting or mathematical analysis dominating our lineage.  Then along comes John.  

I could do the accounting.  I aced Accounting I and II as an Education major.  It didn’t make the business majors happy.  The only problem…I couldn’t stand it.  I don’t see the world in those terms.  I see colors.  I see so much more than two numbers added together.  Without question, I always felt like something was wrong, and maybe, just maybe, I was switched at birth.

That can’t be the answer.  I look like my father’s mini me.  At the end of the day, I’m more of a circular reasoner than a logical thinker.  It’s sort of like my kayaking treks.  Some people paddle down the river.  Not me.  I try every crossbow, inlet and swamp entrance I can find.  It takes the boring out of the paddle.  

I don’t know what anyone calls my condition.  I’m not sure anyone cares.  However, I love the context of the Bible, not just the words we read.  I want to know what Jesus laughed at.  We don’t find him laughing in the Scriptures.  He was a man, and he cried.  He had to laugh.  

I want to know what Jesus did for fun.  Did he play any of the popular games of the day?  Did they play “I Spy with My Little Eyes?”  How about “Would You Rather?”  I chuckle when I imagine Jesus playing “Would You Rather.”  I can see it now.  Jesus would be wrapping up the game with, “Now for the last one.  Would you rather spend eternity in hell or in heaven?”  See, I told you in the very first line.  I have a demented mind.

I would love to know what made Jesus cry when he came upon Lazarus’ family after he died.  I would love to know what Jesus talked about after his resurrection on the road to Emmaus.  I want to get an idea of the tone of his voice, especially when he puts the low down in a sense, on the Pharisees with the 7 Woes.  Sometimes I think we make Jesus like a robot.  No way!  Doesn’t a part of you want to know what kind of personality he had?  

I’ve been around some who make Jesus out to be passive-aggressive. Jesus to them is a cool, calm cookie looking to strike at the optimum moment.  Then there are those who make him out to be a Type A get-it-done type. Nobody wants to cast him as a Type D, but, then again, we sure don’t have him happy.  Maybe he was all three personality types. Actually, they now say there are 16 different types.  Really, my mind is swimming now.  My sarcastic side wonders if Jesus had a God-complex.  Yup, I’m close to losing it.  

I read recently where the Sermon on the Mount in the Bible is actually more than likely the CliffsNotes edition.  Do they still have CliffsNotes? They were the boiled down edition of the novel we were supposed to read and then write a book report about.  Those bad boys saved my grade point average without question.  Back to the main point.  The Sermon on the Mount is the edited version.  I want the unedited version.  Maybe then we can stop taking guesses about what “pure in spirit” really means.  

The older I get and the more I look into the Bible, I see colors.  I see so much more than the Bible teachers told me.  It’s a story.  It’s an incredible story.  In many respects, it’s an unbelievable story.  But that is just it.  It’s so incredible, but it fits together.  See, incredible stories don’t hold water.  This one does.  Unbelievable stories don’t have connection.  This one does.  

It really is a simple story.  We are the ones who make it an incredible story.  It’s God and a special creation called man.  Man has a problem.  He thinks he knows better than the One who set him up in an incredible situation.  Let’s face it.  None of us used to walk naked with God.  So man decided he knew better.  Then it all went south.  Most of the Bible is about how man tries to make it right.  He only has one problem.  He can’t.  God keeps trying to show him and grace keeps flowing, but man is so warped with the god complex that, no matter how hard he tries, he fails.  God gives man an out.  His name is Jesus.  He is the Son of God who came to set the captives free, bind the broken-hearted and give sight to the blind.  Man now has hope.  It rests in the sacrifice of Jesus.  All a man or woman has to do is believe and follow Jesus.  That’s it.  The early believers called it “The Way.”  I love it.  So beautiful.  They didn’t call it the First Church of whatever.  No sir.  It was “The Way.”  That’s about it.  

The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us what Jesus said about “The Way.” It’s pretty simple.  It boils down to…”Man’s way or God’s way?”  Man’s way has its problems.  God’s way is full of incredible love, indescribable grace and unbelievable mercy.  Now you choose.  Only, choose wisely.  

 I warned you I don’t think or process like the average joe. 

A friend of mine ran upon some hard luck lately.  It wasn’t like it was the end of the world.  Things just didn’t go his way.  There were no emergencies.  No hospital stays.  No doctor’s diagnosis.  No family issues.  In other words, the little things in life filled his mind and soul like sand does when we go to the beach.  So, what did he do?  He made a rash decision and ran away.  Literally.  

A few days after he got in his car and left. I was able to get a-hold of him.  “Worst decision I have ever made in my life,” he grumbled.  In my earlier days, I would have replied, “No kidding, Sherlock!” But I didn’t.  I held my sometimes sharp tongue.  Instead, I asked him to come home.  It wasn’t too late.  It might cost him, but he would survive.  After a quick deflection, he indicated he would have to live with his decision.  As we closed, I sullenly said, “I hope you find what you are looking for.”  He hung up the phone.

Lately, I have had several people awaken to what seems to be the path to implosion.  That topic seems to be gaining momentum.  Just this morning I was talking with a young lady who suddenly wanted to talk about some books she has been reading.  The topic…accepting your life as it is instead of getting in the rush to make something it cannot be.  Eventually, we run out of energy and time, and, if our life is not what we or others expect it to be, we…implode.  Our whole society seems to be searching for something it cannot find.

I have often made mention of the suicide and opioid death rates, especially among the Millennials.  We point at that group, but the numbers are increasing among every generation.  Last week, I was engaged with several late-age opioid addicts.  Their stories were somewhat similar.  They liked the feeling of not having to deal with the discouragements in life.   

As technology exposes us to more and more, our lust seems to be increasing at a parallel rate.  Unfortunately, our quest for finding the life we think we want and the one we think we deserve is costing us.  It’s costing us valuable relationships (real or perceived).  

When we are searching for something more than a life with Jesus as our guide, it tends to distort our life view.  Take my friend.  He talked about the lack of friends and how all he has is his dog and cat but I’m not sure anyone can count on a cat as a friend.  Sorry, cats own us; we don’t own them.)  

The reality is my friend had numerous friends.  Only they did not give him what he was looking for.  Honestly, after knowing him for about 10 years ,I don’t know what he is looking for.  The crazy thing is ,I’m not sure he knows either.  It’s not just him.  

About everybody I counsel has no idea where they want to be in the future and no idea how to get there.  They are just trying to survive the day.  Only, if they are in my office, they aren’t surviving the day.  They all talk about a yearning for something more and yet, they all have so much at their fingertips.

Our world is oversaturated.  How many television channels do we really need?  Google something.  Anything.  Take a look at the pages and pages of listings for anything you want information about.  Which one is worth our time?  Which one is what we are looking for?  Don’t think we are oversaturated?  Check out Youtube.  

At the end of the day we are all looking for what was lost in Eden.  Our ability to be in a complete relationship with God, man, and earth was wiped out by one selfish decision.  We have not been satisfied since.  It is costing us more than we can imagine.  It did then and it is now.  Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his brother.  Over what?  His quest to be satisfied.  Not far from his parents who wanted to be satisfied with one piece of fruit.  

People often ask me why I believe in Jesus.  It’s easy.  In Jesus, I find the only person, and yes, I said it right, person, in whom I can come home.  When I am home, I find what the angels proclaimed at his birth, “Peace on earth.”  I will venture out on another quest, but, without fail, he comes and finds me and welcomes me home every time.  I know one day my quest will be over when I’m no longer bound by this world.  In the meantime, my hope is in Jesus.  Why?  Nothing else can satisfy. Ask Bono of U2.  They sang truthfully, “And I still haven’t found what I’m lookin for.”  Just ask my friend.  If you can find him.

Did you know that chewing gum is not sold at any locations in Disney World?  Chewing gum is one of Disney’s least favorite items.  Let’s just say it would be quite sticky, even on a day when the humidity is low if they did promote chewing gum sales.  They don’t say “No Chewing Gum,” but they don’t promote it either.  

In the church world, we have our chewing gum issues. Let’s be honest.  We have some taboo topics that seldom if ever get addressed.  It was once said, “One can be a pastor for a long time as long as he doesn’t talk about money, children or sex.”  The first two might get the casual attention, however, the third one is absolutely a “no-no.”  Only the brave and fearless dare tread in such land.  Meanwhile, it is laced throughout the Bible.

After Adam and Eve sin, the first reaction we see is that they notice their nakedness.  At that moment, sexual dysfunction was born.  Later we see some sort of sexual issue with Noah getting drunk and naked after the water recedes.  David, a man after God’s own heart, has serious issues, including dancing naked in the street and having his way with Bathsheba.  Let’s not forget that Samson and Solomon have women issues as well.  

Did you know that Song of Solomon is so steamy young rabbi students were not allowed to read it until they were mature enough to handle the sexual expressions?  Even the relationship between Jesus and his church is in the language of an intimate relationship between a bride and groom.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

In our world, the sexual issues extend beyond adultery.  A friend called me and asked how his church should handle a member’s sex change operation.  We don’t even talk about gender identity.  Some rail against homosexuality; however, more people’s lives are being destroyed by pornography, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard that word in any church meeting.  

At a men’s gathering recently, we talked for an hour about pornography and it’s destructive nature.  Everyone in the group admitted being exposed to pornography between the ages of 5 and 7.  Only two said their father talked with them in an honest and frank manner about sex.  As we expanded the subject, it became clear that it’s not just two Christians in a marriage bed.  It’s two sinners as well.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

It used to be assumed that men were the only ones with a pornography issue.  Not so anymore.  As pornography has dominated men’s  lives as children and teens, women are now engaging porn to try and figure out how to satisfy the sexual fantasies of their over-exposed mate.  Long gone are the days when one had to steal a girlie magazine from the local 7-11.  Today, hard core porn is a few clicks away on not only the computer but the smart phone our kids are walking around with in elementary school.

Last year I had to deal as a counselor with pornography issues in pre-teens.  The plague is not just stealing innocence.  It is insidiously changing men and women as it dehumanizes people.  The intimate relationship between a man and a woman was intended to be a beautiful thing.  Nothing was to interfere with a married couple even when Jesus told us in his first sermon (he wasn’t afraid to address the issue) men have sexual issues with their eyes.  

Once we dehumanize someone, especially a woman ,our brain and emotions are transformed to interpret life beyond the sexual world in a very destructive way.  In war, once an enemy is dehumanized, life loses all value.  If we can mentally and emotionally disconnect. we can then torture, abuse and even kill without feeling.  That is exactly what pornography is doing in a insidious way.  

But on any given Sunday, we will not go there.

The only hope we have is a relationship with our Lord Jesus, as well as a healthy relationship with our fellow brothers and sisters who are not afraid to go where few will tread.  Healthy means having honest, open discussions along with great grace and love, having us care instead of reacting in stunned judgment when we fail.  We also need to begin very young with our children facing the reality that sexual issues will not simply disappear but rather take on more and more dysfunctional forms.  By the grace of God, we live as aliens in a sexual world that seeks to dehumanize not only our mind but our faith as well.

On any given Sunday, we must go there.  

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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