Tag Archive: grace


Sitting in the parking lot I was preparing for my next chaplain visit.  It takes time to build relationships when one serves as a chaplain.  One  stage in building relationships as a chaplain is hearing the  complaints.  Sometimes I don’t think I am a chaplain.  From time to time I think I’m the complaint department.  

Today I was walking into my first stop as a corporate chaplain.  Most of the employees I have known for years.  I can almost predict how the day will go, barring an emergency, death of a loved one, or somebody is about to get the dreaded pink slip.  Today was no different.  As I prayed before entering the front door, I asked Jesus to provide a means to change the day.  

As I entered the room, sure enough I heard the same complaints that flow every day and every week.  Management is dumber than a box of rocks.  Fellow employees are selfish.  Nobody understands, and, best yet, everybody is out to make their day miserable.  Of course somewhere mixed in the complaint department is the classic, “And they don’t pay me enough for this either” comment.  Today was the day it was time to turn the tables.

At first, I asked the loudest voice, “How long have you worked here?”  I knew he was a long- time employee and a long-time complainer.  “18 years,” he answered wondering where I was going to go with this.  “After working here for 18 years, I would have guessed you would have figured this out by now,” I replied without wavering.  My reply caught him off guard.  Suddenly, and I don’t know where it came from, I asked, “Instead of a complaint, tell me what you are thankful for today.”  He paused.  After a few seconds that seemed like hours, with a smile that I haven’t seen for some time, he answered, “My family.”  He turned and went to work.

The rest of the day,  to everyone I met, I explained that I had heard all the complaints that are possible in the workplace, and I wanted to know what they were thankful for.  Everyone answered with a smile.  A smile.  I encouraged everyone to work the rest of the day thankful.  I saw more smiles in one day than I have seen in a long time.

Complaining attitudes are infectious.  They infect our hearts, and infect those around us.  Our world is full of complaints.  It’s an attitude.  Everyone else is wrong.  When we are constantly complaining we don’t hear anyone else around us.  Often, there is a solution and a middle ground, but we can’t find it if we only want things our way.

Lately, I personally have eliminated the news media from my life.  It’s designed to promote complaining attitudes.  The Democrats blame the Republicans, and the Republicans fire back.  The various races want more, and it doesn’t matter what color we are.  Somehow we have forgotten we are all the same race…human.  In my world, husbands blame wives, and wives respond in kind.  Both blame the kids.  Employees never have anything nice to say about management, and management can’t find a good enough employee.  Customers are not always right.  Often they have no idea what they are talking about.   Complaining rules; love lays beaten on the floor.  

Recently, we started a Saturday night service called “Come As You Are.”  No need for a fake smile and deceptive attitude.  Come As You Are is more about our hearts; not our dress.  When we start the service, we begin with prayer.  We open it up to the audience, asking for prayers of thanksgiving.  I’m often surprised how hard it is for us to be thankful.  One person thought I was nuts when I thanked God for running water and flush toilets.  I’ve been in parts of this world without both.  I’m truly thankful.  

We offer prayers of thanks to put us in the mood to listen to a God who always provides, instead of having a bad attitude, expecting God to do things the way we want them done.  The apostle Paul said, “All things work together….”  To the Philippians who were undergoing persecution (beatings, torture rape and murder), Paul also wrote, “Whatever happens conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.”  Say what?  The gospel is one of forgiveness, grace, love and mercy.  Jesus didn’t give us a single out.  He said to “love our enemies.”  Hold on!  At one time I thought the gospel was just about getting to heaven.  

The gospel is not about heaven.  It’s about Jesus.  Jesus laid his life down so we could have life.  “Life abundantly,” Paul declared.  A complaining attitude sucks the life right out of a room.  It also sucks the life right out of those we say we love.  No wonder we are encouraged to “give thanks.”  It’s then we are reminded that there is more to life ,and it’s more than “me.”  

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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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was walking the dog the other day and things got quite crazy.  I’m serious when I tell people I’m learning more about me than anything with this crazy lab/hound mix.  God has a strange way of making the light come on in our lives.  If only we would pay attention.  

I was using a harness that buckled under his chest.  When he expanded his chest in an extreme situation (other dogs, birds, butterflies, etc.) he would from time to time literally pop the buckle.  The first time was over another dog that he wanted to meet.  

The good news is he did not run away from me.  Instead, with the other dog and owner standing idly by, probably quite amused as well, Vader ran circles around us over and over again.  I know not to chase him.  That is a total waste of time.  Instead I waited for him to run out of gas.  Do you know how long it takes an 11-month-old hound to run out of gas?  It took quite a bit.  Eventually, as he lay exhausted on the ground, I was able to grab his leg and gain control.

The second time was over a lady jogging down the street.  He didn’t want to bite her.  He wanted to meet her and make her his friend.  Again, once I got his attention, I sat on the ground trying to convince him to come to me with imaginary treats.  He is smart.  I looked stupid.  After a prolonged time of running like a wild dog in circles in some stranger’s front yard, I was able to get the upper hand on him.  

It was time to retire the harness.  Enough was enough.  He is very strong in the upper body, and it was going to take a much stronger harness to handle this one.  The third time was a totally different situation.  With the new harness firmly around him, I bent over to tie my shoe and, for a moment, let go of the lead.  He figured it out quickly and again ran wild circles around me.  It didn’t take as long this time.  I was able to jump on the lead to corral the wild beast.  

I’m glad the third time was at 5:00 a.m.  There are not too many people awake that time of the morning.  I’m glad also, because it had rained the night before, and, when I jumped on his lead ,I came up completely soaked.  I was wondering what possessed me to get a puppy.  Those thoughts quickly left when he looked up and gave me a big old lick on the cheek.  He knows how to sucker his owner.  

As we finished our walk that morning, I remembered his rampage interrupted my prayer time.  Walking the dog for about 2 miles has given me time to pray, and, boy, do I need it.  It’s actually been great.  Being outside in nature gives me a real sense of presence with my God.  All I have to do is remember to hold on to the leash.  Anyway, I went back to prayer as my heart started to beat at a reasonable rate.

I asked the Lord, “What do you want of me today?”  At that moment, I looked down at the mutt.  The light went on.  I could almost hear God say, “What makes you think you are any different when you walk away from My lead?”  I looked up at the moon and uttered a humble, “Touche.”

I was then contemplating how many times I ran circles around Jesus without following his lead.  I never really run away, but I don’t follow Him.  I want to have my life walk my way.  I don’t really want to be on God’s lead.  Best yet, I want to be close enough to him to enjoy the life he has given me.  Just let me lead!

It doesn’t work that way.  Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd.  The shepherd is out in the lead.  The sheep follow.  Why?  Sheep are no different than my dog.  Let something of interest fly by, walk by, stand by and any other “by” you can find.  Off we go.  It’s our nature.  Every one of us in the human form have ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) to some extent.  It really doesn’t take much for us to bust out and run circles around God.

Now, here’s the incredible point.  He doesn’t leave us to our own way.  His love is so great we really can’t fathom it.  Jesus said he was the shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.  In those days the corrals did not have gates.  The shepherd would lay down and sleep in the entrance way.  The sheep couldn’t get out, and the wild beasts and thieves could not get them.  What a love!  If one happens to slip away, he will go and get the wandering lamb.  It’s His nature.  

Let’s take things a step further.  The love of Jesus is all he needs.  Jesus doesn’t run out and get a better harness.  He doesn’t double down on the leash.  He doesn’t get so mad he is ready to give us away.  Not at all.  His love is what brings the wayward sheep home.  It’s his love that draws us to his caressing hands.  And those hands have the nail marks in them.  

As we draw closer and closer to celebrating the resurrection, consider his love.  After we have run circles around the idols of our hearts, he simply says, “Come unto me you who are tired, and I will give you rest.”  No beatings.  No displays of dismay.  Nothing but the caress of his great love.  Let’s walk again.  And again.  And again.  The soothing message of the cross.  

Got to go…it’s time for Vader’s evening walk.  It should be interesting.  I wonder what God has in store tonight.  

A member of our church recently asked me to get rid of the squirrels that roam around on Sunday morning.  The look on my face must have given away my confusion, as he began to get a big grin on his face.  He told me they come out every Sunday when the preacher begins his sermon, and all he can do is follow the critters up and down the tree.  

It’s been that kind of week. Maybe it’s been that kind of month.   The squirrels are winning.  Often when there is a lot of confusion, it leaves us exhausted.  There is another effect as well that few of us acknowledge.  Confusion paralyzes.  It not only takes our attention away from important people and issues, it leaves us dead in our tracks.  We don’t live in a vacuum.  When two forces are working against each other, it’s like a tug-of-war; it doesn’t move anyone very far in either direction.  

It’s been that kind of season.  Recently I told a friend it will be the first year in over 25 years that I will not be playing fantasy baseball.  He was surprised.  I love baseball.  I love competition.  However, I have become disconnected from the game and don’t really know the teams or the players anymore.  Not only are there squirrels in my life, I feel I am slowly getting disconnected from the world around me.  Tug-of-wars and squirrels are paralyzing.  

It’s hard to tell what’s important in all the mess.  That is another one of those other issues of a world gone nuts.  I personally love our modern technology.  However, one thing it has done is put more squirrels in my life.  Most of those long tailed creatures do not improve my life at all.  They take a valuable commodity with them.  They take time.

Recently, I went to a seminar on stress.  I learned a lot from it.  The teacher talked about his stress issues.  He realized he needed to purposely take some things out of his life to lower his stress levels.  So, he has divorced himself from the news media.  He removed all news apps from his phone and does not watch the news at night.  He talked about how it allowed him time to get his priorities in better order.  He talked about being calmer.  His PTSD condition has improved greatly.  He eliminated the ever intake of information that is totally out of his control.  He not only lowered his stress levels.  He gained time back.  

You know what happens when we purposely eliminate useless elements of our lives that have sucked us dry?  We gain time.  That time allows us to get perspective back.  It allows us to see the squirrels that are running around gaining our attention and pulling us away from the important things like God, spouse, family, and our neighbors.  

I saw a report that volunteerism is decreasing across America.  Some of it could be the aging church population.  However, much has to do with the ever-increasing squeeze in our lives.  I don’t think I have met one couple under 50 lately that feels they have things under control.  Most are trying to survive the work climate that changed in the early 2000’s where, due to technology less people are expected to do more work.

I ran into a truck mechanic the other day whose boss has instituted a time management system that makes him accountable for every minute of his work day.  There is no time to take a bathroom break or simply pause to have a conversation with his fellow mechanics.  Got to make that buck!  If he misses his times too often he has to write a report explaining his failure to meet time demands and/or run the risk of losing his job.  He has become so task conscience he told me he feels he is on the verge of anxiety attacks.  He also talked about losing touch with his fellow employees in the shop.  The squeeze is on.  Did I mention they used to have 4 mechanics in their shop?  Now they are down to 2.  More work.  Less people.  Make the bucks for someone else.  Have no personal life.

The big squeeze is on.  I am concerned.  Eventually it all has to implode.  There are only so many hours in a day.  An individual can only pay attention to so much, and the much is increasing daily.  And we as church leaders wonder why younger generations come into the building (if you are lucky) and hope they can get out without feeling guilty about not volunteering.  

Keep everybody doing something.  Throw more squirrels out there.  Confuse the masses.  Get them either disconnected from the important things or so grossly over stimulated they have no idea what is important.  Paul, the apostle, talked about this when he warned us of the philosophies of the world.  One of the biggest false philosophies is that our worth and greatness are wrapped up in our business.  

It is that kind of season.  We as believers in Christ may have to be very conscious of this cultural phenomenon.  We may have to purpose to take a few steps backwards.  Jesus often said, “Peace, be still.”  Purposing to bring stillness and peace to our lives limits the squirrels, and it gives us a chance to wade through the confusion. 

The driver was not happy.  He hadn’t been happy for a long time.  The flat tire on the rear of his truck short circuited his plans.  As he approached the Chesapeake Bay Bridge the blow out would need to be changed.  Little did he know his plans were going to change more than the left rear tire.

He pulled to the side of the road.  For a few minutes he had to think where the jack might be and how the spare tire could be lowered.  It had been a long time since he had to use either one of them.  He was startled when a man knocked on his window.  He didn’t see the other pickup stop behind him.  “Do you need some help?” the Good Samaritan asked.  

He needed help, that’s for sure.  They looked for the jack and couldn’t find one.  He had no idea his son had changed a tire months before and left the jack in the garage.   Not only that, but his spare tire was flat as well.   His son didn’t tell him he never fixed the tire.

The Good Samaritan asked if he would like a ride.  He may as well.  His plans were totally disrupted.  Since they were already on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge approach, there was only one way to go…over to the main land.  About half way across, the disgruntled traveler looked longingly at the water below.  “Would you like to grab some coffee on the other side?” the gracious driver asked.  With little words to spare, he muttered, “Sure, why not?”

Once over the Bay Bridge, they found a local coffee shop waiting for weary travelers needing a cup of brew.   The driver noticed the seemingly weary man was not in a hurry to get a tow truck.  In fact, he was brooding over everything including ,his cup of hot coffee.  The Good Samaritan now turned into a potential friend when he asked, “Is there something you would like to talk about? You seem to have a lot on your mind.”  Again, he received the answer, “Sure, why not?”

After approximately two hours as they talked, the truth was revealed.  The weary and disgruntled man was driving to the top of the bridge to jump off and end his life.  His family was in disarray, and not much had gone right for some time.  His new friend told him his profession, “I’m a pastor of a church on the Eastern Shore.”  At this point, there was only one way to go.  “Do you mind if I tell you about the hope I have found?” he asked.  “Sure, why not?”

The Good Samaritan told his story.  It was a sad story at first.  Premature deaths, trouble with alcohol, and plenty more to send anyones life into a tailspin.  “But,” and there is the best word in the Bible.  But, Jesus had other plans.  After hearing his story, the weary traveler wanted to know more about Jesus.  To make a long story short, after about 5 hours together, he decided to follow Jesus.  

So, why did I tell you this story?  The pastor who stopped to help a man in need had a history of stopping his own life to engage others.  He had the reputation for looking around and reading people.  This was not his first flat tire engagement and it won’t be his last.  This would not be his only weary traveler on the road of life.  He saw them as people who needed to meet the One who promised life.  He also happened to be the pastor of the fastest growing church on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  

I was having breakfast this week with a good friend who is also a local pastor.  We had asked the waitress last month how we could pray for her.  She replied, “My son needs prayer.”  She didn’t give details.  This month another waitress we asked said she was going through a divorce and asked prayer not only for herself but for her soon to be ex-husband.  A few minutes later, the waitress from last month stopped by.  She asked us to continue to pray for her son.  He has a drug abuse issue.  Both the son and the mother needed prayer.  They got it.  

We talk about the demise of the modern day church.  We are pulling all the stops out in the book from shorter services, song selections, and programs upon programs.  We are looking in the wrong place.  Look outward.  

My friend commented how easy it was for the hurting waitresses to share their short stories.  “Hurting people are everywhere,” he languished.  Yes, they are.  They are in church pews every Sunday.  Only they have become conditioned to hide and avoid their pain.  

Jesus came across a lot of suffering people.  He didn’t hide in his office.  He didn’t make excuses such as, “I’m not here for that.”  No, he touched people all the way to the cross even giving hope to one who was on a cross right next to him. 

The main reason for the demise of the modern day Christian church is the inward attention trying to make comfortable people happy.  Instead, it’s time to change a spare tire, talk to a waitress, and get our heads up looking for those who can’t find a high enough bridge.  The gospel is good news.   When we look outward instead of inward we can see others.  They are looking for an answer.

Sometimes (honestly, most of the time), I do not like to tell anyone I am an ordained minister.  When I used to be active with my real estate license part time I would always tell them I was in real estate. The main reason is people often will not be themselves when they find out.  I was so glad my neighbor didn’t tell anyone I was a minister at the Super Bowl Party.  I dodged a bullet.  It’s not that people want to have deep religious conversations. The main reason is people often will not be themselves when they find out.

I remember one time our insurance salesman came to the house.  He was quite himself till we got to filling out the forms.  When we got to the “employment” section, I had to tell him.  I tried to let it out as fast as I could, but he was quite swift on the uptake.  I guess it’s good to have an insurance salesman quick on the uptake.  Suddenly, he changed right before my eyes.  I actually stopped him at one point and told him to relax.  He was not going to burst into flames before my eyes.  

I’m also a chaplain for the Bluffton police and fire department.  Most people don’t act differently with the title “chaplain” like they do with a “minister.”  Maybe they quickly realize a chaplain for emergency responders sees and experiences the dark side of life a bit more than the average pastor.  They do not identify chaplain with minister.  

Identity can be very interesting in our culture.  Often, all of us experience multiple identities and we are not mentally ill.  I can be identified as a minister, husband, father, grandfather, friend, counselor, chaplain, and neighbor.  It is not uncommon to take on one hat and put on another.  We run into problems when the hat determines the person.  

When it comes to being a believer in Jesus Christ, we might add a bunch more hats to the rack.  We can be “Joe pew-sitter, teacher, elder, deacon, missionary, student, and more.  Add denominations and…lets not go there.  I find it interesting that our hat often defines us instead of our Christ defining how we function under the hat.  

I got schooled recently, and it was quite an education.  I was informed a lady I have known for about 2 years has had stage 4 cancer for the past 6 years.  I had no idea.  The only reason I found out is her most recent doctor’s report was not very good.  The cancer is winning.  As I spoke with her, she set me straight; “I don’t want to be defined by my cancer.  I want my cancer to be defined by my God.”  I cannot get her words out of my head.  She didn’t just say the words; she lives them. 

I want to be known the same way.  I’ve got to be honest once again.  Christians are some of the biggest complainers out there.  We even pray like God is supposed to allow us to live forever and never fight such things as cancer and other diseases.  As my friend said, “Why not me when it comes to cancer.”  Her eternity is determined, and she doesn’t have to fear it.  As she continued, “Why not live well…I got the bases covered.”  I love her more than ever.  

We complain about so much.  Unfortunately, non-believers know we can complain.  Ask any waiter or waitress which day of the week they hate to see come.  It’s Sunday.  More food gets sent back to the kitchen on Sunday afternoon than any other time.  It’s the day the Christians don’t go home to eat after church.  

Our identity is not an identity associated with love, grace, and mercy.  Our identity is often defined by the hat we have on.  It might even be that our identity is by the clothes we wear or the attitude we possess.  The Apostle Paul told us in Philippians to have the attitude of Christ.  I wonder how much food Jesus would send back to the kitchen any Sunday afternoon.  

All the hats I wear are quite fun.  I hope that the day I die they will write on my tombstone…”He wore a lot of hats, but he was the same guy under them all.”  

Thank, you my friend, for reminding me of my redeemed identity.  “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me, and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”   

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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