Dads, Be The Seatbelt

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Like any other six-year-old, Kayson Latham was a little anxious. The roller coaster was about to take off. You could see the fear in little Kayson’s eyes. As the ride began, Kayson’s body rocked back and forth in a mix of fear and bravery. Kayson had two things going for him. His dad was seated right next to him and he was strapped into the ride by a seatbelt.

But by the time the ride was over, one of those sources of security would let Kayson down in a frightening way.

As the coaster made its way down a steep hill, Kayson’s seatbelt came apart. That look of anxiety he had at the beginning of the ride was no match for the one on his face as his seatbelt released its grip and allowed the boy to slide down to the bottom of the car he was seated in.

Kayson’s dad, Delbert, did not come apart. He calmly grabbed his son and did the job that the seatbelt failed to do. For the remainder of the ride, Delbert was his son’s seatbelt. As he held him closely, he reassured his son.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more big hills.”

When the ride was over, Delbert told the operators of the ride about the incident. Their response was something along the lines of, “Yeah, that’s happened before. Enjoy the rest of your day at the amusement park.”

Fathers, there are things that your kids depend on. They depend on their schools to give them knowledge. They depend on coaches to help them to develop character along with athletic ability. They depend on friends to be there for them.

But, like Kayson’s seatbelt, those things have a way of coming apart and letting them down. When that happens fathers, be the seatbelt. Be the one who was in their corner all along, holding them in your loving grip and giving them words of reassurance.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I got you.”

“There are no more hills.”

Dads, we have a tough job. It’s hard to find the balance between the insanity of helicopter parenting and the negligence of what passes for fatherhood these days. We have to let our kids fall. But, at the right time and in the right way, we have to be there for them when they do. This requires special wisdom. Divine wisdom.

Dads, you will blow it. No matter how good of a father you are, there will be times when you come apart and fail to do the job you were designed to do. But don’t let this get you down. Use it for good. Apologize to your family when you fail them.

If you’re any kind of a dad, there’s a good chance that your kids think you’re the fourth member of the Trinity. Use your mistakes to remind them that you are not God. Use your mistakes as a reminder to them and to you that you need God just as much as they do.

Dads, even when we fail, we can teach our kids a valuable lesson. There will come a time when we will not be there for them. Our kids will one day become adults who will have to navigate their way through life with only the memory of us. What then? What will they do when they’re in their sixties and you are gone and their seatbelt fails them?

That depends on what you teach them when they’re six.

If you, “Bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4), they will know that they are held by a Father who will never fail, come apart, grow weary or abandon them.

Dads, your kids will be let down. Coaches, teachers and friends will come apart on them. When that happens, be the seatbelt. As imperfect as you are, your example will help the to be more aware of the presence and loving, eternal grip of their heavenly Father.

And when the day comes that their ride is over, they will hear his voice.

“You’re fine.”

“I promise.”

“I’ve had you all along.”

“There are no more hills.”

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. John 10:28-29 (ESV)

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You Have No Reason To Lose Hope

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I’ve never been more hopeless for our country.

Our major cities are overrun with crime. A single murder in a city like Chicago doesn’t even make the local news. But the crime has not been confined to urban areas. In recent days there have been two stories of mass murders in small, relatively rural American towns.

People are angry. They fight for no good reason. We are fractured from one another. We’ve forgotten how to get along. Rather than looking at others simply as human beings, we have grouped everyone into their own community. And all of those communities just can’t figure out how to get along.

Even churches aren’t immune from the bad news. People who have shared the same general worship space for years and who claim to worship the same God act as if they hate each other. Prayer has been replaced with gossip. Worship has been replaced by entertainment. Defensiveness and skepticism have taken the place of repentance.

I’ll spare you the details on the family. Just know that things are bad there too.

Happy Thursday!

It’s times like these when Christians need to evaluate where they are finding their hope. If it’s in safety, getting along with everyone, the church or the family, we’re all in trouble. The one good thing about dark times is that they serve as a painful reminder of the Church’s real hope.

It’s a hope that cannot be voted on, hired, drafted or built. Rather, it is a hope without beginning or end. It is a hope that is faithful to the end.

Our hope is Jesus Christ.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul reminded his readers of that. But he didn’t do so by explaining how hard they had to work to pull themselves up out of trouble. He did it by describing how big Jesus Christ is.

More than just a simple carpenter or teacher, Jesus is God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Colossians 1:15 (ESV)

But he isn’t just God in the sense that many people think of. He isn’t just God over heaven or spiritual things. He is God over all creation.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. Colossians 1:16 (ESV)

Not one thing has ever happened or ever will happen in spiritual warfare, politics, family life, international trade meetings or family meals that is beyond Jesus Christ. Even the most minute details of life are governed by him. He is God of the small things too. No matter how chaotic or insignificant the details and worries of your life may seem, they are held together by Jesus Christ.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:17 (ESV)

Finally, Jesus is God of the Church.

And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

He is the head of the Church. To be clear, he may not be the head of your church. If that’s the case, find a new one. Quick.

I have never felt more hopeless for our country. But I have never been more assured of the Church’s future. That’s because Jesus didn’t die for America or Germany or Uganda. He died for his Church. And he is the head of his Church. If you are a Christian, you belong to that body we call the Church whose head is Christ. And here’s the good news. If a body has Christ as its head, that body will never die.

Christian, when anxiety, fear and doubt try to take up residence in your life, do not turn to a presidential candidate for your hope. They will let you down. Do not look back to the good old days to bring you joy. They weren’t as heavenly as you like to think.

Instead, look to Christ.

He is God.

He is good.

He rules over all things, even the little things.

And he loves you.

You have no reason to lose hope.

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The Most Important Missions Trip

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I don’t know how many times I’ve driven by the house. It’s a nice house. And it’s located in a nice part of the community. Homes there aren’t known so much for the cars parked out front as they are the airplanes kept in fancy hangars in the back. This was not the kind of neighborhood where the police make routine visits to carry people away or collect evidence from some gruesome crime.

All of that changed on Monday.

Friends of the family were concerned. The man and woman had not shown up for work. When police arrived for a welfare check they found opened doors that should be closed and unlocked doors that one might expect to find bolted shut. After walking in, police discovered a man, a woman and a child. All three were dead.

As I write this, details are still coming in. Stories like this one have a way of changing between the initial news reports and the setting in of reality. What we do know is that a nearby school was not placed on lockdown. Police also stated that they were not searching for a suspect. That’s likely because this was no home invasion or robbery gone wrong. By all accounts, it was a murder suicide.

When I got the news, my mind went back to a small classroom in Louisville, Kentucky. We had spent months discussing how churches could do better at reaching out to hurting people. Most of our time was spent examining a church in Florida that had spent years successfully providing food, jobs and a fresh start for poor people.

Near the end of our time together, I had a question. So I asked our professor, Dr. T. Vaughn Walker.

“What about Peachtree City?”

Geographically, Peachtree City is very close to Atlanta, Georgia. In reality, it’s a million miles away. People in Peachtree City drive golf carts to go shopping at high end stores. The schools are good. The athletic opportunities for kids are endless. The lawns are manicured. The houses are beautiful. Which led to my question.

“What about Peachtree City? How are churches in areas like that supposed to minister to hurting people when, by all accounts, no one is hurting?”

With his usual wisdom and kindness, Dr. Walker corrected me.

“Don’t assume that just because the house looks nice on the outside that there are no problems on the inside. People in nice houses aren’t immune to cancer and divorce.”

And murder suicides.

The Church puts a big emphasis on helping hurting people. And that’s a good thing. That’s how it should be. But as we do this, we must remember that not all hurts are equally broadcasted.

Poverty is pretty easy to spot.

A broken marriage isn’t.

Poverty, at least to a certain degree, can be addressed from afar. Money can be sent. Trips can be taken. New structures can be set up.

But there is no check or summer missions trip that can adequately speak the gospel into a family that has been ravaged by adultery or cancer.

If we really care about helping hurting people, we must not forget about the crowded villages in Haiti. But we also need to remember the spacious house next door with a 3.5 car garage and an airplane parked out back.

Pain, suffering and evil pay no attention to zoning laws or tax brackets. They make their presence felt in all types of homes. And if we really want to help hurting people, we will do the same.

This summer, it could be that the most important missions trip your church could ever be a part of is the one that begins with you walking up the hill, knocking on your neighbor’s fancy door and inviting the whole family over for a meal.

Chances are, you have no idea what’s on the other side of that fancy door.

And you have no idea what an impact your presence can make.

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who publishes salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52:7 (ESV)

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We Need More Bad Guys

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If you allow your ten-year-old daughter to make the three block walk to school all by herself, some in society will question your judgment as a parent.

If you let your twelve-year-old son play with a couple of friends at the playground down the street without adult supervision, you might get reported to some government agency.

If you buy your eight-year-old daughter a cell phone and allow her to use it unmonitored throughout all hours of the day, people will make every effort to let you know what a naive parent you are.

But if you so much as question the assistant manager at Target for allowing a grown man in a dress to come into the bathroom with your eight-year-old daughter, you are a bigot.

Our society, which speaks so much of protecting children, will not think twice about sacrificing those very same children in the name of tolerance. That’s because no one wants to be accused of being a bigot. No one wants to be on the wrong side of history. It’s as if our culture thinks that making a man use the men’s restroom is on par with keeping black kids out of public schools that were once for whites only. Twenty years from now, when the HBO docudrama is made about the LGBT movement, everyone wants to be seen marching arm in arm with the man in the dress and rainbow colored feathered boa.

Without giving it a second thought, many in our culture have consumed the propaganda that sexual preference is somehow the same as race. Well, it isn’t. Race is neutral. Unless you belong to the Margaret Sanger eugenics crowd that, ahem, gave birth to Planned Parenthood, you know that being black or white doesn’t have an impact on one’s character or morality. Good people and jerks come in all colors. It’s best when people are judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. You may have heard that somewhere before.

But that isn’t enough for the LGBT community and the political correction officers who fuel them. You’re not allowed to make any judgment. And no questions either. You must submit. Tolerance before common sense. Tolerance before the safety of our children. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that such logic comes from the same crowd that has turned murdering babies into a booming, government-funded industry.

It appears as though society’s elite mean something different than we think they mean when they tell us how much they care for children. For most of us, caring for our children means providing for them, shaping them and, yes, protecting them. For a frighteningly large portion of our culture, caring for children is just something that’s done until the next opportunity for sexual expression comes up.

And it appears as though the elites mean something different than we think they mean when they call us bigots. Most people who have not developed the virus that makes them mindlessly rattle off whatever talking points they hear on morning talk shows know that a bigot is simply someone who will not even consider listening to someone who holds a different opinion. But in the culture of sexual expression at all costs, a bigot is anyone whose common sense, logic and principles prohibits him from falling in line with the rest of the progressive crowd.

So if we’re being honest with ourselves, the real bigots are the ones who force you to accept the absurd with no questions asked, no matter what the danger is to your wife or children.

Twenty years from now, when the HBO docudrama is made about birthday cakes and bathrooms, I’ll be the bad guy. And that’s okay because in a world where the meaning of good and evil has been completely reversed, we need more bad guys.

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Don’t Come To Our Church

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It wasn’t one of my finer moments. The conversation started off just like hundreds of others that I’ve had. But by the time that it was over, I realized that I was more like a Pharisee than I cared to admit.

The man told me that he was interested in visiting the church where I am a pastor. I told him the times and that we’d be glad to have him. And then he started telling me about his church and the reason why he wasn’t happy there.

He wanted to find a new church because too many blacks were coming to his church and he didn’t like being around them.

My immediate response was, “Well, if that’s how you feel, I don’t won’t you at our church.” I didn’t say that out loud, of course. Just to myself. When our conversation ended I kept thinking about what the man said. And then I thought about how I responded in my heart.

If I don’t want this man coming to my church, who do I want coming?

What the man said was wrong. His words obviously came from a heart that was not loving God and neighbor like the Bible commands us to. To put it plainly, he was a sinner. But isn’t that exactly the kind of person we should want coming to our churches.

Churches talk a lot about reaching out to society’s outcasts. In reality, I’m afraid that we’re just interested in reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts. Churches brag about reaching out to homosexuals, prostitutes and drunks. But let’s be honest. In our culture, those lifestyles are fairly accepted.

Thankfully, blatant racism is less accepted than it once was in many parts of the country. But that doesn’t mean that the sinners behind the racist comments should not be accepted in our churches.

When I was a kid, I heard a preacher say that churches should move the altars out in the parking lot so that people could get their act together before coming into the church. I’ve spent my entire ministry ridiculing that argument. It wasn’t until quite some time after my conversation with the racist that I realized that I was becoming the preacher I had been criticizing. I wanted the racist who was interested in coming to my church to get his act together first. I wanted altars in the parking lot.

Jesus doesn’t call us to get ourselves together before coming to him. He comes to us. Even while we are still his enemies.

That goes for prostitutes and homosexuals.

And racists.

Our churches, if we take the Bible seriously, should be open to sinners. Not so that sinners can feel comfortable and affirmed in their sin. And not so that sinners can take things over and start running the place. But rather so that sinners can become saints by the grace of God.

As Christians, we should all ask ourselves the following question.

Am I reaching out in the love and truth of Christ to social outcasts in need of the gospel because I love them or am I simply reaching out to society’s acceptable outcasts so that I can feel better about myself?

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Idolatry Is Still Alive And Kicking

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I haven’t seen a lot of people offering sacrifices to little statues like we read about in the Old Testament but idolatry is still alive and kicking. If you don’t believe me, listen to the way some people talk about their presidential candidate of choice.

Of course, not every follower of politics is an idol worshiper. But a lot are. Here’s how you can tell the difference. The passionate observer finds the candidate he likes, votes for him and maybe tries to convince others to do the same but all the while he remembers that the candidate didn’t die on the cross to secure his salvation and eternal life.

The idol worshiper seems to forget that. His joy is wrapped up in the performance of his candidate. Rather than simply conversing about political differences with others, he ridicules them for having the nerve to not see things his way.

But it goes beyond that.

He views his candidate of choice as a messiah of sorts. His guy has done no wrong and never will do anything wrong but, on the small chance that he does, it’s someone else’s fault.

We need to pray for the idol worshipers because much like their Old Testament ancestors, the Philistines, things won’t end well for them.

The Philistines worshipped a god called Dagon. At one point, they got the upper hand on their rivals, the Israelites, and captured the ark of God. Thinking that this proved the superiority of their god over the God of the Israelites, the Philistines placed the ark in the same room with their statue god, Dagon.

The next morning, they woke up to a surprise.

Dagon had fallen face down on the ground before the ark. Like any good idol worshippers, they picked their god back up and put him in his place. Quick side note. If you have to pick your god up off the floor to defend his honor, you’re worshiping the wrong god.

The next morning, Dagon was down on the floor again. But this time it was worse. His head and hands had been cut off. The Philistine response to this second embarrassment was shocking. You might think that they would say, “Man, our god is pretty lousy. He can’t even keep himself together.” But they didn’t. Instead of abandoning their god, they got rid of the ark.

That’s another mark of a genuine idol worshiper. He’s more content with the shortcomings of his pretend god than the sovereignty of the one true God.

Like Dagon, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will fall on their faces before God. They’ll either do it willingly or in defeat. Either way, it’s a bit of a crisis when you see your god laying out in the middle of the floor. That’s why we need to pray for those who offer sacrifices to their political gods. The day of falling is coming. There’s no question about it.

But the real question concerns the American people, more specifically, American Christians. Well, at least people who call themselves Christians. The real God isn’t content with you placing him next to your political god. He does not share his glory with idols. He isn’t interested in building your kingdom or even the American kingdom. He is concerned with his kingdom alone. All others fall before him.

In the heat of our political passions, let’s be careful not to turn our ideas and candidates into gods.

The two top candidates in this race will not even make good presidents.

What makes you think that they’ll make good gods?

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Who Gets To Crush The Serpent?

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Here’s a question you’ve probably never considered before.

Who gets to crush Satan?

If you’ve grown up in the church or if you’re familiar with the Bible, your immediate response is Jesus. And that’s an accurate response.

After the Serpent deceived Adam and Eve, God handed down his punishment and it was more than simply having to slither on the ground from there on out.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)

One day, Genesis tells us, Satan’s head will be crushed by the heel of a man. We know that man to be Jesus Christ. In the New Testament, Paul says of Jesus that God, “Put all things under his feet” (Ephesians 1:22). That would include Satan’s head. Paul gets more specific in 1 Corinthians.

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 1 Corinthians 15:24-25 (ESV)

The Bible is clear. Satan will be crushed under the heel of Jesus. But then there’s this verse.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Romans 16:20 (ESV)

Paul is writing to Christians when he says, “your feet.” So which is it? Who gets to finally crush the head of Satan, Jesus or us?

When we put these passages together, they tell us that if we stand in Christ, we will stand over Satan.

We will crush the great accuser.

We will crush the thief.

We will crush the murderer and deceiver.

But before we get too excited about our supposed power, we must remember something. In Ephesians 6, Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God. The of God part is very important. He didn’t tell us to put on the full armor of self-determination, self-righteousness or religious effort. If that’s the only armor we have, Satan will surely stand over and crush us.

When we submit and obey Jesus Christ, living out his attributes while relying on his grace, we are living in his armor. Only by sharing in the identity of Christ can we share in the victory of Christ.

Satan is powerful.

He’s destructive.

But his days are numbered. The head of the old serpent already rests under the nail-scarred foot of our Savior. And soon, those of us who are in Christ will know the joy of crushing the serpent’s head finally and forever.

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A Reminder For Pastors

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You may know a lot of things. Maybe you can diagram Greek sentences with your eyes closed. Perhaps you’ve even memorized entire books of the Bible. I’m sure that all of that knowledge helps you when you stand before your congregation to preach. But here’s something that you don’t know.

You don’t know what’s going on in the pew.

You don’t know that they guy who slipped in at the last minute was himself a minister before he picked up an addiction to alcohol.

You don’t know that the couple that started going to your church 30 years before you came to town will go home and work out the final details of their divorce.

You’re very familiar with the husband and wife who are coming to grips with losing both a son and a grandson in the span of three years. But what you don’t know is that they have very serious questions about the goodness of God in the face of their suffering.

There is a broken heart on every pew in your church. Regardless of how they may look or how fine they tell you they are doing, there are people who are being crushed under the weight of cancer, divorce and doubt. They need hope.

And if all you give them on Sunday morning is part six in a sermon series called 50 Shades of Grace, they’re not going to get it. Not at your church at least.

The Church is powerful. It is the living body of Christ. At it’s best, it is a vehicle of hope to the hurting and a deliverer of good news to the lost. It really is that simple. But at it’s worst, the local church is a factory full of gimmicks where leaders who are too smart and culturally savvy for their own good obscure the gospel with yesterday’s trends and hot topics.

The last thing that a man who is being tempted to abandon his wife and kids for the woman at work needs to hear on a Sunday morning is a message on how to kick your sex life up a notch with a couple of Bible verses sprinkled in.

The last thing a woman who just lost her granddaughter needs to be reminded of is how relevant her pastor is.

The last thing a kid who’s contemplating suicide needs to hear is a sermon about how Easter reminds us that we can rise up to the next level of financial blessings.

But, for some reason, that’s what many churches keep offering.

For far too long, far too many churches have built their foundations on the sinking sand of gimmicks rather than the solid rock of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So they manipulate messages and numbers and people to reach ridiculous man-made baptism goals for Easter weekend. Out of fear of sounding too much like some old school preacher, their pastor abandons sermons dealing with sin, death and punishment for generic conversations about living life at the next level.

I’ve spent almost two decades in ministry. In that time I’ve seen too many young kids who have grown up in the church eventually walk away from whatever faith they had. Much of that is due to the fact that their church was nothing more than a giant entertainment center and their faith was an invisible rabbit’s foot that was given to them by a pastor who cared much more about being hip than being a disciple maker. We are feeding our kids a diet of Nickelodeon and we wonder why they have no answers for the CSPAN questions that come their way in adulthood.

Ultimately, we know that the Church wins. But the same can’t be said of every local church. Some of them will lose because they’re too busy fighting with one another to fight against the devil. Others will fail because they’ve worked so hard at being like the culture that, whether they know it or not, they have replaced their salt and light with Kool-Aid and cookies. And not even the good cookies. Sugar cookies.

Pastors do themselves and their churches a favor when they remember that it’s not their style or cutting edge approach to ministry that changes lives. Only God can do that. And his primary instrument of doing it in the church is a man with the boldness to preach what God says rather than speculate about what he thinks the culture would like for him to say.

I’ve preached a lot of sermons. A lot of them have been bad. Real bad. I hardly ever preach a sermon without walking away thinking what I could have done better. It’s different after a really bad sermon. I usually walk away from those thinking about how I should have just stayed in bed. Inevitably, someone will come to me and say how much my bad sermon helped them to understand the gospel better as they go through some difficulty. I think to myself, “That! How?” And then God reminds me. He doesn’t need pastors to be his marketers, public relations gurus or style coaches. Rather, he chooses to use us simply as his instruments. Broken, imperfect instruments carrying a powerful message and serving a perfect God.

 

When a pastor sets his sights on the gospel, God works in the lives and through the pain that no one knows anything about. When a pastor sets its sights on relevance, it’s just him that’s working. And, for the church at least, nothing could be more irrelevant.

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