Cootie Catcher

My son climbed into the truck and told me to name a color.

I said red.

Then he asked me for a number.

I said eight.

Apparently I gave the right answers because he told me that I was going to be a millionaire.

At school he had made what he called a fortune teller. A generation or two ago it was called a cootie catcher. You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s made out of a piece of notebook paper and it fits over your hand sort of like a puppet. Written on the outside are numbers and colors that correspond with something about your future.

After I got over the initial thrill of knowing that I would be a millionaire when I grow up, something else amazed me.

Kids today can access a world of information on a phone. If they want to know how many touchdowns Matt Ryan has thrown this year, it’s just a few clicks away. They can watch entire television shows and download albums on their phones. But they still like to play the same paper game their grandparents played way back in another world. Score one for the simpler things.

But simpler things have a way of becoming complex things. In the second grade, you dream about the car you’ll drive and the house you’ll live in. In your thirties, when you get the car and the house, you long for the good old days when those things were just dreams rather than bills to be paid. Sometimes, the life we dream of isn’t as peaceful as we thought it would be when we were holding a cootie catcher in our hand.

Forget about the nice car. Is there a cootie catcher that promises us peace in the future?

Usually, when we hear about someone being at peace, it means that they’re dead. “Billy lived a hard life, especially there at the end, but he’s at peace now.” It doesn’t have to be that way. While we will never know a perfect life on this side of eternity, we can know peace. Peace among the dreams that never came true. Peace among the dreams that did come true but turned out to not to be so dreamy. In the thick of anxiety and fear, the Bible offers us hope.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2 (ESV)

In the heat of your stress and anxiety, it is possible to know peace. It is possible to silence the unnecessary noise around you and to rest in Jesus like a child in his mother’s lap. David Powlison says, “Most of the noise in our souls is generated by our attempts to control the uncontrollable.” It’s as if we’ve grown to believe that the cootie catcher really works, that we really are in control of our future. We aren’t. Failure to recognize this is the root cause of much of our anxiety. That’s why David wrote, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me (Psalm 131:1).

The future is too great for us.

But it’s not too great for the One to whom we belong.

David’s peace was not like the so-called inner peace that people talk about these days. You know, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves but never really goes beyond ourselves. Real peace is shared peace.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131:3 (ESV)

We live in a world where most people are being driven crazy by the noise of what they cannot control. It could be that your greatest testimony is living out the peace you have from being content in the God who controls all things.

In the town where I live, there used to be a guy whose job it was to stand out in front of the pizza place and try to get the attention of the people who drove by. Stand isn’t the best word to describe what this guy did. He danced. He danced like it was his goal in life to get people to stop at that place and buy a pizza. I don’t even like the restaurant he worked for but sometimes I would think to myself, “Well, if he feels that strongly about it, maybe I should try a few slices.”

He was the exact opposite of the guy who works for the place that sells Halloween costumes in October and does taxes in March. You know the place and you know this guy. He’s always dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, leaning on a sign that says, “We’ll do your taxes” while texting. That’s it. No dancing. Just texting. I hate to be so judgmental but I don’t want my financial future in that guy’s hands.

You are that guy. Or the pizza guy.

Whatever it is that you put your hope in, that’s what you advertise to a hopeless world.

If your hope is ultimately in your ability to control the future, you have nothing to offer a hopeless world.

But if you are trusting in the Sovereign God who has calmed and quieted your soul, even when everything else in your life is falling apart, the world stops and takes notice.

A Simple Beauty

There is a lot of beauty to be found in simple things. Sometimes it takes a kid to help us to look through all of the clutter and see that beauty in a fresh way.

I became a Christian when I was very young. The church I grew up in put a lot of emphasis on the sinner’s prayer, the walking of aisles and the raising of hands. As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not my faith was legitimate. Did I say the prayer right? Was I thinking the right thing when I walked down and stood in front of the church? What if I left something out?

The other night, standing under the cold dark sky in my driveway, it was like I was having a conversation with my younger self. Like me, my son became a Christian at a young age. Unlike me, he doesn’t know much about altar calls and raising hands and repeating public prayers after revival preachers. But he still has his doubts.

He was worried that maybe he got his prayer wrong all of those years ago when he asked God to forgive him for his sins. Like his father did before him, he feared that a misplaced prepositional phrase in a prayer could mean the difference between heaven and hell. To comfort him, I walked him through the Bible. I went to some of the same Bible passages people carried me through when I was younger. We talked about salvation being more about the cry of the sinner’s heart than the repeating of a sinner’s prayer. We talked about things like belief and Lordship and resurrection.

I asked him if he understood what I was saying. Before I had kids, I never did that. I never understood why people would end their sentences with phrases like, “You know what I mean?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” Now that I’m a dad, I do it all the time. I guess that I just want to be sure.

He told me that he understood. But his face told a different story. It was the canvas for an uncommon mixture of comfort and confusion.

“I get it but it all just seems so simple,” he said in a prophetic tone you can only hear from a child.

That’s when I knew that he really got it.

My son is a worker. A hard worker. A few months ago, he set a really high goal for reading books in one of his classes. About midway through the semester, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. So he got to work. My son read more words in the last few weeks of 2016 than I did in twelve years of grade school.

He met his goal.

I think that’s why the simplicity of the gospel had my son confused the other night in our driveway. When you meet a reading goal, you get to sit back and delight in the work that you did. You can say, “I did that.”

Not so with the gospel. Before Christ, we were all “children of wrath” fighting against God (Ephesians 2:3). We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead rebels don’t usually have a lot to bring to the table. Just their faith.

And, just in case we might begin to think that our faith is somehow a product of our own doing, Paul reminds us otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

The Christian life is not simple. Temptation can be very difficult. It’s hard to love enemies. It’s hard to fight against sin. Like Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

But thanks to things like grace and love and the cross, it’s not hard to come to God. That’s because he’s the one who does all of the work. And he does that work on behalf of the small sons of a preacher as well as seasoned drug addicts. He pours out the riches of his grace, mercy and love, “on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

It really is that simple.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful things.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)

image credit

So Tell Me About Your Relationship

“So tell me about your relationship.”

If you would have known the answer that was going to follow that question, you never would have asked it.

You are at your high school reunion. It’s been 20 years since you’ve seen most of the people in the room. You can hardly recognize a lot of them. But after the initial awkwardness, conversation begins.

During one conversation, marriage and relationships come up. Everyone starts talking about their families and how having kids has changed them. You notice one of your old friends is wearing a wedding ring. That’s when you ask your ill-fated question.

“So tell me about your relationship.”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional,” he says bluntly.

For some reason, you feel the need to dig deeper.

“Great! So what are you and your wife up to now? Is she here tonight?”

His response startles you.

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

By now, you’re experiencing some combination of curiosity, worry and even anger.

“Yeah. I get that. But what about now? What are you and your wife doing now? What kind of work does she do? Do you have kids?”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

As you turn and walk away, you are certain that all isn’t well in your friend’s marriage, if he is really married.

Marriage is about more than the day of your wedding. It’s about right now. It’s about the future. If all you can tell me about your marriage is the it began, something isn’t right.

In the same way, if all you can tell me about your Christian faith is the day you, “got saved,” something isn’t right.

For far too long we’ve convinced ourselves that following Jesus is nothing more than raising our hands and repeating a prayer after a preacher only to live however we want to live while we wait for heaven. We even spiritualize this by saying things like, “Well, Jesus is my Savior but he’s not my Lord.”

A key indicator of genuine Christianity is perseverance. It’s impossible for someone to lose their salvation. God doesn’t unadopt his children (1 Peter 1:3-5). But it is quite common for someone to fall away from the faith that they once claimed as their own. That’s because the faith that they claimed was never theirs to begin with.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

You can train a monkey to walk down an aisle. A bird can be taught how to repeat a prayer after a preacher. And as important as baptism is, you can hold anything underwater for a second. But only a true disciple of Jesus Christ will remain true until the end (Colossians 1:21-23).

The focus of Bible Belt religion is a date in the past when a hand was raised, a prayer was prayed, and a card was signed.

Genuine Christianity is quite different. It’s focus is on a Sovereign Lord who’s grace is needed on both the day of salvation and the days that follow.

Bible Belt Religion gets along just fine without Jesus and his calls for total obedience, thank you very much.

Genuine Christianity recognizes that no matter how the race begins, what really matters is how the race is being run now and how it will finish. It leans heavily on Jesus at every step.

Hell is filled with the victims of Bible Belt religion.

In Genuine Christianity, imperfect hearts are filled with gratitude at God’s grace, repentance for the sins we still allow to creep in and love for others.

If all you have to say about a relationship is the day that it began, it could be that there really was no relationship to begin with.

So tell me about your relationship with Christ.

image credit

Sorry We’re Closed

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend this Christmas and it has nothing to do with people saying Happy Holidays or what the lady at Starbucks does or does not write on your cup. The culprit here isn’t the world. It’s the church.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me over the past month or so if the church that I pastor will be having services on Christmas day. Christmas day, in case you’re unaware, falls on a Sunday this year. The nerve!

Our church will still be meeting on Sunday, December 25th but a lot of churches will not be and I can’t figure out why.

To help explain my confusion, let’s consider another date on the calendar.

Sunday, February 5, 2017.

That’s the date of the Super Bowl. It’s basically a national holiday. So imagine if the NFL decided to cancel the game in order for families to be able to celebrate this national holiday together. “But that wouldn’t make any sense,” all of America would scream. And, in a rare occasion, all of America would be right.

The party and the festivities and the holiday like atmosphere all exist because of the game. Take away the game and you take away any legitimate reason to celebrate. On top of that, on the one day that the NFL is able to reach a significant number of people who otherwise might not watch a game, they take it away.

Such is the case with many local churches this year.

Look, I understand calling off services that night. If the church is big, it makes sense to have one combined service. And when Christmas falls on a Wednesday, I get taking a break from regularly scheduled programming. There are times when it makes sense to not have a service, rearrange other service times and scale back a bit.

But this doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps part of the reasoning behind cancelling this years Sunday morning Christmas services has something to do with the fact that many of us feel like we cannot “have church,” if I may use that phrase, if it’s not going to be a full on, Hollywood worthy production. When the Pastor of Pyrotechnics and the Pastor of Make-Up are both out of town, it can be hard to put on a top notch production. So why bother? We all know that Jesus wouldn’t want us having a service where people are not blown away by our slick production skills.

Would he?

Yes. He would.

Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten that there is a difference between excellence and mere performance. We should do our jobs with excellence but that excellence must be for the Audience of One, not the audience in the seats and online. So what if attendance is down on Christmas day. Jesus was born in a manger but many church leaders can’t fathom the horror of having to preach to a half-empty room.

Another reason behind the cancelling of services on Christmas Sunday could be that many, even many who lead churches, have forgotten what Christmas is about. In an effort to show that Christmas is not about presents, many have been convinced that Christmas is about family.

It’s not. Well, at least not in the sense that they’re thinking.

Jesus didn’t come to earth so that we could have the day off and watch football with our family. Don’t get me wrong. I love having the day off and watching football with my family. But if that’s all we’re doing on December the 25th, we’re missing the point.

Christmas is about family in the sense that Christ came to earth to transform his enemies into his family. So if you are a believer and you really want to, “be with family” on Christmas day, you’ll grab the family that lives in your house and take them with you to celebrate the coming of the Christ Child with your other family. The family of God.

For decades, Christian leaders have quietly made fun of what has been referred to as Christmas and Easter Christians. That’s the people who claim to be Christians but only show up to church on Christmas and Easter. Or when there’s going to be food afterwards. Or when there’s going to be an intense business meeting. You get the point.

But that’s part of the beauty of Christmas and it falling on a Sunday this year. The people who don’t show up the other 50 or so weeks out of the year are very likely to crawl out of bed on Christmas morning and go to church to hear the story of God lovingly sending his only Son to rescue his people from sin and death.

It’s just too bad that many of those people on Sunday morning will be greeted by a locked door and a sign that reads, “Sorry we’re closed.”

image credit

Does Christmas Offend You?

It’s one of those stories that’s supposed to make us mad.

But instead, it should cause us to take a closer look at ourselves.

The owner of a Florida restaurant received a nasty note from a customer complaining that the Christmas music playing in the background was, “offensive.” He went on to suggest that the owner replace the religious themed music with “holiday music.” Less “O Holy Night” and more “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Wait. I almost forgot. That one offends people too. “Less O Holy Night” and more “Walking In a Winter Wonderland”, played on organically harvested, free range, gluten-free instruments. That ought to do it.

This is the part where some evangelical leader will start a social media crusade urging us to fight for the traditional Christmas. When he starts, don’t listen to him. You’d be better off listening to the offended customer at that Florida restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. Leaving passive aggressive notes about how Christmas songs offended you is absurd. Just find another restaurant. If my favorite eating establishment decided to play Nickelback’s Greatest Christmas Hits all through December, I’d find another favorite eating establishment. No passive aggressive note needed.

But this offended customer is probably closer to the true meaning of Christmas than those wishing to guilt the barista at Starbucks into writing Merry Christmas on your cup of coffee.

Christmas is supposed to be offensive.

It’s offensive because it’s the true story of a people whose sins were so bad that it took God coming to earth in the form of a servant to live the perfect life that we could not and to die the death that we should have. In case you’re wondering, you and I are included in those people whose sins are so bad (Romans 5:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 2:1-11).

Are you offended yet?

We should never be surprised when the world acts like the world. That doesn’t make what they do right, it just makes it expected. The message of the gospel is foolishness to them (1 Corinthians 1:18-23). We shouldn’t be surprised when a group of people who are blind to the truth of the gospel don’t line up to sing about how their great sins caused the eventual crucifixion of the Christ Child (2 Corinthians 4:4).

Here’s what should surprise us.

We should be surprised when people who claim to believe the traditional Christmas story do not allow the truth of that story to play out in their day to day lives, both in the month of December and certainly not on a random day in July.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with the modern American church. We’ve stopped being offended by the gospel. We’ve watered it down so much with self-help and get rich quick schemes that we’ve missed the real power behind it. We think that our power and influence comes from having a seat at the table in Washington D.C. In reality, it’s found in an offensive story about a virgin birth.

Before we start launching our defensive weapons in the war to protect Christmas, we would be wise to take a long look at ourselves.

Sure, we sing all of the old traditional hymns, but why is it that the truth in those hymns often no longer moves us beyond anything more than sentimental memories of Christmas at grandma’s house?

Why do we live more like entitled brats than children who have been lovingly adopted into the family of God through the birth, sinless life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

We have traded in the truth that the gospel is God graciously moving toward his enemies to redeem them in favor of a gospel where God selected us like an NFL team makes a first round draft pick. “After all,” we seem to tell ourselves, “why wouldn’t God want such spiritual and moral standouts like us on his team?”

Secular progressives miss the true meaning of Christmas because they’re too offended to hear it.

But a lot of religious people miss the true meaning of Christmas because they’re too proud to be offended.

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Revelation 3:15-17 (ESV)

image credit

Jesus Didn’t Die For A Christian School

16955639266_8a22fd9dbe_o

When I first became a pastor, there was a problem that I had to address. It wasn’t a new problem. For years, ministry leaders have been fighting against the idea that simply joining a church will make you right with God. But recently, I’ve noticed another issue rising up from the opposite end of the spectrum. It’s the idea that the church isn’t really all that important.

There are people who have replaced any involvement in the local church with charity work. They reason that they can do plenty of good work on their own without being tied down by a local church and its drama.

Others use Christian schools as their alternative. Why would someone need to go to church on a Sunday when they spend all week studying the Bible at school? This argument can be heard from pre-kindergarten all the way through seminary.

The people making these arguments don’t claim to be against God. They aren’t atheists. They just don’t care for the church.

While their reasoning may seem sincere enough, it goes directly against what the Bible teaches.

Imagine a wedding ceremony. The groom repeated his vows to his bride. It was a beautiful moment. Tears filled his eyes as he expressed his love and commitment to his soon to be wife. But when the bride’s turn came, she went rogue. Rather than repeating what the minister said, she made up her own vows.

“I love your head. I love the way that your eyes look when you smile. I love your hair. I love the way your mind works. I will follow your head wherever it goes and I will love it forever. But it’s a different story for your disgusting and completely useless body. I have issues with it that I’d rather not deal with at the moment.”

How romantic!

This would never be accepted at a wedding ceremony but, somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s okay in our relationship with Christ and his body.

Jesus is the head of the church and the church is his body.

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)

When we claim to be devoted to Christ but completely disregard his church, we are claiming the impossible. Either you love someone as they are or you don’t. You can’t just love the head of your spouse and you can’t just love the head of the church. It’s a package deal. If you really love Jesus, you’ll love what he loved enough to die for.

Jesus didn’t die for your Christian school and he didn’t die for your favorite charity.

Jesus died for the church. His church. His body.

I love Christian schools. I have spent a significant portion of my life associated with them and I hope for that to continue. But I cringe when I hear a parent excuse their lack of commitment to the church because they send their kids to a Christian school, as if walking with Christ is about nothing more than raising kids with a good Christian education. One sure way for parents to raise kids with a lukewarm faith is for their own faith to be lukewarm. And lukewarm faith is about as good as you can expect from yourself when you’re not committed to a local church.

The New Testament was not written to non-profits or Christian schools. Most of it was written to specific local churches. Philippians, for example, was written to a church in Philippi. That means that when Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord always and to put away anxiety (Philippians 4:4-7), he’s telling us that in the context of the local church. There are a significant amount of New Testament commands that are impossible for an individual to obey apart from the local church.

A while back I was talking to a group of ten or so Christian school students. It was a pretty casual conversation covering everything from music to history to, you guessed it, church. I asked them if they went to church every week.

One kid said yes. One out of more than ten students.

So I asked how many go once a month.

No one.

Every six months?

Crickets chirped.

Once a year.

Tumbleweed blew through the room.

It’s been said that if you want to find a really large collection of lost people all you have to do is look on a church’s membership roll. I agree but I think that we can add the Christian school to the mix as well. If you work at a Christian school, you’re in a bigger mission field than you think you are.

Yes, we can do good deeds through a charity instead of the church.

And yes, we can learn about the Bible at a Christian school and remove the church from the equation.

But there’s one thing that we can’t do apart from commitment to a local church.

Follow Jesus.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:23-25 (ESV)

 image credit

The Witch Hunt Of Chip And Joanna Gaines

And so the witch hunt of Chip and Joanna Gaines begins.

What is their crime? They have committed our culture’s unpardonable sin of belonging to a church that teaches that homosexuality goes against God’s standard. And the good people at BuzzFeed seem intent on making them pay for their crimes.

Now keep in mind, Chip and Joanna have never publicly stated anything regarding homosexuality. No one has uncovered a John Rocker moment from their past where they went off the rails saying all kinds of mean things about gays. No, they simply take their family to a church each week that teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

Gasp!

The article’s author, Kate Aurthur, puts forth this question.

“So are the Gaineses against same-sex marriage? And would they ever feature a same-sex couple on the show, as have HGTV’s House Hunters and Property Brothers? Emails to Brock Murphy, the public relations director at their company, Magnolia, were not returned. Nor were emails and calls to HGTV’s PR department.”

A generation ago, the $64,000 Question was, “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist Party of the United States?”

For Chip and Joanna Gaines, the question appears to be, “Would you be willing to flip a house for a gay couple and if not, when can we send the Sensitivity Trainers over to flip your home?”

Make no mistake, it’s not equality that is at play here. The prophets of the false church of LGBT care nothing about fairness or equality. No, their concern is dominance. And all of their talk of tolerance is a trick. The only tolerance they care about is everyone else tolerating whatever sexual appetite is en vogue at the moment. And they’ll stop at nothing to carry on with their bullying.

Part of the appeal of Chip and Joanna is that they’re like us. They’re regular people who are good at what they do. Chip is one of your buddies who jokes about how stupid he is. Joanna is the artsy lady you go to church with. They are normal, happy, successful folks.

And, for the LGBT brigade, that’s the problem.

In a world where seemingly everyone is offended by something, the most offensive thing a person can do is to live a happy, normal life that is guided by a faith that has not been previously approved by our culture’s sexual gatekeepers.

Much of the LGBT community thrives on self-identifying as victims. They have even gone so far as to equate their movement with the civil rights movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King. In reality, the real victims of hate are those who refuse to bow the knee to the god of homosexuality. The Bible could not be more clear in it’s message to believers. We are to love everyone, that includes gay people (Matthew 22:34-40). But we must not condone any sin (James 5:19-20). And as we faithfully hold to that standard, we must expect hardship (2 Timothy 3:12-13).

But don’t worry. The One True God is far more powerful than the god of this age.

He cares nothing about winning a culture war. That was taken care of when he rose from the grave.

Because of that victory, he has won something greater, an eternal home for his people that cannot perish or fade away.

Christian, no amount of cultural bullying can touch who you are and what awaits you in Christ (1 Peter 1:3-5).

And non-Christian, no amount of rebellion is too much for the grace of God. The gospel is more than a statement on human sexuality. It is a declaration that none of us is good enough to achieve salvation on our own and please a holy God. A homosexual’s greatest need is not to be made straight. It is to be made right with God. And in Christ, that has been made available.

That simple message is what many in the LGBT community find so offensive.

But that’s okay.

Grace is always offensive.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

image credit

Benevolent Dictators, The Gospel And Georgia’s Burqa Ban

Update: Jason Spencer has decided to withdraw House Bill 3.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

You might have a hard time believing this but there’s a really bad bill scheduled to come before the Georgia Legislature. This one has nothing to do with raising taxes or making grits the official breakfast food of Georgia. House Bill 3, if passed as written, would prohibit the wearing of any device that would hide a person’s face while taking a photo for a driver’s license, driving a car or, get this, while on, “any public way or public property.” 

To be clear, the bill’s sponsor, Jason Spencer, isn’t trying to crack down on young suburbanite women at the Mall of Georgia who wear their scarfs too high up on their face. This is a ban on burqas.

I can understand the problems of a concealed face during a driver’s license photo but using the power of the sate to prohibit the wearing of a burqa while driving a car or “on public property” is very problematic.

It matters how Christians respond to this.

We must be firm in our theological disagreement with our fellow Americans who are Muslims. No man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24) and it is clear that the God of Christianity and the god of Islam are not the same. However, we must be just as firm in defending the rights of our Muslim neighbors. Believe it or not, this can be done without compromising the faith.

There’s something very troubling about so-called conservative evangelicals. As I’ve always understood it, conservatism referred to limited government. Recent history reveals that conservatism really means government that’s just as big as the kind that progressives prefer, only with conservatives instead of liberals reaching into our lives. Simply put, many conservatives have abandoned the concept of liberty in favor of a benevolent dictatorship.

And make no mistake, a government that can tell people what they can and cannot wear on “public property” is a dictatorship. I guess it depends on who you ask as to whether or not it’s benevolent. And a government that can tell Muslim women that they have to put their faith in the backseat while driving or in the public square can just as easily tell Christian families that they can’t homeschool their children and tell Christian churches that they can’t refuse someone for baptism or membership.

This bill is rooted in fear. Spencer reasons, “This bill is simply a response to constituents that do have concerns of the rise of Islamic terrorism, and we in the State of Georgia do not want our laws used against us.”

But we must remember that fear is the enemy of liberty. When we allow ourselves to be ruled by fear, we can be sure that there will be scores of benevolent dictators eager to fix the problem. And we can be just as sure that the fix will be worse than the problem.

A while back I was driving my family to a soccer tournament that my son would be playing in. It was a trip like most others but this time we had an extra passenger. My son’s teammate came along for the ride because his parents had to work. My son’s teammate was Muslim.

Now, we could have performed our own stop and frisk on this young boy before letting him into our car. We wouldn’t want him setting off a bomb in the back seat of our Camry, now would we? Call me a bad parent, but we didn’t screen this young man. And somehow, no bomb went off.

But something else happened.

For the entire hour of our drive, I played the music of Lecrae. He’s a rapper who frequently references the gospel. And while Lecrae’s music was playing, I was praying. I was praying that the light of Christ would shine through our family as we interacted with one another and through Lecrae’s lyrics as they blew through our speakers.

When we got to the soccer fields, my son’s friend didn’t get out of the car and pray to make Jesus Christ his Lord and Savior. He did something very different from that.

He threw up.

Now, I don’t know what that has to say about me and my family but I think that it was an answer to prayer. While I was cleaning up vomit, my wife was comforting this young Muslim boy as if he was her own. The light of Christ shone through her that afternoon. And I’m still praying that it penetrates the heart of that young man.

Muslim’s suffer. Sometimes their suffering comes from being car sick. Sometimes it comes from ridiculous laws. Either way, it is the job of followers of Christ to be there for them, with love and truth, when that suffering comes.

It’s the sacrificial love and truth of God and his people that removes burqas.

Not ridiculous laws from benevolent dictators.

image credit

A Prayer For The American Church

Heavenly Father,

We are so prone to wander. In many cases, we have replaced worshiping You with apologizing for You and making You more consumer friendly. We have remained silent while those around us have suffered. Like the German churches that sang their hymns louder so that they wouldn’t hear the screams of Jewish prisoners from the passing trains, we have neglected the hurting. Our nation deserves Your wrath, not Your blessings. Father, send us revival instead. And send it through Your church.

Father, forgive us for idolizing our political leaders. We throw our coats on the ground before them and wave our palm branches at them every four years only to suffer the pain that comes shortly after the election when we realize that even the best leaders are not You. Not even close. Forgive us for living under the red or blue glow of a political party rather than shining the light of Christ like we’re supposed to.

Forgive our hypocrisy. We talk so much about caring for the unborn. And we should. Help us to do even more to defend the cause of the babies who are murdered in this country before they are even born. But we pat ourselves on the back, convinced that this is enough. We talk a big game about respecting life but when we hear about a kid in Chicago who just lost his, we turn it into a political talking point. Lord, help us to care just as much for the 18-year-old kid on the other side of the tracks as we do for the child who has yet to be born.

Father, help us. Help the people who are tired of being labeled uneducated simply because they didn’t go to college to relate to the people who are tired of being called thugs just because they wear a hoodie. Help us to grieve with those who grieve. And if it’s Your will, give us the strength to do something to stop the grief. Even if it’s a grief we may not be able to fully relate to.

Father, help us to not settle for being divided into groups that aren’t supposed to get along. Help Your church to lead the way in breaking down the terrible walls that keep us apart. Lord, we do not want to abandon Your truth. Protect us from doing that. But Lord, help us to remember that it’s okay for us to abandon our cultural labels and the marching orders of those who turn a profit off of keeping us at odds with one another. Help us to remember that Your truth is not merely an American truth or a white truth. It is Your truth. And that is enough.

Help us to be committed to Your word. Forgive us for obeying the parts we’re okay with while ignoring the difficult parts. Father, Your word is truth. All of it. But help us not to be content with keeping Your truth to ourselves. Help it to impact the way that we work on our marriages, the way we raise our kids, the way we resist evil and the way we love the evildoer.

God, save us from fear. The Anxiety Industrial Complex rules the day. Business is booming in the fear industry. Everyone is worried and afraid. Help us not to be. Instead, help us to worship you, not just on a Sunday morning in a church building but on a Thursday morning on the way to work when we hear about yet another terror threat. Help us not to ultimately look to man for peace from anxiety. Give us a picture of the promise You gave us through Paul when You said that the peace of God would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Help us to know the presence of Christ at the doors of our frightened minds and hearts.

Father, You are good. You have delivered us. Because of Your great grace, the work of Your Son and Your Holy Spirit, we are Your children. Help us to look for our identity no where else. And help our hearts to ache for those who are not Your children.

Lord, there will come a time when America will be no more. But Your kingdom cannot be shaken. It can be ridiculed. It can be mocked. It can be rejected. But it cannot be shaken. It is an eternal kingdom. Help us, your people, not to forget where our citizenship is.

Thank You for the mercy and patience You have shown to us.

Awaken us.

Expand Your kingdom as You see fit.

In Jesus Christ’s name,

Amen.

 

image credit

 

 

Be Careful How You Use The Word Uneducated

The word uneducated has been thrown around a lot over the past couple of days. It’s one of those words that can’t really be used in a nice way. We don’t say that children are uneducated. We just say that they’re in the process of getting their education. Usually, when we use the word uneducated, we’re trying to find a nice way to call people dumb. The only problem is that it’s not too nice. And it’s, well, an uneducated thing to say.

A while back I was driving my 1990-something automobile down a busy road at night when smoke suddenly started coming out from under the hood. I jumped out at a red light and tried to correct the issue. About a mile down the road, my 1990-something automobile reminded me that I don’t know anything about cars. The smoke got worse but I managed to guide the dying automobile into a church parking lot.

I got out and said a prayer.

And then I made a phone call.

The guys who came to help me don’t carry any initials after their names. They’ve never been asked to write a book about anything. They’ll probably never give a commencement address. I, on the other hand, have spent a lot of years in school. When I finish my current degree I will have spent almost as much time in school after high school graduation as I did before.

But standing next to that dead car of mine, guess who the uneducated one was.

Some of the most brilliant people I know have never been to college. Have you ever watched a carpenter work? A good one is one half Michelangelo and one half Mike Rowe. He’s an artist with dirt under his fingernails and blisters on his hands and drive in his heart. And he’s far from uneducated.

There are many times in my life when I don’t know what my next step should be. When I find myself in that situation, I don’t go looking for the guy with the most degrees. I go looking for the guy with the most wisdom. The two are not the same. Typically, the guy with the most wisdom has more gray hairs and wrinkles than he does degrees.

A while back someone asked me if it was a requirement for a pastor to go to seminary. For me, it was. I needed the discipline and rigor. But that’s not the case for all ministry leaders. Some of the best ones I know have educated themselves through interaction with other wise leaders and reading a lot. On the other hand, there are those pastors who can’t keep track of all of their degrees but who also couldn’t recognize the Holy Spirit from a graduation robe.

This is not to say that degrees and higher education do not matter. They do. If you’re getting surgery, you want the guy holding the scalpel to have tons and tons of initials after his name. A good, formal education is a necessity for some. But not for all.

We have to remember that we’re all different. We have different roles. And those different roles don’t make some better than others. Society needs doctors and carpenters. The best example for us is the Trinity where we see one God made up of three distinct yet equal persons. The Holy Spirit is no more or less God because he’s not the one who died on the cross.

No matter who came out on top in the election, I knew I wouldn’t be happy about the winner. I can’t remember the last time that I was happy with the outcome of an election. Maybe one day I will be. But I’ve never called in sick to work or asked for the day off from classes because I needed to cope with the bad news. There are a lot of highly educated people who did just that this week. I know a mechanic, a guy who some in our media would refer to as uneducated, who wasn’t too thrilled with this week’s election results either. But he went to work the next day.

It goes to show, there’s a difference between being uneducated and miseducated.

image credit