Calling It What It Is: Gay Marriage And Other Deceptions

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You can change the rules. That’s good. Sometimes rules need to be changed. But at some point, after one too many rule changes, you also need to change the name of the game.

Say you want to add instant replay to Major League Baseball games. Great. Suppose you also wanted to take away all of the bases and stop keeping score. Okay. Just don’t expect us to keep calling it baseball.

Marriage works the same way. The institution of marriage wasn’t invented by the GOP in the 1950s. It was invented by God. In a garden. Long before the creation of GLAAD, democrats, republicans and Fred Phelps.

Since that time, we have been hard at work with our rules committees trying to change  God’s creation into something a little more in tune with our liking. Adam failed to lead, Eve was eager to take his place and a crafty serpent was more than willing to take advantage of the resulting chaos. He’s still taking advantage.

It took some time, in this country at least, but the name of the game has officially been changed.

When our government began to sanction, and in many ways force you to agree with, gay marriage, they effectively removed the bases and stopped keeping score. We aren’t playing baseball anymore.

No government has the power to take what God has created, sanction the perversion of that creation at the point of a gun, and continue calling it the same thing. To put it another way, there is no such thing as gay marriage.

Along with our government’s new found soap box of love and acceptance for all, many in the church began waiving the white flag. Some conceded defeat and retreated back to their sanctuaries, afraid of being lumped in with Phelps and his kind. Others fully embraced the new game. They even brought Jesus into the argument, pointing out his frequent references to love along with his failure to directly mention anything about homosexuality. Interestingly, this same crowd is a little slower to reference Jesus’ words on hell, judgment, marriage and adultery. They also aren’t too quick to come to the defense of the likes of a Bernie Madoff or a Justin Bieber, saying that, “Jesus never directly addressed Ponzi schemes or out of control pop stars.” Play on! Love wins!

The committee on rules changes, it appears, likes to make changes that work to their advantage.

These changes go beyond the realm of marriage. It’s fascinating to hear politicians use phrases like, “protecting our freedom,” “Rule of Law” or “free society” as they continually change the rules of the game.

In a “free society” does the ruling class typically take the citizens whose freedoms they are entrusted to protect to court simply because those private citizens have a different idea of how to provide health insurance for their employees?

Does “protecting our freedom” usually involve bullying cattle ranchers, stealing land from farmers and slowly but surely taking away a citizen’s right to protect himself?

The rules have been changed. So much so that our leaders started playing a completely different game a long time ago.

People have always disagreed in this country. That’s a good thing. In a truly free society, there will be different ideas about taxes, jobs and military intervention. But what is happening now is more than simply different opinions on policies. That was the old game. There’s only one word that can adequately describe the new game.

Tyranny.

Isn’t that what we used to call it when we heard about this kind of thing happening in other countries and in other times? Why is it, now that we are playing this new game here in our country, that we fail to call it what it really is?

Words matter. I know, I know. People like to tell us that they don’t. But that’s just academic babble. Sit in a doctor’s office, have him look you in the eye and say the word cancer. Words matter. Even when we don’t want them too.

I don’t have all of the answers for how we should be playing this new game with its ever changing rules. But I know that Christians can’t retreat. We have to be bold with our love. Even when it’s hard. Even when our love is called hate. And as long as we’re sticking around, it would help, when confronted with the reality of this strange new game, if we started calling it what it is.

A Warning To The Eye Rollers

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The apartment was new. And it was clean. Much cleaner than our house. All my mother had to do was sign her name and we were moving in. But before she did that there was something else she wanted to do. She wanted to show me around the new place. She wanted to see what I thought.

Imagine Simon Cowell listening to Creed and Nickelback at the same time. That’s how critical I was. The rooms weren’t laid out right. The bathrooms were too small. And then there was the front door. The front door might as well have not even been there. There was just one little button on the doorknob to lock us in away from any evildoers wishing to do us harm.

“That looks real safe,” I said in my infinite teenage wisdom.

At first, my mother didn’t reply. She just looked at me. It was one of those looks that hurt much worse than any spanking because I could tell that she was the one who was hurt. Finally, she quietly responded.

“You know, I’m doing the best that I can here.”

I would have rather been beaten.

I was an eye roller. It seemed like every command my mother gave me served no other purpose than to get in my way. Most of the time I followed through with those commands. I obeyed. I was a good boy.

But I didn’t obey with the right heart. I didn’t honor my mother. I wasn’t such a good boy after all.

We eventually moved out of that apartment. It was in our next apartment where my mother found out that she was sick.

It was in the several other places that we lived afterwards where she would wake up screaming in the middle of the night because she was losing control of most of the muscles in her body. And it was in those places that her mind slowly started to go.

My aunt and my sister did the real work of caring for her. I tried my best. I drove her to the doctor occasionally. I carried her to her bed. I spent a few nights next to her in the hospital. And I tried to do it without rolling my eyes. I was learning how to honor my mother.

My wife and I were packing up our house one day. We weren’t moving. We were just going on vacation. Were. We were going on vacation.

My sister called and told me to get down to see my mom as fast as I could. By this time, my mom was living in a nursing home in middle Georgia. My wife and I sped to see her. We were about 20 minutes away when we got the call. She died.

I can’t remember the last words I said to her. But I’m glad that it wasn’t some critical comment about the house she did her best to provide for me.

A lot has been written and said about obedience. And that’s a good thing. But obedience is nothing more than camouflaged rebellion if it is not accompanied by honor. There will come a time when we no longer have to obey our parents. After my mom’s sickness got really bad and I was living on my own, she would call me and say some of the craziest things. I don’t know if it was the medicine or the disease but something was messing with her mind. She would tell me to do things that were impossible to obey.

I think that’s probably one of the toughest stages in life. The stage where you have to be the parent to your parent. The stage where you no longer have to obey. Where all you can do is honor.

Maybe I’m just getting too old. Or maybe some kids today really are getting bolder in how they talk to their parents. A while back I heard a kid talking to her mom like people talk about the bad guys on pro wrestling. And she was rolling her eyes. Just like I did.

I thought about my attitude towards my mother that day back in our new apartment. My mind jumped to my frantic drive to a middle Georgia nursing home only to miss saying goodbye to my mother by 20 minutes. I thought about how glad I was that, even though I didn’t get to say goodbye the way I wanted, at least we ended on good terms. Real good terms.

I interrupted that girl. I told her to watch the way that she talked to her mother because she never knew when her last goodbye would be. I hope it helped.

No matter how old you are, watch the way that you talk to and about your mom and dad. Last words don’t care about your calendar. You never know what or when those last words will be. But there is one thing that you can do between now and then, even if you happen to be passed the point of obeying.

Honor your father and mother.

You’ll be glad you did.

What The Children Of Busy Parents Need To Hear

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Busyness can be the undoing of a family. If we’re not prepared, our schedules can create a division in our household that puts each member at war with one another. But, with a little work and a lot of communication, a hectic calendar can be a friend of the family. Each event, even the ones we didn’t plan for, can be a reminder of what matters most.

I had to take my son to the hospital on Tuesday.

Nothing was wrong with him. It was just a crazy week for my family. Tuesday was my son’s day to play associate pastor. That meant that he had to go with me to visit someone in the hospital. And watch me prepare a sermon. And help me deliver cookies to a widow.

Our schedule was full but at least it was our schedule and not mine. We were together. But it can’t always be like that. Sometimes we have to leave our kids behind. Sometimes we just can’t be there for them.

Growing up, I was determined to always be there for my kids. Once I had kids, I quickly realized that such a goal was impossible to reach. Thankfully, I later realized that this wasn’t such a bad thing. If I’m always there for my kids, I’m most likely doing more harm than good.

Busyness doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But if it is to be a friend of the family, a lot of communication is required. There are things that the children of busy parents must hear.

“Later.”

It’s time for you to leave for work. In your daughter’s mind, it’s time for you to sit down and drink invisible tea. Something has to give. You decide to make a date. You promise to drink invisible tea with her after you get home from work. She isn’t exactly thrilled. You feel like the worst parent on the planet.

Relax. You’re not the worst parent on the planet. Just go to a dollar store when school gets out or watch your late local news and you’ll start to feel better about your parenting.

“Later”, as long as it isn’t used too often and assuming that you follow through with your promise, is a good word for your kids to hear. It reminds them of the importance of work. It demonstrates the value of making commitments and keeping those commitments. Perhaps most importantly, it reminds them that they are not God.

“Okay.”

Although your kids aren’t God, they still need to be reminded that they are important. And no matter how important your job is, your kids need to be shown that they are more important than your job.

This means taking them to work with you if you can. It means laying down in the floor to wrestle or change a doll’s diapers when you probably should have left 15 minutes ago. Obviously, this can’t happen all the time. But when it does, it teaches your kids a very important lesson. They matter to you. And that’s one of those lessons that is best taught by demonstration rather than lecture.

“I’m happy.”

Your job sure would be easier if you didn’t have a 6-year-old sitting next to you all day asking questions. And think of all of the work you could get done if you didn’t have to drop your daughter off at school by 8 or have your son at practice at 4:30. Go ahead, think about it. Stew over it. Dream about how easy life would be if your kids were grown and out on their own. And then just let the bitterness take over. Before too long, you just might get your wish. Just remember, that’s one of those non-refundable wishes.

There is a better way. Be happy. Tell your kids that you’re glad that you get to take them to school. Instead of showing them how busy you are and what a sacrifice you’re making by waiting in a car line, show them how much fun you have when you are with them.

Our culture puts a lot of emphasis on childhood self-esteem. We design buildings, write books and even preach sermons to tell kids that they matter. The results have been less than stellar. Maybe that’s because, despite all of our spending and talking, our kids still feel like they’re in our way.

If you really care about how your kid feels about himself, show him and let him know that you enjoy being around him.

“I’m sorry.”

Most of us have been on the wrong end of broken promises. We know that pain. We vow to never hurt our kids the way that we were hurt. But again, that can sometimes be a vow that is impossible to keep.

All parents, no matter what they tell you in their Facebook statuses, are sinners. We all mess up. We make promises and we break them, leaving us feeling guilty and our kids devastated. That’s when the damage control starts. We blame our schedule. We even blame our kids.

This cycle never works. It only leaves us feeling a little less guilty about our devastated and emotionally scarred children. Rather than healing, we simply conceal the wound with our excuses.

Real healing happens with repentance. It happens when we confess to our kids and to God that we blew it. Not only does this repair any wounds we helped to create, it also gives our children a guide to follow as they deal with their own sins. Taking their sins to their heavenly Father will be much easier for them when they see their earthly mother and father doing the same thing.

Your children know that you’re not perfect. Stop trying to convince them otherwise. Get a grip on the real condition of your heart and just say that you’re sorry.

At the end of every day, there will always be jobs left undone. Loving and guiding our children should never be one of them.

The Frightening Sound We Make When We Stop Singing In Church

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You’re not supposed to feel out of place at church. I did.

I couldn’t have been more than ten-years-old. I was about to sing my first and only solo. Man, I was nervous.

I still remember my line.

“Believing you can light up the sky.”

There were two other kids and an adult with me. We were supposed to be shepherds. Singing shepherds. The kind that only existed in church Christmas musicals from the 1980s.

The adult that was with us worked on the air for an Atlanta radio station. This was nothing for him. He had one of those golden voices that, no matter what he was saying, you knew that he was created for radio. And church Christmas musicals from the 1980s.

The other two kids were also designed for this sort of thing. They were a little older than me. I think that the girl had been taking singing lessons since she was in the womb. I’m not sure about the boy’s musical training. All I remember about him is that he had a perm. Boys with perms are great performers.

And then there was me. I just wanted to get this over with. I was tired of Saturday evening practices that cut into my pro wrestling viewing. I didn’t want to sing in public. I didn’t have a perm. I had no musical training.

Well, I guess I did have some musical training.

There were two ladies in charge of the kid’s choir at my church. Mrs. Scott and Mrs.Tingle taught me pretty much everything I know about singing. That’s not much. But what I learned, I still carry with me today, almost thirty years after my first and last official solo.

Mrs. Scott was very formal. I don’t think that she ever had a hair out of place. Mrs. Tingle was much older. Arthritis had gotten the best of her crooked fingers and hands. But, somehow, she still managed to play the piano. And for some reason, these two ladies saw fit to make me sing a solo in a Christmas play.

So there I was, waiting back stage for my musical debut. The radio guy was calm. The guy with the perm was, well, permy. Is that a word? But the girl, the one who I thought had been taking singing lessons since the womb, was nowhere to be found. Eventually, someone found her. In the bathroom. Sick.

This did wonders for my nerves. If Julie Andrews is throwing up, what should I be doing?

The show went on and I worked my way through the solo. When it was over, I went and sat with my mom. I’m sure that she was proud. Not proud in the sense of, “When they invent American Idol in a couple of decades, my son should try out.” It was more of a, “I can’t believe that he didn’t throw up all over himself” proud.

Last Sunday, just before I stood up to preach, I thought about that solo. There were kids all over our sanctuary’s stage, singing a song. None of them had a solo. None of them had a perm. But they were all singing. Together.

I still remember the words to their song.

“Ho – Ho – Hosanna! Everybody praise the Lord.”

Two of those kids were my sons. I was proud of them. And it wasn’t the, “I can’t believe that they didn’t throw up on themselves” kind of proud. I was proud to see them singing. They were learning the same lesson that I learned in my church when I was somewhere around their age.

Great truths are meant to be sung.

I haven’t intentionally sang a solo in church since that 1980s Christmas musical. But I have done a lot of singing. And every time I do, whether it’s an old hymn or a new song, I think about Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle and all that they taught me.

Great truths are meant to be sung.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle are in the church that I pastor. They’re much younger and they have different names. But their impact is still the same. They are the volunteers who are teaching kids how to worship Jesus. Most of the kids in our church may never grow up to be great performers. But they can grow up to be great worshipers. All because of what they learned from the ladies in their church.

At some point in our transition from childhood to adulthood, something frightening happens. We stop singing. It’s as if we believe that singing is just for kids and trained professionals. As if someone might get hurt if they try to sing without the proper credentials. And so we see congregations full of adults looking down at the floor and mumbling when it’s time to sing. That’s one of the most frightening sounds you’ll ever hear in a church building.

Mrs. Scott and Mrs. Tingle showed me a better way. Ladies in the church that I pastor are doing the same thing for our children. They are teaching more than music theory.

They are teaching that great truths are meant to be sung.

And it sounds beautiful.

Cheap And Easy Places To Take Your Kids

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The family vacation is important. It’s good to get away as a family to rest and make new memories. But you can only take so many family vacations in a year. Well, unless you happen to be an elected federal official but that’s for another post. What about the rest of us? Are there any places for normal parents to take their kids on a random Tuesday in the middle of July?

You bet! And there are added benefits to these destinations. Along with being cheap and easy, they just might help your kids along in their process of growing into adulthood.

1. The Backyard

I’ll never forget the time when my mother threw me out of the house. I was probably six-years-old and I was most definitely devastated. My mom didn’t care. Well, she cared. That was her whole reason for throwing me out. She just didn’t care that I was devastated.

I was spending too much time inside. And by inside, I mean following my mother around everywhere she went. Maybe she needed her space. Maybe she was thinking of my future. I don’t care. I’m just really glad that my mom threw me out of the house with very simple instructions.

“Stay outside until I tell you to come in. And get dirty. You’re a boy. It’s what your supposed to do.”

This parenting technique has fallen out of style. Progressives tell us that boys should never be told that, gasp!, there is a difference between the sexes. Safety Nazis remind us of all of the toxins that are in our mud. The self-esteem gurus preach a gospel of affirmation at all costs.

And just look at all the wonderful places these new and improved parenting techniques have taken us.

They’ve left us with a generation of kids with clean fingernails, confusion about their sexuality and fear about all of the terrible things that might happen to them.

Parents who care about the long term well-being of their children will take them on a trip outside, drop them off and go back inside without them. The kids will be fine. If you don’t trust me, just check in on them from afar every so often. That’s why the kitchen window was invented. And remember this, the broken bones, twisted ankles and scraped knees that may accompany your child’s otherwise unaccompanied trip to the backyard are not near as bad for him as the smooth skin that comes from an entire childhood spent in front of a television.

2. The Bathroom

Every kid needs to be taken to the bathroom. And I don’t just mean when nature calls. I mean taken to the bathroom. As in, “If you don’t straighten up, we’re going to the bathroom.”

There aren’t enough trips to the bathroom these days. We’ve all been in a restaurant with our significant other, finally able to enjoy a quiet meal together that neither one of us had to cook. Everything is perfect. The service is friendly and prompt. The food is delicious. And they even let you throw your peanut shells on the floor. You know, one of those classy places.

But  there’s one problem. The kid sitting behind you can’t stay quiet. He’s screaming like he just sliced his finger open with that dull knife they bring out with the complimentary bread. Nothing his parents/handlers try seems to work. Realizing this, his parents/handlers give up. This would all be quite understandable if the upset child were 6-months-old. But this kid is ten.

While said parents/handlers enjoy their meal in relative comfort, as if this drama is no different from any other night of the week for them, you are left with a wasted date, a to-go bag and peanut shells in your hair.

All of this would have been solved with a quick trip to the bathroom. Parents who love their kids, as well as their fellow restaurant patrons, will care enough to privately and sternly correct their child in the restroom.

We didn’t do many family vacations when I was a kid. They didn’t usually fit into my single mother’s budget. But there was always time for those cheap and easy trips that helped to shape me.

One Friday night my mother was helping to serve food at our church. A kid a few years older than me walked in to tell a joke to all of the nice church ladies in the kitchen. It was a  dirty joke. Filthy is probably a better description. Eddie Murphy would have blushed. The kid’s mother asked him where he heard that joke from. The kid said my name. He wasn’t lying.

My mother took me to the bathroom.

I never told that joke again.

The Really Important Thing That You’re Missing At Your Kid’s Practice

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I was sitting on one of those lounge chairs you see around swimming pools. My kids were in the water, listening intently to their swim instructor. My phone was in my hand. It was like this time was made specifically for my relaxation.

I opened up Facebook on my phone. One of my friends got Ponch on a Which CHiPs Character Are You quiz. Another one was reminding us all that McDonald’s is bad for us.

And then something caught my eye.

It was my son. It was his turn to try to float across the pool on his back. I put my phone down and watched him. He was doing great. I couldn’t help but smile. I wanted to cheer but it didn’t seem appropriate. There had to be some way to let him know that I was proud of him. There was.

But I would have missed it if I wouldn’t have put my phone down.

As soon as he was done floating to the other side, my son turned his head in my direction. His eye caught mine. I gave him a thumbs up. A slight smile came across his face as he went back to the side of the pool to wait for his turn to go again.

Soon, it was my youngest son’s turn. Instead of looking at me when he was done floating, he looked in my direction before he started. My mouth said nothing to him. With my eyes, I tried to say, “I’m with you. You’re going to do great. Be brave.” He seemed to listen because that’s what he did.

This same scenario played out for the rest of the hour long class.

Each time a son looked in my direction, a thought hit me. What if all they saw was the top of my head while I gazed down at the latest news about the Ultimate Warrior’s untimely death? What if their searching eyes never found mine?

My sons would have missed that look of approval from their father. I would have missed the joy of giving them that approval.

Helicopter parenting is what parents do when they involve themselves in every aspect of their child’s life, never giving them room to fail, develop their own identity or learn on their own.

Zombie parenting is what parents do when they numbly mutter, “Good job” to their kid at the end of a practice or game that they never saw because they were too busy mindlessly texting, checking e-mail and figuring out which character from Friends they are most like.

Your kids don’t always need your instruction on the best technique. That’s what coaches are for. But they do need something from you that no coach can offer. They need to know that you are watching them. That you care. That you are happy with them.

That means that sometimes they need you to put down your phone.

Otherwise, you just might miss the most important thing at your kid’s practice. Making eye contact with her. And if she starts to see the top of your head too much, something really devastating will happen.

She’ll stop looking in your direction.

The Neglected Child

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There was a time when people lived in the house. There had to be. And they probably drove the car that’s parked out front.

But not anymore.

Now the house is almost impossible to see from the road. The weeds surrounding the house look like small trees. One of those small trees is growing through the car parked in the front yard.

The questions run through your mind. What turned this house into a shack? How long does a car have to stay in one place in order for a tree to grow through it? What happened?

And then you realize that the answer is much simpler than you first thought.

Nothing happened to this house. It’s all just a natural result of neglect.

A while back I took my kids to an indoor playground. I can’t prove it, but there are somewhere around 43 new diseases waiting to be discovered in indoor playgrounds. The folks responsible for these places know this. That’s why they put hand sanitizer dispensers on the wall.

I was watching my kids play while simultaneously wondering what kind of weapons grade bacteria was growing on the sliding board. Another kid caught my attention. He was playing with the hand sanitizer dispenser on the wall. Did I say playing with? I didn’t mean that. What I meant to say was eating. He was eating the hand sanitizer that came from the dispenser.

It’s always awkward when you have to correct someone else’s kid. But in this case I couldn’t help but think about this little boy losing his eye sight, needing a liver transplant and getting high. So I said something to him.

“Hey, buddy. You need to stop eating that.”

His answer was bold.

“No!”

The questions ran through my mind. How does a kid get to the point where eating hand sanitizer seems like a good thing to do? More than that, what was he taught that made him think that it was okay to yell at an adult?

The answer was simpler than I first thought.

Nothing happened to this kid. His actions were the natural result of neglect.

Parents who would never dream of leaving their child in a hot car while they run in to play a few games of video poker can still be guilty of neglect. You can stay by your child’s side every hour that she is awake and have her sleeping next to you during the hours that she sleeps and still neglect her.

It happens when a parent laughs when correction is needed. You’ve probably seen this before. A small child disobeys a direct command from her father. And it’s not just a lazy disobedience. It’s a bold, you-can’t-make-me-do-anything type of disobedience. Instead of correction, the father laughs it off and says something about her being just like her mother.

Sure, there may be a threat or two thrown in but it’s never followed through. In some ways, this is even worse than doing nothing. Empty threats train kids to believe that words and rules carry no power behind them. Even if those words come from a teacher. Or a judge. Or God.

Neglect also happens when a child is treated as an object of worship rather than a human being in need of training. On the surface this may look like the opposite of neglect. You’re with the child all the time. Your whole life revolves around him. Everything takes a back seat to his baseball schedule. Everything. Which is another way to say that you worship him.

If you want your son to have an identity crisis later in life because his professors, bosses and friends don’t treat him like a god, do everything you can to treat him like a god now.

Kids are a lot of fun. But they make terrible gods. They need their parent’s instruction, not their parent’s worship.

And kids are funny. But some of the things they say and do that seem funny at first are actually quite deadly. That’s when they need their parent’s discipline and correction instead of the nonverbal approval of mom and dad’s laughter.

Nothing good ever comes from neglect. It’s true for cars and houses and it’s true for kids. If you want to raise monsters, neglect the hard work of discipline and instruction. But if you want to raise men and women, you’ll have to get some dirt under your fingernails.

Compassionate discipline and correction are the preventative maintenance that helps to keep the monstrous weeds of idol worship and rebellion from growing up around your child.

There is no such thing as a perfect child.

Nor is there a perfect parent.

But that’s no excuse for neglect.

“The Mormons Are Here!”

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You never know what’s going to happen in your driveway.

When we pulled into our neighborhood, my wife was the first one in the car to notice the bicycles parked in the grass. When I saw them, I didn’t give them a second thought. Her reaction was quite different.

She started cheering.

“The Mormons are here! The Mormons are here!”

When we pulled into our driveway, we saw that my wife was right. The Mormons really were here. The two young men were leaving the house across the street. Nobody was home. Well, at least nobody answered the door. There may have been a few sets of eyes peeping though the blinds to see if the coast was clear.

When we parked, my wife went to check the mail. I emphasize that phrase because she didn’t care anything about checking the mail. She just wanted to make contact with the Mormons. I followed and we began our conversation with the two young men at the point where our driveway meets the street.

My wife and son went inside while I talked to the Mormons. We started out with small talk. As our conversation turned to weightier theological matters, I would soon experience one of my proudest moments as a pastor.

I told them to give me their pitch. My aim was to politely listen to their beliefs before sharing what the Bible says about Jesus being God. They had different plans.

“You first. Tell us your religious background.”

I told them that I was a Southern Baptist pastor. They weren’t shocked. Recent studies show that three out of four people in the state of Georgia are Southern Baptist pastors. The other guy works for The Waffle House.

They asked me for the name of the church that I pastor.

“Towaliga Baptist Church.”

Again, they weren’t shocked.

And that shocked me.

When I say Towaliga Baptist Church to people who have spent their whole lives in Georgia, they look at me like I just started talking backwards. And then they always ask the same question.

“Now how do you pronounce that?”

I tell them.

And then they practice. Right in front of me.

“Toe-luh-goo?”

“Tuh-lunger?”

“Tow-ah-lah-heekah?”

“Talladega? Talladega! Do you know Dale Jr.?”

It’s quite fun to watch. I feel sorry for the pastors of churches with simpler names like Grace Community Church of the Organic Spiritual Journey at the CrossPointe Campus. Those guys are really missing out.

But there was no awkward conversation or pronunciation classes with the Mormons from Utah. When I said Towaliga, it’s as if I said something about skiing or Napoleon Dynamite.

Their eyes got big and they laughed.

“Oh yeah. We know all about that church.”

I was confused. They must have us mistaken for Talladega. People from Utah do not know all about our church.

But these two did. I asked them why.

“We went to a house the other day and met a guy named Reggie from your church. He laid it on us pretty good.”

Reggie is a great friend and a leader in our church. He called me a few days before my meeting with these Mormons. Like most of our phone conversations, it was a quick one.

“Hey, I just got to talk to two Mormons in my driveway. They’ll probably be at church in a few Sundays. I think I laid it on them pretty good. Be praying.”

He gave me their contact info and I made plans to call them. I never got around to it. So God sent them to my driveway.

Our conversation ended with the usual disagreements about who Jesus really is and the authority of the Bible. I was sad when those two kids left my driveway. I’m still praying for God to show them the true gospel and lead them to faith in the true Jesus.

But I was happy too.

I was happy to be a part of a church with a reputation. Actually every church has a reputation. Some are known as entertainment complexes where crowds flock for a few kicks and some spiritual pep. Others are known as gigantic graveyards where the only sign of life is the firing of yet another pastor every few years.

But some are known for the gospel they proclaim and the people who lovingly live it out.

People will forget about our huge buildings and extravagant programs. Any organization can offer those things. But the gospel is different. When a church takes the gospel seriously and cares enough for others to engage them with that message of hope, a cross-shaped impression is left.

One day, those two young men will probably go back home to Utah. They’ll take with them stories about pollen, sweet tea and Southern Baptists. I just hope that’s not all. I hope that they’ll tell a story that begins in the pollen stained driveways of a few folks who go to a church with a funny name. I hope that they’ll tell a story that ends with their being rescued by God’s saving grace.

You never know what God will do with a few simple conversations in driveways.