In Defense Of Youth Sports

He walked over to the sidelines with a frown on his face. Another tie. But I was still proud.

My son had just finished his last soccer game of the weekend. In this particular game, he spent most of his time battling against one of those nine-year-olds who has a five o’clock shadow and drove to the game. As soon as my son got to me, I turned him around so that he could see the giant he had been going up against. I spoke into his ear.

I told him to look at how big that kid was. I told him that he virtually shut down that big kid for the entire game. I told him that he had done what most kids his age would have been too scared to do. By “most kids,” I meant me when I was his age. There was no way that the nine-year-old version of myself would have gone against that kid. But my son did. And I was proud. So I told him.

I told him that he was brave.

I told him that he acted like a man out there.

That’s what I love about youth sports. For all that tends to go wrong at practices and games across our country due to overbearing parents, out of control coaches and spoiled kids, there is still a lot of good that comes from these weekend rituals.

It’s important that parents not rely on a sport to do for their kids what only a parent was designed to do. It’s been said that sports builds character. Maybe so. But the character that’s built isn’t always good. It’s the parent’s job to shape, add to or even tear down what’s being built.

Parents, your kid’s sport should be a tool in your tool box not a babysitter to occupy their time or a god to master them.

From the time when they were babies, I taught my sons how to listen. When they were old enough to kick a ball and have a coach, my sons started to become listeners. The living room and kitchen table are the classrooms where my sons learned their lessons about integrity, listening and effort. The playing field and the school playground are the internships where they’re able to put what they have learned into practice. Like their father, they don’t always do it right. That’s okay. Class is always in session back home in the living room and at the kitchen table.

Your kids may not get a college scholarship because of their sport. But they will have to make tough decisions. They will have to deal with difficult people. They will be tempted to quit when they need to go on.

It’s then when they’ll think back to their youth sports days. The days when they were first able to live out what you taught them. They’ll think about the giant they had to defend. And they’ll carry on with what needs to be done. Because that’s what their sport taught them.

Youth sports can be costly. You can pay dearly with your wallet and your schedule. But if you’re smart, you’ll be glad that you did. Even if your kid can’t one day pay you back with a scholarship or signing bonus. You are making memories together that will not soon be forgotten. But, more than that, you are making men and women.

And sports is one of the best tools you can use.

I Don’t Understand The Bachelor

I’m getting older. Wisdom is supposed to come with age but I’m not sure if that’s the case for me. In fact, the older I get, the less I seem to understand.

First up on my list of things that I don’t understand is that show The Bachelor. Now, I’ve never watched The Bachelor so excuse my ignorance but this is how the show works, as best as I understand it.

1. A bunch of ladies sign up to go on TV and try to win the heart and/or bank account of some young single fellow who is either a lawyer, model or recently retired from the NFL.

2. Each week, the single, rich model takes a different girl out on a date and to meet his family back on the farm. The family always lives on a farm. This is to appeal to the viewers in middle American and the south.

3. After the single, rich model has finished making out with all of the ladies and introducing them to his parents, he picks the one that he likes the best.

4. The rest of the ladies cuss and fight. One of them gets her own show next season called, wait for it, The BacheloretteThe Bachelorette is essentially the same as The Bachelor except for this time it’s a woman trying to pick from a bunch of hapless men. Also, great efforts are taken to make viewers believe that our Bachelorette is an everyday girl of noble character. Great efforts are also taken to make viewers forget that she’s the kind of a girl who would find her soul mate by going through a bunch of men on national television.

5. The Bachelor and his new lady get married four months later, just in time to get people talking about The Bachelorette.

Oh, I almost forgot number 6.

6. About two weeks after The Bachelor and the winner of his contest and/or heart get married, they get divorced and one of them gets to be on the cover of People.

This is classified as reality television.

Nothing could be further from reality.

Ladies, imagine if some bachelor walked up to you and your friends while you were shopping for your White Rain at Wal-Mart and said the following.

“Hello, ladies. I’m looking for a wife and I’m sure that one of you will do just fine. Would you please come over to my house for a quick contest? You’ll get to meet my parents and, worst case scenario, I’ll give you a rose. But if things work out okay, we’ll be married, separated and irreconcilably different from each other all before the year is out. Oh, and did I mention that it will all be on camera?”

How romantic.

On second thought, maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit. I think that I really do understand The Bachelor. People just want to be on television. And when you want to be on television bad enough, it makes you do stupid things. Like go on The Bachelor. Or run for president.

One day my sons will probably get married. I sure hope that they don’t go on some reality television show to find that special someone. Here’s to hoping that they find their wives the old fashioned way.

At a professional wrestling match.

Hey, nothing draws in the really classy ladies like a cage match between Sting and a 120-year-old Ric Flair. Plus, if they’re willing to pay enough of their hard earned money for front row seats, my sons might even get to be on television with their brides to be.

Here’s to the future. The old fashioned way.

Wooooooooooo!

A Word Of Encouragement To Struggling Pastors Of Struggling Churches

Your church is broke.

It’s not made up of a lot of successful people.

There are a lot of needs there.

Good.

As long as you can recognize that, your church is in much better shape than you think. Many churches find their identity in their savings, their reputation for successful ministry and their lack of need. And it makes Jesus sick.

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 3:16-17 (ESV)

It’s not the money or the success that’s the problem. Wise financial planning is crucial. Successful ministries and programs are good things. But they quickly turn bad when we find our security in those things and forget just how desperately we need Jesus.

The church that pleases Jesus isn’t always the one with the most money or the shiniest, most cutting-edge ministries. In fact, it’s quite possible that some of those that look like churches are really just organizations. Organizations that have organized Jesus out of everything that they are doing. They have kicked him out and left him knocking on the front door while they relish their so called success.

Pastor, maybe you don’t feel quite equipped for the job God has given to you.

Maybe your church is financially treading water while even the simplest of ministries have become burdensome. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t compare yourself to the other churches or organizations around you.

If your eyes are clear enough to see your desperate need for God’s grace, you are a success.

Pastor, Jesus doesn’t need your church.

But your church needs him.

As long as you remember that, no matter what failures and successes you experience, you will be a success where it really matters.

“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Revelation 3:21-22 (ESV)

ISIS Wants To Come To Griffin, Georgia

I saw the list for the first time early Wednesday morning. It had cities that you might expect. Seattle. Phoenix. San Antonio. There were other cities that I’m not familiar with. And then there was one that I’m very familiar with.

Griffin, Georgia.

ISIS wants to attack Griffin, Georgia. Not New York City. Not even Atlanta. But tiny Griffin, Georgia. The place where I buy groceries.

So this one’s for you ISIS. Before you come after Griffin, there are a few things that you need to know.

First, someone has already beaten you to the punch. Years ago another organization came to Griffin and the town hasn’t been the same since. That organization is called Wal-Mart. Just a quick drive through the parking lot of the Wal-Mart in Griffin, Georgia will send you back to your homeland with your heads hung low and your blood pressure too high. Your bosses won’t be happy.

“How was the trip to Griffin?”

“Terrible. How do you expect us to conduct a holy war while so many people are shopping in their pajamas and flip flops while beating their children?”

“Well, what are we supposed to tell the person who is funding our operation?”

“Tell Mrs. Clinton to do it herself.”

Next, haven’t you seen Red Dawn? Probably not. Well, it’s a movie about a small town that gets invaded by another country. They made the movie twice. Both times, the invading country was defeated because of a group of high school football players. In both Red Dawn movies the high school football team was terrible but they still managed to defeat an army. The Griffin Bears won the state championship two years ago. I rest my case.

Finally, there is a very good chance that Griffin, Georgia could be the place where your whole operation comes to an end. Perhaps I should explain. About every three feet in Griffin there is a Waffle House. You can expect at least four things in every Waffle House in Griffin, Georgia.

1. Bacon

2. Nicotine

3. Kid Rock songs on the jukebox

4. People who drive trucks and carry guns

I’m no expert on ISIS but from what I understand that’s four things that wouldn’t make you feel too welcomed. Good, country people have been beaten at Waffle Houses for saying off color things about Dale Earnhardt and wrestling being fake. I can’t imagine the response you’ll get when you interrupt some guy’s breakfast with your shouts of death to America. American bombs are one thing but you haven’t seen war until you disturb some guy named Big Earl while he’s trying to eat his eggs, clean his AR-15 and listen to Hank sing A Country Boy Can Survive.

A lot of people are worried about ISIS coming to Griffin. But I say that we should roll out the red carpet for them. Some in our government are bent on paying off these terrorists or starting another war and you see how well that’s working out. That won’t happen in Griffin.

Don’t let our representatives fool you, ISIS. There are some tough people in this country. A lot of them live in Griffin, Georgia. They eat their eggs there. They shop in their pajamas there. And, much to the chagrin of some in our government, those people are heavily armed.

So please, by all means, come to Griffin. Just let me know when you get there so I can tell the lady at Wal-Mart that you told her to control her child and the guy at Waffle House that you said that lady NASCAR driver was ten times better than Dale Earnhardt.

That should put an end to your terrorism.

Wolverines!

I mean Bears!

The Thing That Jesus Hates About Your Worship Service

It’s one of the oldest battles in the history of the church. Back in the old days, there were people who didn’t want any music in the church. Now, people just want their music in the church. If there’s one thing that church people just can’t seem to get together on it’s music.

Usually this battle plays itself out amongst two sides. The Trendies and they Traditionalists.

The Trendies don’t want to sing anything older than January of 2015. Some of their music is upbeat. Some is somber. But it’s all, well, quite trendy. Take the words out and you could easily imagine hearing one of the Trendies’ songs on a Top 40 station. Sometimes the songs that the Trendies sing at church come directly from a Top 40 station.

“This morning’s call to worship will be performed by Ariana Grande and Ryan Seacrest will be leading us in the opening prayer.”

On the other side, there are the Traditionalists. For many of them, any song newer than 1981was written in hell. They can’t understand the fascination with fancy screens when hymn books are so much easier, cheaper and, well, more traditional. The music at the traditionalist church also sounds like it could be played on a Top 40 station. If they had Top 40 radio stations in 1781.

Members from both sides have been battling each other for quite some time. Both claim to have the market cornered on the style of music that Jesus would prefer were he to ever show up at their church one Sunday morning. But both sides are guilty of forgetting something very important about their brand of worship.

There is a strong chance that Jesus, the one you’re allegedly singing to and about, hates it.

His hatred has nothing to do with the drums being too loud or the songs not being relevant enough. The cause of his hate can be found every Sunday morning. You can see it in old school cathedrals with huge pipe organs as well as in trendy gatherings with Grammy Award winning worship leaders.

Your favorite song or modern worship anthem may hold a special place in your heart. But if that special place in your heart is right next to the special place where you harbor resentment, bitterness and hate toward your neighbor, God doesn’t care to hear your worship.

Jesus hates your traditional hymns.

And your modern worship makes him sick.

Jesus has no interest in your worship songs if they’re being sung by people who are disobeying his command to love their neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

More than Amazing Grace or whatever your favorite hip new worship song is, there are times when Jesus would much rather hear us say to one another, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” If we’re not prepared to sing that song, we should stop singing all together. To the best of our ability, we should make things right with those who we have wronged and with those who have sinned against us. And then we should come back and sing to the God who has forgiven us of our greater sins.

There is no amount of tradition or trendiness that can make up for the absence of God’s power in a church. No matter how good your music is, don’t count on seeing God work in a significant way if that music is being sung by a bunch of people who hate each other.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:23-24 (ESV)

An Urgent Warning For Healthy People

There’s something worse than being out of shape and not able to fit into the jeans you wore last year.

Imagine the horror of finally losing those last ten pounds.

Imagine that feeling of emptiness that comes with hitting a personal record on your half marathon time.

Imagine the shame of having perfect blood pressure.

Only to get to the end of your life and find out that none of that mattered quite as much as you thought it did. Don’t get me wrong. God gave you your body. He designed it to move, not lay around and eat chips. And you only get one body. So it’s important that you take care of it. But there’s a difference between taking care of something and worshiping it.

A good sign that you are worshiping your body is that you find your identity in numbers. The three digits on the scale. The time on your watch when you cross the finish line. The reading on the blood pressure monitor.

Another good sign that you are worshiping the body god is when you feel like the worst person ever when you miss exercising a day or two in a row but never think twice about going days, weeks and months without communicating with God or communing with his saints.

The tragedy here is that those numbers you’re always chasing will eventually betray you. At some point, your body will get weaker and slower. Your blood will stop moving like it’s supposed to move. What then?

Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 (ESV)

Taking care of yourself is valuable. It matters. I highly recommend it.

Just be careful that it doesn’t become your god. Because, like all other pretend gods, this one will let you down.

There’s something worse than being out of shape and not being able to fit into the jeans you wore last year.

That something is to make it to your last day on earth with perfect blood pressure, six-pack abs and a great 10k time only to find out, too late, that your Creator wasn’t quite as impressed with your accomplishments as you were.

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:20-21 (ESV)

Beware of the easily blurred line between taking care of yourself and worshiping yourself.

Is It Possible To Be Too Humble?

If you’re the type who likes to spend hours a day admiring yourself, please stop reading this. If you can’t make it more than a few hours without telling others, ever so subtly, how awesome you are, stop reading. This post isn’t for arrogant self-promoters. And it isn’t for the false humble. You know, the type who like to ramble on and on about their supposed short comings but are really only looking for cheap compliments.

This is for the humble. And the message is short and simple.

Be careful that you do not become too humble.

I know, it sounds weird. Humility is good. Jesus tells us to be humble. He rewards the humble. He humbled himself, even to the point of death. So what’s so bad about humility?

Nothing.

Until we start forgetting about God’s power.

Centuries ago, the people of Israel were living as slaves. God had a plan to deliver them. And, as usual, his plan included a flawed human being playing the role of rescuer. This time, that human being’s name was Moses. Not Rambo. Not the dad from the Taken movies. Moses.

When God called Moses out for this job, Moses was quick to give all of the reasons why God was wrong to pick him.

“I’m a nobody” (Exodus 3:11).

“I don’t know what to say” (Exodus 3:13).

“They won’t listen to me” (Exodus 4:1).

“I’m not good at public speaking” (Exodus 4:10).

And finally, “Look, could you please just find someone else to do this?” (Exodus 4:13).

God didn’t leave Moses alone and go back to heaven bragging about Moses’ superior humility. No, he got angry at Moses (Exodus 4:14-17). That’s because, more than just being humble, Moses was forgetting the power of God. What looked like humility was really just a cover for a lack of faith in God and his power.

Of course God knew about the obstacles. He knew that Pharaoh would be difficult. He knew that Moses couldn’t talk well. He knew about Moses’ questionable past. But he called him anyway. That’s what God does. He displays his unmatched power through the weaknesses of his broken people.

He called a skeptical weakling, not a battle tested warrior, to lead a mighty army (Judges 6).

He called a tiny shepherd boy, not a grizzly gladiator, to defeat a giant (1 Samuel 17).

He called fishermen, not the spiritual elite or religious celebrities of the day, to be his disciples (Matthew 4:18-22).

God is still working today. He is working in hard places. He is overcoming what seems impossible. And he is working through people like you to do it.

Shaping children into responsible adults is hard. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Teaching a classroom of third graders with special needs is hard. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Making a stand against oppression and injustice is impossible on your own. You can’t do it. But God will do it through you.

Humility is a good thing. It’s more than that. It is an essential thing. But it is possible to mistake humility for something else. Something far different and more sinister than what Jesus commanded for his people.

When God chooses to demonstrate his power through you, his tattered and imperfect instrument, and you curl up, declining his command while citing your weaknesses and all of the other reasons why you can’t do it, you are not being humble. You’re being disobedient.

So watch your humility. Make sure that it doesn’t turn into disobedience. Otherwise you might miss the joy of having the power of God overshadow your weaknesses and work through you in such a way that someone else’s world is changed forever.

You’re right. You can’t do it.

But God can.

And he will.

Will you?

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 (ESV)

A Word To Churches With Poor Pastors

A lot has been made of Creflo Dollar’s plea for money to buy a new jet. Sadly, preachers like that aren’t unusual. Turn your television to the religious stations right now and you’re sure to find some guy begging for money and promising a divine blessing in return. These men are more like confidence men than they are men of God.

Of course, this isn’t the case for all preachers. There is another end to the Creflo spectrum. It is there where you will find legitimate men of God who are quietly and faithfully serving churches while barely making enough to provide for themselves, much less a family. And, for fear of being lumped in with Creflo, they don’t say anything.

“What do you mean you would like a retirement plan? Who do you think you are, Creflo Dollar?!”

I’m thankful to be a part of a generous church. But many pastors aren’t. They’re told to have a little more faith. They are reminded that they didn’t get into the ministry to get rich. They are barely making it. Still, they continue to serve faithfully.

While in seminary I spent a fair amount of time checking the job openings for pastors. Here’s a basic summary of how far too many of them looked.

We are searching for God’s man to lead our church. We would prefer him to have a seminary degree and to at least have begun doctoral work. The ideal candidate will have at least 30 years of experience, a wife and three or more well-behaved, blonde-haired, blue-eyed children with Old Testament names. Yearly compensation: $14,000.

I don’t know your church’s budget situation but it won’t hurt for you to take another look at how you are taking care of your pastoral staff. If you’re underpaying him, chances are that he’ll never say anything. But he’ll still feel the hardships of your stinginess. And so will his wife. And his kids.

Since he won’t say anything, I’ll do it for him.

Stop going into debt from building gyms. Stop hoarding thousands and thousands of dollars for some rainy day that you’re church will likely never see but your pastor likely sees every day. Stop being greedy and take care of your leader. If you don’t think he’s worth it, get rid of him and find someone who is.

Look out for him when it comes time for him to pay his taxes. If every United States citizen had to pay taxes like ministers, there would be a revolution by tomorrow afternoon. Some pastors have figured the system out. Others haven’t. And they are the victims of a financial catastrophe every year. Courtesy of the IRS. And your church.

There are a lot of churches that have much more in common with Creflo Dollar than they would care to admit. Neither one of them has the first clue what to do with the money that God has given to them to manage.

Most pastors that I know are nothing like Creflo. They don’t need a private jet.

They’d just like to be able to turn on the air conditioner this summer.