A Second American Revolution On The Way To School

I’m pretty sure that my car isn’t bugged by the government because if it was, I’d be in Guantanamo Bay right now.

When I drive my kids to school, I always get the same question. Hearing this question several times a week doesn’t make it any less unusual.

“Dad, can we talk about the government and stuff?”

I always say yes.

Here’s a brief summary of every single conversation we have on our way to school.

“So dad, what’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans?”

“Not enough, son. Not enough.”

“Why would politicians in Washington vote for a bill that they haven’t even read that could have stuff in it that’s bad for us?”

“Because a lot of the powerful politicians in Washington are owned by banks and major corporations. They care more about pleasing their bosses than they do protecting our liberty.”

That’s the part where I hold my breath for a second and wait for a warning message on the radio telling me to watch what I say to my kids. Either that or a drone strike. So far, neither one has happened. So far.

There are more questions. Questions about John F. Kennedy getting shot and what kind of a president Lincoln was. Questions about ISIS and whether or not they could defeat our country. Tough questions. But important ones nonetheless that need a solid answer.

Sometimes I don’t like the answers that I have to give.

When I was young, old-timers used to tell me scary stories about the kind of a world that my kids would grow up in. The future is now, it seems. Freedom has eroded. Corruption is king. Pleasure is the new state religion. What a world.

After I drop my kids off in the mornings, I drive to work by myself. There are no more questions coming from the backseat. But there are plenty coming from my seat. Each silent question running through my head is saying the same thing. What can I do to make sure that my kids don’t grow up in the kind of a world that the old-timers told me about?

I think about letters I could write to senators and witty Facebook statuses I could post to draw people’s attention to what’s going on around us. But none of it seems to be enough.

I’ve got another idea. A better idea. Smaller but better.

Our sons and daughters aren’t driven to school in the mornings by Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson. That’s not what they need. What they need is a father and a mother. Not a father and mother with all of the answers. Just ones who care enough to listen to their questions and respond with the truth as best as they can. Even when the truth can be scary.

Parents, instead of chewing our nails off and giving our kids ulcers by talking about the world that they are growing up in, let’s focus on preparing them for it as well. Let’s show them the freedom that comes with living in dependence on the one true God and with independence from the false gods in Washington. Teach them the importance of working, not just for things, but for family and neighbors as well. Teach them to give and to love. Instead of ignoring the troubles around us, let’s teach our kids to spot the half truths while speaking the whole truth in love, even if it means not getting a whole lot of love in return.

These lessons don’t just come from our answers to questions. They are shown in the way that you live when you and your family come back home together at the end of another long day filled with news of corrupt politicians, shootings, riots and wars.

Many of our elected officials have sold us out. They have taken from us while hoping that the bread and circus around us would keep us too busy to notice. They have thought only of themselves at the expense of those whom they are supposed to be serving.

Parents, may the same not be said of us.

Our sons and daughters don’t have too many politicians whom they can look to for an example. But they will look to a father and mother. Even when everything falls apart, the best thing that we can provide for those inquisitive little minds in our backseat and around our kitchen table is a bold reminder that our ultimate citizenship is in a Kingdom that cannot be shaken and our submission is to a King who knows no corruption.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:28-29 (ESV)

Two Christmas Babies

It’s Christmas and I’m a Southern Baptist pastor.

That means that my attention is on the story of an unsuspecting woman who would give birth to a hero. At the time of the birth, there were no Christmas carols. There was no gift giving. Just an angel with an unusual message and two scared parents. And then a baby.

This baby was special. He wasn’t going to be like anyone else. He was born with a mission to deliver his people. But it didn’t work out as planned. You could even say that this promising baby grew up to be a failure. He lived much of his life as a prisoner to the very same desires that were keeping his people in bondage. And at the end of his life, he was living as a slave to the very people he was meant to defeat.

Samson was a slave to his desires. Just like his people (Judges 13:1) he did what seemed right in his own eyes. Whenever the Bible says something about a person or group of people doing what seemed right in their own eyes, look out. Bad things are coming. For Samson, what seemed right was marrying a Philistine.

Samson went down to Timnah, and at Timnah he saw one of the daughters of the Philistines. Then he came up and told his father and mother, “I saw one of the daughters of the Philistines at Timnah. Now get her for me as my wife.” But his father and mother said to him, “Is there not a woman among the daughters of your relatives, or among all our people, that you must go to take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.” Judges 14:1-3 (ESV)

Samson was supposed to defeat the Philistines, not marry them. But his decision proved to be one of many compromises that led to his death (Judges 14:8-10).

If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Samson and Delilah. For Samson, Delilah was a rebound of sorts from a quick fling he had with a prostitute. Delilah was no fling. The Bible says that she was relentless in her pursuit of the source of Samson’s great strength (Judges 16:16). Samson never told Delilah his secret and used her inquisitiveness  to kill more Philistines while displaying his great strength. Finally, as he was accustomed to doing, Samson gave in. One of his last sayings as a healthy and mighty warrior was a tragic mix of arrogance and practical atheism.

“I will go out as at other times and shake myself free” Judges 16:20 (ESV).

You’ll notice that there was no mention of the spirit of the Lord as was the case earlier in Samson’s life. The next line of verse 20 is heart breaking.

But he did not know that the LORD had left him.

The Philistines captured Samson and gouged out those eyes of his that got him into trouble at the beginning of the Bible’s account of his life. The story ends with Samson’s hair growing back and his strength returning with it for one last battle with the Philistines. Samson killed a bunch of them and himself too in the process. Samson was gone for good. But the Philistines did not go away. Years later a small shepherd boy would take down a big Philistine with a small rock. And even that didn’t do away with them completely.

Thankfully, there was another baby.

Unlike Samson, instead of just doing what seemed right, he did what was right. All of the time. He was obedient.

Unlike Samson, he didn’t come to deliver his people from Philistines. To the dismay of some of his contemporaries, he didn’t come to bring deliverance from an oppressive Roman government. No, this baby was a greater warrior than Samson and he came to defeat a greater enemy – sin.

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21 (ESV)

God left Samson because of Samson’s great sin.

God turned is back on his own Son because of our great sin.

Both men knew that feeling of abandonment. Only one knew it without sin.

Samson’s life is a story of promises that never came to pass. Jesus’ is a story of promises fulfilled. He didn’t peak in early childhood only to fall away like other supposed saviors. He was obedient to the point of death. All of the time. And he didn’t come to bring temporary relief from a pesky enemy. He came to bring eternal life from sin and its eternally deadly consequences.

Just like Samson, Jesus didn’t stay a baby.

Just like Samson, Jesus’ mission led him to the grave.

But unlike Samson, Jesus isn’t there anymore.

Immanuel, God with us, promised that he would always be with us. Even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20).

Our enemy is greater than anything we could ever know.

But our Savior is greater than anyone who will ever live.

Christmas And A Brief Theology Of Ric Flair

Diamonds are forever.

The first time that I ever heard that phrase was from the famous theologian, Nature Boy Ric Flair. If you don’t know who Ric Flair is, you might be what’s wrong with America. But that’s okay. I’ll forgive you. Those of us with more refined tastes know that Ric Flair was a professional wrestler who hung around a group of other professional wrestlers that liked to call themselves The Four Horsemen. Flair used to say, “Diamonds are forever and so are the Four Horsemen. Woooo!”

Here’s Flair in his prime.

 

The Four Horsemen don’t exist anymore. And Ric Flair isn’t quite what he used to be. Here’s some recent footage of Mr. Flair.

The news isn’t much better for diamonds. Just ask Amber Vinson.

She’s the Dallas nurse who was diagnosed with ebola a while back. While her life was being saved by a medical team at Emory, hazmat crews were going through her Texas apartment and destroying everything that they thought might spread the disease. Everything included Vinson’s diamond engagement ring. It was incinerated.

Nothing, it seems, is forever.

Until you understand what David tells us in Psalm 145.

Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works. Psalm 145:13 (ESV)

The God of the universe is forever. His goodness to his people is forever. His reign as king is forever. And the worship of him by his people will be forever.

Much of what we live for and worship is far from eternal. If you are the parent of small children, you’ll be reminded of that in a few  months when the presents you stressed yourself out over buying are discarded for something newer and shinier.

Christmas is hard on people for a whole lot of different reasons. For some, it’s the stress of making sure that everything is in its proper place. For others, it’s the sting of death that has left another empty space at the table this year.

This Christmas, read Psalm 145. At first, it may not seem like a Christmas passage but it really is. In it we don’t see a god who began in a manger and ended in a tomb. Instead, we see a God whose kingdom is everlasting. And we see a God who, “upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down” (Psalm 145:14).

In response, we should say with David, “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever” Psalm 145:21 (ESV).

Woooo!

The Monday Morning Quarterback

There’s an unwritten rule about family conflict. You don’t let other people say honest painful truths to your family. Only you are allowed to say honest painful truths to your family.

This week’s edition of the Monday Morning Quarterback is written in that spirit. I am a Georgia Bulldog fan. They are my family, if you will. So that gives me the right to say a few honest, painful truths to the Bulldog Nation. Here goes.

If Georgia Bulldog fans devoted half as much energy to holding the federal government accountable as they do to trying to get Mark Richt fired, the last four U.S. Presidents would be in jail right now.

Remember this, Bulldog fans. Georgia was an average football team before Mark Richt showed up. The only thing that kept them from being below average was the fact that they somehow managed to recruit really good players. Really good players that played on 7 win teams in college and went on to win Super Bowls on their way to the Hall of Fame.

Several years ago, I watched an AFC Championship Game that looked like a UGA scrimmage. Players on both sidelines had formerly worn the red and black. And some of them were about to play in the Super Bowl. One of the commentators even wondered aloud how such talented players didn’t play on more successful teams in college.

I’m not trying to put down Georgia. I’m a fan, remember. All that I’m trying to do is bring Dawg fans back to reality. Take away the few years that Herschel Walker was terrorizing college defenses and Georgia is on level with Ole Miss. We are not Alabama. We never have been. Maybe one day we will be. But for now, we do more harm than good when we finish every year acting like our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been stolen just because we have to play Nebraska in the Outback Bowl again.

Sometimes winning takes time. Especially if you do it without giving Corvettes and cocaine to new recruits. But all of the Georgia fans who are demanding Mark Richt’s head don’t care about that. They just want a championship. Well sure, they care about the, ahem, student athletes too. Just as long as those student athletes play for Georgia. And as long as those student athletes don’t approach them on the street once their playing days are over.

Just be honest, angry Dawg fans. You don’t care about the players. You don’t even care about the University. If you did, you would be thrilled to see the continuity that we have enjoyed and the improvement that we have seen. But what you really care about is yourself and being able to tell the Georgia Tech fan in the cubicle next to you that you won a national title more recently than he did. You. As if you were in on any of the planning or the plays.

I hate losing. Obviously you do too.

But settle down.

Take a nap.

Hug your wife.

Play with your kids.

And leave Mark Richt alone. He’s better than anything we’ve ever had in Athens.

But if you must get angry and stir things up, please allow me to point your attention to that big white house in Washington D.C.

Go Dawgs!

Plow Around That Stump

“Plow around that stump, brother.”

Those words came to me in a thick, southern accent. I wasn’t sitting on a tractor waiting for instructions on where to go next. I was sitting in a church office, early on in my ministry. The man on the other end was a wise leader who had fought his share of ministry battles. Some, he discovered, were worth fighting. Some weren’t. The one I was seeking wisdom on wasn’t worth the fight.

So I plowed around that stump, brother.

The man’s advice was good. As time passed I began to appreciate his wisdom even more. But I also grew frustrated. My frustrations weren’t directed toward the man on the other end of the phone. They had more to do with the ever growing number of stumps ministers were expected to plow around.

I hear about them all of the time.

Like the music minister who really loves Jesus and is reaching a lot of people but is probably going to have to find another job because he took the Doxology out of the order of worship one Sunday morning.

Or the youth minister who got yelled at because he’s reaching a bunch of unchurched kids who, heaven forbid, haven’t yet learned how to act in a church building.

Maybe those ministers should have taken the same advice that I followed early on in my ministry and directed their plows elsewhere.

I’d rather have something else happen. Perhaps some of those church members who have fallen so in love with their orders of worship, church buildings, parking spaces, pews and classrooms could get up off of their faces and stop worshiping those stumps. Maybe then we could all see them for what they really are. Tiny idols.

In Colossians 1:18, Paul says that Jesus is, “the head of the body, the church.” In the simplest terms possible, Jesus is the pastor of the church. The guy in the suit who drives a Buick and preaches a few times a week is merely an associate. He is not self-employed. He answers to Jesus.

It’s interesting that Paul does not say that Jesus is, “the head of the organization, the church.” Instead, he says, body. Here’s the thing about a body that has a functioning head. It is a living thing. A church that is led by Jesus is a living body. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about churches that are obviously anything but living.

Paul goes on to say that Jesus is, “the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.” That means that Jesus, not our favorite sanctified stump, should be our object of worship.

But for too long, I’ve seen the opposite. I’ve seen programs, traditions, geographical locations and musical styles worshiped as if they were the firstborn from the dead. And we wonder why we hear of so many church splits, church declines and church closings.

A few years ago, two friends came by my house to cut down a tree. When the tree was down, chopped up and stacked neatly, I noticed something interesting about what remained. The stump was pouring out water. A lot of water. It did this for a few days. Finally it stopped.

That’s the thing about stumps. They’re dead.

My fear is that many churches are becoming gardens full of stumps. As a result, it’s not just the pastors who have to plow around those pathetic objects of worship. Sometimes I wonder how often the Spirit himself plows around our tiny idols and takes his mighty work to more fertile grounds.

Lord Jesus, please do not plow around our stumps. Plow over them instead. We don’t need you to kill them. They’re already dead. Just remove them. And change our hearts so that we may live like the body we are called to be.

Save us, Lord Jesus, from our gardens full of stumps.

12345

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 69.

When I was a kid my mom taught me an easy way to remember her birthday. 12345. She was born in the twelfth month on the third day of the year 1945. 12/3/45. Or 12345. My mom has been gone for almost a decade and every year, I still remember 12345.

A few days ago, my wife asked me if birthdays and holidays are hard for me, if those days make me miss my mother even more. It’s funny but I’ve never really thought about that before. So my answer was no. I think I know why.

My mother suffered a lot. Maybe more than anyone I’ve ever really known. Toward the end of her life, she suffered a lot. Over the past decade, I’ve missed my mom a lot. I still do. But it helps to know that she probably isn’t missing me too much. And she definitely isn’t missing her suffering.

I don’t have any pictures of my mom hanging up around my house. I don’t need them. I can see her every day when I look in my son’s eyes. Before we had kids, I prayed that God would make them look like their mother. God graciously answered those prayers. But he also gave those two boys a little touch of their grandmother. And that’s okay.

My mom liked to laugh. But I don’t miss her laugh. I hear it everyday coming from my own mouth. And I hear it in her two grandsons.

My mom taught a Sunday School class for a long time. I don’t wish that she could come back to teach that class. At her funeral, I got to see a lot of the girls whose lives were impacted by the lady who had to quit teaching because her body wouldn’t let her walk up the stairs anymore. I feel her legacy when my sons ask me questions about God and the Bible. I just hope that I can leave the same kind of impact on them.

A while back I was talking to a kid who had just lost his grandfather. “It’s good though,” he told me. “I still see him. He’s still with me. He’s at the table all the time.”

Man, that creeped me out. It felt like I was talking to one of the Children of the Corn.

My mother isn’t at my table. I don’t really see her anymore. She’s not physically or even spiritually with me or living through my sons. Even if it were possible, I wouldn’t want that. Because of her faith in Christ and repentance from sin, she is with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-26).

But my mother’s legacy is with me.

She left behind a legacy of godliness, laughter and teaching. That’s why I don’t wish that I could turn back time. Instead, I just enjoy the fruits of a life well spent.

We should all work to ensure that one day our kids will be able to say the same thing.

Grace, Mercy And The Police

A police officer just left our church office. As soon as he pulled away, I knew that there was a story to tell.

We’ve had police officers at our church before. It hasn’t been good. Like the time when a stranger walked up on stage while I was preaching. There have been other instances that required the presence of a police officer. Times that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.

But this time was different.

Several weeks ago a friend from church asked about the possibility of our church helping our county police department to give gifts to needy people in the community. I thought it was a good idea. People in our church started bringing in gifts. The biggest givers were children and teenagers. They gave two bikes and a couple of boxes filled with toys.

On Monday morning, an officer came by the church office to pick up the goods.

“I can’t thank you enough.”

The officer must have used that phrase a thousand times.

I had a chance to ask him about the program. He said that detectives go around to homes around the county, homes that they’ve already had to visit for all of the wrong reasons, and see who they can help. And along with that, they figure out who wants help but doesn’t really need it. You know the type. The home where both parents are working, walls are covered with flatscreen TVs, and the air is filled with smoke but the parents still, “need a little help getting Christmas for the kids.”

They got marked off the list.

But there were other families. Families where a mom was trying to raise 8 kids on her own while the man of the home was serving time. I asked the officer how many of the families they are assisting have no father living in the home. It was way, way over 50%.

Police aren’t the most popular people on the planet these days. I get it. As a lover of liberty, I’m no fan of warrantless searches and other damages done to our God-given rights. Make no mistake, there are plenty of bad cops out there. The same can be said for teachers, doctors, pastors and construction workers. But that doesn’t mean that we should do away with the whole profession and light the city on fire.

More than just a right, it is the responsibility of a free people to stand against any form of tyranny. Real tyranny. Not just when something goes down the way you didn’t want it to. And at the same time, we should be quick to give praise and assistance when people try to do it the right way. If we shout against institutional injustices but remain silent when those same institutions demonstrate grace and mercy, we do much more damage than we realize.

I’m proud to say that the police officer who just left my office belongs to a group of people who are trying to demonstrate grace and mercy.

With all that I’ve seen over the past few weeks – the riots, the shootings, the intimidations, the accusations – a group of officers who are trying to do it the right way goes a long way.

And I can’t say thank you enough.

The Monday Morning Quarterback

It wasn’t a good weekend for my favorite college football team. With that in mind and in order to prepare you for the time when defeat comes knocking at your door, I give you seven ways to tell that your favorite team is about to lose.

1. If your team, on more than one occasion, is less than five yards away from scoring a touchdown and comes away with zero points, it’s going to be a long day.

2. If, at any point during the game, even if you’re team is winning by 13 touchdowns with one second remaining, the defensive coordinator even whispers the words prevent defense, your team will find a way to lose.

3. If a player, coach, fan or distant relative of a fan from the opposing team has been recently murdered, diagnosed with a rare disease or lost his foot in a tractor accident, your team will lose. Heart warming stories always beat talent. Always.

4. Was a player for your team seen conversing with Jameis Winston just before kickoff? Was Winston heard using the terms spread, cover and bookie? My deepest sympathies.

5. While watching your favorite team’s pregame warm-ups, did your son ask you why you were watching the WNBA? Good luck. But it won’t do you any good. You’re going to lose.

6. Does your favorite team have a blue star on the side of their helmet and play on Thanksgiving every year? If so, they’re done.

7. Is your favorite team being cheered for by the owner and operator of this very site? If so, you’re team will most certainly lose.

Maybe I should start cheering for Georgia Tech after all.

Until next week, happy footballing.

 

What To Remember The Next Time You’re Too Afraid To Follow Through With Obeying Jesus

You’re not alone.

To one degree or another, we’ve all been afraid to do what Jesus says, even when we know he’s right. It can be hard to direct a conversation toward the gospel without committing the classic Jesus Juke or just seeming insincere. It’s even harder to live out your faith in Christ when such a lifestyle is deemed intolerant or on the wrong side of history.

Many before you have experienced the same anxiety. But they obeyed anyway. We would all do well to follow their examples.

Ananias is a good man to start with.

God appeared to him in a vision and said just one word.

“Ananias.”

The man’s response was a classic biblical one. It sort of reminds you of Isaiah (Isaiah 6).

“Here I am, Lord.”

Before knowing what the Lord wanted to say, Ananias made his availability known. “I’m yours Lord. Right here. Whatever you say.”

You can’t help but wonder if Ananias questioned his initial response after considering the danger involved in obeying God’s command.

And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” Acts 9:11-12 (ESV)

Ananias’ response was another classic biblical one. Only this one was more like Jonah.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” Acts 9:13-14 (ESV)

To put all of this into perspective, imagine God coming to you and telling you to go meet and pray over the terrorist a few blocks away who wanted you thrown into jail for worshiping Jesus. Suddenly, Jonah doesn’t look like such a bad guy.

Ananias’ fear came as no surprise to God. Nothing ever does. But God doesn’t respond the way that we would if we were trying to convince someone to carry out a dangerous order.

He never said, “Nothing bad will ever happen to you. You’re a King’s kid!”

In fact, the Lord’s words don’t seem very comforting at all.

Basically he says, “Go anyway” (Acts 9:15-16).

At first glance, one might think that God is being cruel or indifferent. But some of Christ’s last words before leaving earth help us to see that the opposite is true.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Matthew 28:18 (ESV)

Do  you remember Ananias’ initial complaint in verse 14?

“God, I can’t do that. This guy has authority to throw me into jail.”

In his Great Commission, Jesus reminds us who really has the authority. It’s not any set of chief priests. It’s not The Supreme Court, President Obama or Mitch McConnell. It’s not your boss. It’s not you and it’s not the person you fear most.

All authority has been given to Jesus. That means that any authority man has on earth is on loan from God. And just as surely as Jesus gives it to man, he can take it away.

Ananias obeyed Jesus, went to see Paul and prayed over him. But he did not pray over him as an enemy. No, Ananias prayed over him as a brother (9:17). Only the gospel, under the authority of Jesus Christ, can turn enemies into brothers. And typically, God uses small situations and seemingly obscure servants to do great things. Ananias didn’t get the amount of coverage in the Bible that Paul did. He wasn’t the Billy Graham of his time. But he was faithful. And that is enough.

Living for Jesus can be hard. The intimidation from others can be overwhelming. We can even be tempted to think that our little efforts aren’t making a difference. Watering down our faith or shutting down until Jesus returns can seem like the only reasonable options. That’s when it is important to remember something else.

Jesus is in charge.

Obeying him is often costly.

But there is no better place to be in life than in complete surrender to his perfect authority.

So just go anyway.