Teaching My Son How to be a Loser

My son asked me a very difficult question.  It wasn’t about Calvinism, where babies come from or what kind of animal Elmo is.  It was about football.

“Dad, who’s the better team, the Gators or the Bulldogs?”

From early on I’ve taught my son that the best team always wins.  I have done this to protect him from those terrible excuses losing teams make about the best team not always winning.  Sports is the last great proving ground.  Either you win or you lose.  If you win, you’re the best.  If you lose, try again next year.  I’m very familiar with the try again next year category.

In my lifetime of being a sports fan, my favorite teams have a combined total of two championships.

I’ve only won participation trophies, never first place trophies.

I’ve never gotten a letter from a college offering to pay for my education as long as I play a sport for them.

I’m not the UFC heavyweight champion of the world (yet).

Once, about ten years ago while I was waiting for the dudes at the Jiffy Lube to change the oil in my car, I won tickets to see Puff Daddy (P. Diddy, Diddy) with 8Ball & MJG at the Georgia Dome. The seats were on the back (top) row.

My son’s question reminded me of all of my shortcomings as an athlete and as a fan.  It also reminded me of Ted Turner.

A few years back, I read somewhere that Ted Turner called Christianity a religion for losers.  I can’t speak to the context of the quote or where Mr. Turner stands now but I agree with his assessment.  I’m glad that Jesus came for the losers of the world.

I’m glad that Jesus came and died and rose again for sexually immoral women that can’t stay true to the same man and have been rejected by their community (John 4).

I’m glad that Jesus came and died and rose again for a crippled man that couldn’t get anywhere without finding four people to carry him around (Mark 2:1-12).

I’m glad that Jesus came and died and rose again for a thief that wasn’t good enough to avoid getting caught (Luke 23:26-43).

I’m really glad that Jesus came and died and rose again for a young boy growing up in a busted up family, a pimply faced teenager with no letters of intent to sign and a man trying his best to lead his family like Jesus tells him to.

If my son is anything like me he wont have the ability to jump out of the gym so he’ll have to learn how to lose well.  If he cheers for the same teams that I do, he’ll quickly learn how to decide which team to cheer for during the championship game since neither one is his team.  I hope that both of my sons can learn a little about the gospel and Jesus’ love for losers while they play and watch games with their dad.

I answered my son’s question honestly.

“Son, the Florida Gators are a better team than the Georgia Bulldogs because the Florida Gators always beat our Georgia Bulldogs.”

Sometimes being a dad can really be painful.

“Yeah, but dad, at least the Georgia Bulldogs are better than Georgia Tech.”

I can live with that.

Editor’s Note: This was originally posted on January 24, 2011.  On October 29, 2011, Georgia beat Florida 24 to 20.  Georgia will beat Florida again this year.  Trust me.

A Chance to Dive

The summer after I graduated from college I spent a week working at a camp for deaf kids.  I didn’t know sign language but what difference could that possibly make?

I spent most of the week looking like a tourist from another country that tries to compensate for not speaking the language by using impromptu hand signals and talking louder.  This never works.

There was this one camper named Chance that was always getting in trouble.  He had a lot of energy and it usually got the best of him.  And us.  He was also very adventurous.  It seemed like there was no limit to the things this kid would try.  One day at the swimming pool, I found out that there was a limit.

We were swimming in a community pool that had a high dive.  A bunch of the counselors I was working with were daredevils so they were challenging each other to do dives with crazy names.  I wasn’t about to jump but I wanted to fit in so I just made up my own names.

“Dude, you should try a 980 McTwist.  That would be sweet!”

“What did you just say?”

Anyway, Chance couldn’t resist the challenge of the high dive and even though kids his age weren’t allowed to climb it, he found his way up there.  By the time we noticed him he was already near the edge of the diving board, several feet above the water.  But he wasn’t interested in jumping.  Once he got to the top he gained a new perspective of the high dive that he didn’t like.

Chance was frozen.

This didn’t make the people in line behind him very happy.  The lifeguard was furious.  They were all yelling at him to get down.  When the lifeguard noticed that Chance wasn’t even paying him any attention, he started cursing.  Loud, angry cursing.  The guys from Rage Against the Machine would have been embarrassed.

Finally, someone told the lifeguard that Chance was deaf.  In no time the yelling and cursing stopped.  The entire pool became eerily quiet.  And then one of my fellow counselors, one that actually took the time to learn sign language, had an idea.

In sign language, cheering is done by raising both hands in the air and moving your hands around.  That’s what everyone, even the people that weren’t with our group, started to do. The yelling and cursing didn’t register with Chance but the raised hands did.  When the sound of Chance’s small body splashing through the air broke the silence that had overtaken the pool everyone cheered with relief.

When Chance came up out of the water, my first thought was that I should turn this into a made for TV movie.  I could call it A Chance to Dive or The Boy That Wouldn’t Dive.  Lifetime would pick that up in no time.  Instant hit!  Maybe one day.

I learned a lot that day.  I learned that no matter how passionate you are about your message, you’re really not communicating to your target audience until you speak their language.  The lifeguard was trying to say the exact same thing that we were trying to say.  And it’s not that those of us with our hands in the air softened the message.  It’s just that all the lifeguard cared about was getting some kid off the diving board so other people could go.  To him, Chance was an obstacle to his goal of a free flowing diving board line.  The girl that had the idea to raise our hands wanted Chance off too but she also saw Chance, not just some kid, stuck and in need of help.  For her, Chance was the goal.

This was exactly Paul’s approach in Acts 17.  “His spirit was provoked” (16) by the lostness around him but instead of yelling he took the time to speak the unchanging message of the gospel in the language of his target audience (22, 28).

The Church will do well to remember, especially in this political season, the lesson that I learned that day.  Maybe then we can begin to see the people we disagree with and the people we are trying to reach as opportunities instead of obstacles.  Or we could always just yell, scream and post the daily angry Facebook status like everyone else is doing.

But what’s the good of yelling when nobody is listening?

Sin’s Destruction and the Destruction of Sin

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospital waiting rooms.  I hate those places.  There’s this huge one in Atlanta that I’ve been to several times that has a grand piano and a guy that will play it for you.  I have no idea what purpose this serves.

“Sir, your grandfather’s surgery went well.  We only planned on doing a double bypass but once we got in we realized that we had to do two more.  He’s resting well and you may see him now.”

“Can he wait a minute?  I just gave the piano guy a couple of bucks to play some Coldplay.  I think my song is up next.”

The worst one is the children’s hospital.  The waiting room there is what you might expect from a children’s hospital but what bothers me about it is that it’s always full.  And so is the parking deck.  I’m not sure how many levels there are to the parking deck at this particular children’s hospital but they are all full.

I get real anxious in the parking deck because I know that each car represents a hurting family that’s not sure about the future.  There’s a lot of pain in those places.  Every time I leave I usually have to hold back tears.  And then I start praying for Jesus to come back.

There are some who call themselves Christians that will tell you that if your kid gets sick and has to go to one of those hospitals it’s because he’s a sinner.  We hear this kind of talk whenever a tropical depression gets within 300 miles of New Orleans.  “God is striking New Orleans because it is such a wicked city.”  Of course God has, does and will punish sin but if we want to link every hurricane to God’s punishment of a city, we each had better make a quick run to Home Depot to buy some storm windows.

John 9 is just one biblical reason why I don’t believe that every tragedy is caused by the victim’s sin.  The disciples believed that a blind man was born that way because either he or his parents had sinned.  Jesus disagreed.

“Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.'”  John 9:3 (ESV) 

But we would be remiss if we believed that sin didn’t play a part in suffering.  Every tragedy, from the man born blind, hurricanes and the families sitting in waiting rooms can ultimately be traced back to Adam’s sin.  Without it there would be no blindness, no hurricanes and no hospital waiting rooms.  Or hospitals for that matter.

But sin is with us.  And so is the destruction that comes with it.

Sin turned the garden into a jungle (Genesis 3:17-19).

Sin turns friends and family into enemies (Genesis 4:3-8).

Sin turns image bearers into victims (Acts 7:54-60).

Sin turns shepherds into tyrants (2 Samuel 11).

Sin turns mighty men into dead men (Judges 13-16).

Sin creates separation between man and God (Luke 16:19-31).

And sin killed an innocent Man (2 Corinthians 5:21).

But I’m not only thinking of sin’s destructive power when I walk out of those waiting rooms.  I’m also thinking of the day when Jesus will return and destroy sin.  Finally.  Forever.

When he returns, the jungle will be restored to a new earth (Genesis 3:15; Revelation 21:1-6).

When he returns, once natural enemies will live together in peace.  The lamb and the wolf, the child and the cobra will rest at ease under the perfect rule of their King (Isaiah 11:6-9; Romans 8:19-22).

When he returns, men will no longer find their identity or might in what or who they can conquer but in the One who conquered on their behalf (Romans 8:37-39).

When he returns, the suffering and abused in Christ will live in freedom because of the just vengeance of King Jesus (Revelation 6:9-11).

When he returns, the tyrant will be no more.  Either he will bow to Jesus in defeat at his judgement day where he will be sent to eternal separation from God or he will bow in humble submission before his life ends.  But bow he will.  (Philippians 2:9-11; Revelation 21:27).

And when he returns childhood cancer will be no more.  There will no longer be the need for heart surgeries.  Fathers will not have to think of the best way to tell their kids that a grandparent has died.

Our Savior will wipe away every tear.

Death will be no more.

No more crying.

No more pain.

No more hospital waiting rooms.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Men In Shorts

When I was in middle school, I thought that my P.E. coach was the manliest man in the world because he had a deep voice, he yelled every day and he apparently didn’t believe in syllables.

“Se-own-oyz!”

He said that a lot.  Loud.  It means, “Sit down, boys!”  At least I think it does.  Every time I heard it, I sat down.

Looking back, the only bad thing about Coach Williams is that, like every other P.E. coach in the 1980s, he wore coaching shorts.  If you’re not familiar with coaching shorts, they’re a close cousin to cut-off jean shorts except for instead of denim they’re made out of polyester.  And, however short you imagine jean shorts being, coaching shorts were usually an inch or two shorter.  Oh, and they were usually maroon or some other color that no rational man would otherwise choose for a pair of pants.

The other thing about coaching shorts is that they were custom made for coaches.  This means that the polyester allowed room in the front for the coach’s gut as well as a little extra flexibility in the back pocket for a can of Skoal.

When I was a young middle schooler wondering what it meant to be a man I figured that if I was half the man that Coach Williams was I would be okay.

I even bought my own pair of coaching shorts but I didn’t bother with the deep voice and yelling.  Half the man.

It turns out that it was perfectly acceptable in the 1980s to wear coaching shorts if you were a coach.  If you were 12, people just made fun of you.

So much for that example of manhood.

I recently spent some time in a hospital room visiting a church member.  As usual, he was very soft spoken and he was wearing one of those gowns that looks like a dress that they make you wear in hospitals.

I was only in his room for a few minutes but that was long enough for him to tell me about his wife.  For a long time she suffered from the same disease that sent him to this hospital room.  He told me about how he always took his wife to the doctor and how finally their doctor taught him how to care for his wife at home.  He learned how to help his wife to take preventative measures in order to keep things from getting real bad and how to spot the signs that let him know that she needed help, even before she knew that she needed help.

He took care of his wife like this for a long time before she finally died.

Most of us don’t usually associate hospital gowns and IVs with manliness.  Yesterday I did. The man I visited can’t fight, hunt, run marathons or fix a car.  He doesn’t have a deep voice and, thankfully, he doesn’t wear coaching shorts.  But he is a real man.  He’s a real man because he knows what it means to give of himself for the good of his wife.  He’s a real man because he faithfully loved his wife until the end, just like Jesus told him to.

My two sons will probably never see me take the transmission out of our car.  They’ll never watch me skin a buck or run a trotline.  But they will see me kiss their mother and they will see me empty the dishwasher for their mother.

I hope that my boys are learning from me what it means to be a man.

I hope that each son will follow the example of Christ when it comes time for him to love and serve his own wife.

I hope that they never wear coaching shorts.

Tiny Dancer

If you’re like me, you’ve been searching for a video that mixes angry spoken word poetry and interpretive dance to tackle a tough issue like the lack of petite celebrities.  Well, you can sleep well tonight, my friend.

Let’s just hope that this lady doesn’t go to this guy’s church.

Stupid Rays

“This thing here,” my TV Broadcasting professor declared, “shoots out stupid rays.”

He was holding the video camera that I would use for the rest of my college career.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out what he meant by stupid rays.

I was on the campus of another college to cover a basketball game.  A few minutes before tipoff I decided to get some shots of the fans.  They were all seated quietly, waiting for the game to start.  I stood at one end of the bleachers and pointed the camera towards the calm fans as I walked to the other end of the bleachers.  The stupid rays were working well that night.  Once quiet fans turned into maniacs as soon as their eyes made contact with the camera.  It looked like a tidal wave of stupid.

A tidal wave of stupid is probably the best way to categorize much of what one can find on television these days.  Over the past decade or so, the traditional format of actors playing a part in a made up story has taken a back seat to what is known as reality television.  But make no mistake, the stars of reality television shows are still acting and the story is still, for the most part, made up.

If you take the most honest family in the world and add a cameraman to their home, they will change.  On top of that, if you start to pay that family for the trouble of having a cameraman follow them around and that family suddenly becomes famous, reality exits stage left.  As a result, instead of watching reality, we end up watching and laughing at caricatures of ourselves.

I’ve never been to New Jersey.  I’ve also never seen Jersey Shore but every time I see a commercial for it I catch myself thinking, “Man, people from New Jersey are messed up.”  This summer I met a bunch of people from New Jersey.  They were nothing like the people on Jersey Shore commercials.

Just before I sat down to write this, I was in a grocery store where I noticed a teenage couple with a baby.  They looked very tired, the baby was crying and there wasn’t a whole lot in their shopping cart.  They looked nothing like the people on MTV’s Teen Mom.  They weren’t wearing nice clothes, the mom wasn’t sporting a tricked out haircut with a crazy manicure and there was no nice car waiting for them in the parking lot.  That’s mainly because there was also no cameraman.  Reality.

Reality shows thrive on the absurd.  There’s not currently a show about a normal guy that works in an accountant’s office and comes home every day to his normal wife and children.  There are, however, currently, 14,843 shows that feature emotionally unstable supermodels that like to marry NBA players or obsessive mothers who put their kids in beauty pageants or some combination of the two.  Stupid rays.

I don’t know what my old college professor, the one that introduced me to stupid rays, is up to these days.  Maybe he’s at some other college still teaching aspiring young broadcasters.  If he is, I’ll bet that when he gives his stupid ray speech, instead of holding up a camera he points to a television.

“This thing here shoots out stupid rays.”

Yelling At Cows

Earlier this week I drove around with my two sons and we yelled at cows.

If you’re a dad, you haven’t really lived until you’ve seen the look on your six-year-old’s face while he’s yelling at cows.  But there was a strategy behind my decision to pull over on the side of the road, allow my two boys to stick their heads out of the windows and start screaming at Mae Belle or Bessie or New York Strip #230-75 or whatever people name their cows.

When my sons are old and trying to lead a family of their own I want them to look back on their childhood and remember a lot of laughter.  And I want them to make a habit of stopping whatever it is that they’re doing to laugh with their kids.  I hope that the example of fatherly joy will give them a small taste of the infinite joy of their Heavenly Father (Psalm 16:11).

When I was a kid, several families in my church were hosting prayer groups in their home.  At the end of one of our evening services, each family stood up to invite people to their home and tell what kind of food they would be having.

“My husband and I would love to have you at our home for prayer.  Afterwards we’ll be having chicken salad.”

“Come to our house this Thursday night at 6 for prayer and hot dogs.”

This went on for several minutes before the lady behind me stood up to invite people to her house.  She gave her name and address and then let out this beauty.

“We’ll have no food.  We don’t eat.  We pray.”

Up until this moment in my childhood, I wasn’t aware that we had a Nazi in our church.  I have no idea if anyone showed up to her prayer meeting but I do know that I hadn’t been so scared at church since the time they played Black Sabbath records backwards.  The message was clear.  Serious Christians don’t have fun.  Or laugh.  Or eat chicken salad.

I get where some of this comes from.  There’s a lot of laughter that’s rooted in sin.  There are some church leaders who seem more concerned with making people laugh than they are training up disciples.  There are plenty of entertainers that have spent their careers essentially telling dirty jokes.  But if we place all laughter to the side, I think we miss something about the character of our Lord.  Yes his wrath is real.  Yes he is holy.  Yes he demands righteousness through faith and repentance in his Son.  But he is also eternally and infinitely happy.

Some of the godliest men I know are laughers.  When I think of these men and the impact they have had on me and others I think of their smiling faces and often peculiar laughs.  When we talk to each other, we laugh.

If Jesus doesn’t come back first, I hope that many years from now my two sons will sit down with all of their grandchildren and say the same thing about me.

“My dad was a godly man.  He taught us how to laugh.  We yelled at cows together.”

PSA V3: Who Is Derek Minor, An Album Review

Derek Minor is not interested in the norm.

The norm in Christian rap twenty years ago was rhymes about using a KJV 66 to bust a cap in a demon.

Ten years ago, the norm was slightly better music with a moralistic message about staying away from drugs and gangs.

Thankfully, artists like The Cross Movement and Lecrae came along and changed all of that.  They realized that it wasn’t a sin to mix solid, gospel-centered lyrics with high-quality original music.  And a movement was born.

So now if you buy a Christian rap album, you’re probably going to hear profound lyrical theology laid down over music that’s just as good as anything you’ll hear on the radio.

Derek Minor’s most recent album, PSA V3: Who Is Derek Minor is no exception.  But the norm for some rappers in this new movement is albums that seem like they were made to be enjoyed by middle-aged men at preaching conferences.  Again, Derek Minor likes to go against the norm.  Instead of talking about the gospel, on PSA V3,  he’s talking about how the gospel plays out in everyday life.

On In Spite of All, rather than just explaining the doctrine of justification in a rhyme, Minor tells stories about the pain caused by a senseless murder and an affair and compares them to the sins non-murderers and non-adulterers commit against God and the forgiveness he offers in return.  The sample is a classic.

In spite of all your wrongs, my love for you keeps growing strong.

On Feeling Good, Minor goes against the norm of rappers bragging about how rich they are.  Instead, he talks about trusting God while trying to support his family through high gas prices and a son who’s, “goin’ through Pampers like they goin’ outta style.”  There’s something really cool about hearing a rapper talking about only being able to “put ten in the tank.”  It reminds me of the old days of hip-hop.

And that’s one of the reasons why you’re probably not going to hear Derek Minor on one of the hip-hop stations on your radio dial.  Minor is too authentic and authenticity scares people away.  The masses would rather hear former prison guards and child actors pretending to be gangsters in between commercials for title pawn companies.  There’s no room for a legitimate Christian artist who actually lives what he raps about.

But again, Derek Minor is not interested in the norm.

______________________

You can download PSA V3: Who Is Derek Minor for free here.

 

The Insufficient Pastor

When I was a kid I thought that my pastor was related to Ronald Reagan.  Or Moses.  Everything about him seemed important.

He had gray hair that was always perfectly groomed.

He always wore a suit and I can’t prove it but I think that he even cut the grass and bathed in a suit.

He was tall and strong.

If you were a casting director and he was an actor, you’d want him to play the president in your movie.

The words he told me over breakfast one morning have always stuck with me.

“I’ve gone a full day without sinning.”

After I grew up a little I learned that his day without sinning was probably more like a day with selective memory lapses.  But when I was a kid that settled it for me.  Forget about being related to Moses.  Maybe my pastor was Moses.

Now that I’m a pastor I think about this man a lot.  Many times I don’t feel like I measure up too well.

My hair is gray so I’m good there but it’s usually out of place.

I hate suits.

If you were a casting director for a movie about the president, I’d be casted as the guy that drives the van for the bad guys.  Russell Crowe would shoot me in the first 2 minutes of the movie.

And I’m nowhere near that going a whole day without sinning thing.

Sometimes I wish that my old pastor could be with me and tell me what to say and how to act.  I’m sure he’d have a better word for the teary-eyed person that stops by to tell me that a loved one is very sick.  He’d probably know the right amount of time to stay for a hospital visit and what to do with the lady that keeps coming by the church asking for money.

Thankfully, there’s a better option for insufficient pastors like myself.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  James 1:5-6 (ESV)

Lately, I’ve started taking that passage seriously.  I start every day by asking God to give me his wisdom.  When my wife asks me for direction about an issue facing our family, I ask God for his wisdom.  When my kids are arguing and I don’t really know the best way to take care of it, I ask for wisdom.  When I’m about to counsel someone who is struggling with something that we never talked about in college or seminary, I ask for wisdom.

And God always gives it to me.

Sometimes it comes immediately, like the time when I was driving aimlessly around the city looking for the hospital where one of my church members was recovering from surgery.  Sometimes it takes a little longer, like when I ask God to help me to better understand how to interpret and preach through the book of Daniel.  But it always comes.  Just like God promised.

Whether we are pastors or not, it is only when we come to grips with our insufficiencies that we begin to really benefit from God’s generous gift of wisdom.  Even the smartest, most forward thinking among us is in need of it.  So even if you happen to be the dignified type that looks presidential and always knows the right thing to say, ask God in faith to generously give you his wisdom today.  You’re going to need it.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I’m going to try to go the rest of the day without sinning.

Dangit!

Oh well, there’s always tomorrow.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Mercedes

When I went to Africa a few years ago my expectations were simple.  I just wanted to encourage a few pastors, help deliver food to orphanages and come back with a greater passion for helping orphans and getting the gospel into hard to reach places.

All of those things happened but something else happened to me as well.  I became angry.  And I still am, almost two years later.  It’s all because of something I heard just before leaving that beautiful continent.

“We are very blessed by the Bible teachers in your country,” a young Christian teacher told me.

And then he proceeded to name those American Bible teachers that were such a blessing.

“Benny Hinn.”

“Creflo Dollar.”

And other TV preachers who beg for money while promising big returns from God.

A few years later, this time in my own community, a woman would tell me something equally as disturbing.

“I’m having a hard time paying my bills but I’m trusting God to provide since I’ve faithfully been sending my money to Kenneth Copeland every month.”

Sadly, this kind of teaching is probably America’s number one religious export.  In it, we are presented with a god who works like an ATM, passing out extravagant gifts to those in need as well as those in want.  We are told that if we just sow a seed we can become healthy and wealthy.  Give us this day our daily Mercedes.

In reality, like some Ponzi scheme, the receiving of gifts is usually enjoyed by the man at the top of the pyramid, in this case the preacher, at the expense of the poor.

I used to watch the crazy TV preachers that ask for money, not because I believed them but because I thought they were funny.  Their gimmick seemed so over the top that I was convinced that nobody was buying what they were selling.  I’ve since learned how wrong I was.  And now it’s not funny anymore.  It’s not funny because a lot of people are buying.

Young leaders in Africa who are doing good to get one meal a day are buying.

Single moms in my town who can’t pay their bills are buying.

The sales pitch was even given to my own mother once.  She had just gotten sick from the disease that would eventually take her life when a faith healer came to preach at the church where she was working as a secretary.  The faith healer found out about her sickness the Monday morning after he spoke at the church and asked if he could pray for her.  She agreed.

After he said amen, he asked her if she felt any different.

“No,” she replied.

“Well, I guess you just don’t have enough faith.”

She laughed it off when she told me about it that day but I could tell that it bothered her.

As followers of Christ, this kind of perversion of the gospel should anger us.  But our anger is not enough.  We have to remember that theology matters.  There are plenty of theological issues that good Christians disagree on but there are also those issues where we can easily come together. Calvinists and Arminians, Post-tribbers and Pre-tribbers, nouthetic counselors and psychologists can at least agree that Jesus cannot be bought.

Maybe, just maybe we can set aside our secondary differences long enough to let the world know that the greatest blessing God ever gave was his only Son.  And maybe then the world will turn a deaf ear to the next silver-tongued preacher trying to sell what was already bought for us at the cross.

“Well the God I believe in isn’t short of cash, mister.”                                                      Bullet the Blue Sky