Things Have Really Slowed Down Around Our House

Since our two kids came along, cleaning clothes and taking out the trash takes twice as long.  Pretty much everything my wife and I once did with precision and efficiency has gotten much slower and less precise.

This is not our kid’s fault.

It’s ours.

Yesterday I ate lunch at home.  When I left to come back to work, my oldest son was taking clothes out of the washing machine and putting them into the dryer.  My youngest son was helping him by putting clothes, GI Joes, cereal, vitamins, gasoline and the cat into the dryer.  The crazy thing is that we don’t even own a cat.

We have traded in our efficiency and precision for training and training can be very slow and very messy.

I couldn’t be happier.

Our two boys are growing up in a culture where male adolescence extends into the late 20s and even 30s.  I think about this when I’m in a hurry and tempted to do something that my sons are supposed to be doing.  It would be so much quicker if I just dressed them myself or did the trash on my own.  And then I could finally relax, knowing that my job is done.

But it wouldn’t really be done.

My job is done when my boys become men who know that their number one objective in life is to glorify Jesus Christ and that they can do that best by working hard and serving gladly.

Things don’t really seem all that precise or efficient around our house.  But maybe, beneath the trash bags waiting to be taken out and the army men in laundry baskets, something better than precision and efficiency is happening.  Maybe, instead of running a well oiled machine, just maybe, we’re raising up future leaders who know what it means to work hard for the glory of God.

One day precision and efficiency will return to our house.  I’ll get the trash done all by myself and my wife will finish the laundry in record time.  And we’ll do both without the unbearable pain of stepping on a Lego.  But when we finish and sit down to relax, we’ll probably miss the messy training days when it took us a little longer to get things done.  And one day, our two sons will probably lead imprecise and inefficient families of their own.  Instead of relaxing, each of my sons will probably be teaching their own kids the slow and messy lessons of doing work for God’s glory.

I sure hope so.

It Doesn’t End Well for Characters

This week my son started taking karate lessons.  He’s already been playing soccer for a few years now.  His younger brother is right behind him in soccer and, when he’s old enough, he’ll start taking karate lessons too.  It’s not likely that soccer or karate will develop into a career for either one of them.  For one, both sons have my DNA in them and my career in organized sports drove off into a ditch when I entered the 8th grade.  Also, not very many people grow up to be karate champions.  The world only has room for one Bruce Lee.  Did you hear that, Steven Seagal?

My whole life I’ve been told that sports builds character.  There’s no doubt that it does.  But the question is, what kind of character is it that sports builds?

For a lot of athletes that do make it to the big time, things don’t end so well.  Some hang around two or three years past their prime and destroy what was once a remarkable legacy.  Others, while still in their prime, have to call it quits early because of injuries.  And worst of all, there’s the athlete who walks away from the game only to end up broke, incarcerated or dead because of poor decisions.

For athletes like these, sports did build character but it became much more than a character builder.  Their sport became their identity.  That’s why some find it so hard to walk away from the game and others spiral out of control when, in one way or another, the game walks away from them.

Building character is fine but fathers should have even higher expectations.  I want my sons to know their identity.  More specifically, I want each son to know that he is more than a soccer player or martial artist.  I want them to know that God created them in his image for his glory and that through faith and repentance, they are, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3).  I want them to see that their speed, flexibility and strength does not define them but that who they really are was determined, “before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4).

Eventually, every athlete will be beaten by someone who is bigger, stronger or faster.  When this happens to my boys, I have the option to sign them up for more clinics and private instructional sessions.  And make no mistake, this will develop character, just not the kind I want them to have.

Of course, there is another option.  I can remind them why we play sports by teaching them that winning is fun, and a goal worth striving for, but that it should never be the ultimate goal.

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:17

Maybe one day my boys will play for a World Cup or become karate champions.  But if they do, they will still stop competing at some point in their lives.  Time, talent or some combination of the two will eventually betray them.  It’s my job to ensure that whenever that time comes, they don’t walk away from their sport as mere characters who have lost their identity but rather as men of God who are moving on to the next means of glorifying their Master.

What’s Inside of Plastic?

Early every morning, while they’re still lying in bed, I think my two sons have a meeting.  In that meeting, I think they talk about all of the questions they’re going to ask mom and dad that day.  The reason why I think this is because as soon as the door to their room opens and they come running out, there begins a day long inquiry into the inner workings of the universe and the God who made it.

“Dad, what’s inside of plastic?”

“Mom, dad says there’s more plastic inside of plastic.  Why?”

“Dad, does Batman take naps?”

“Mom, what is the best equation for predicting nonlinear dynamics?”

Just kidding about that last one.

Sort of.

On the way home from church last Sunday, one son asked me about the Garden of Eden.

“If God wanted Adam and Eve to stay away from that tree, why did he make it?”

I answered by telling him that God made all things for his glory and because he made things for his glory, he gets to make the rules.  That tree belonged to him, not Adam and Eve.  And then I explained how Jesus died on the cross, rose again and is coming back to undo all of the destruction that sin has caused.

“So, dad, if it wasn’t for Adam and Eve sinning, Jesus wouldn’t have died on the cross.”

“Exactly.”

“So was their sin a good thing or a bad thing.”

“Well, it was definitely a bad thing but Jesus is in the process of making it all good again.”

That’s when I changed the subject to the best equations for predicting nonlinear dynamics.

One of my favorite things about being a dad is all the questions.  Each question reminds me of my responsibility to train up my two young sons to be men of God.  How I answer them is just as important as what I say when I answer them.  The right answer with the wrong attitude can be destructive.  That’s important to remember at 8:00 every night when they’ve already asked somewhere around 37,000 questions that day.

God has given me the privilege to shape two young men who he has created in his image.

Early every morning, while my two sons are having their meeting, I’m having one of my own.  I’m meeting with my Father, asking him for wisdom so that I can respond to all of their questions in the most Christ-like way.  And I’m also praying that God, in his sovereignty, will use their seemingly endless search for the truth to continually direct them to the Truth.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  John 14:5-6 (ESV)

Dumb Things You Hear At Church

I’ve spent almost my entire life in church.  That means that I’ve heard a lot of dumb things.

I’ve heard dumb things at the very beginning of the service.

“If you’d rather be here than the best hospital in town, say amen!”

I’ve heard dumb things after people sang solos.

“I’ll tell you what, church.  If that didn’t start your fire, your wood is wet.”

And, of course, some of the sayings I’ve heard were equal parts dumb and annoying.

“We’re just going to sing one more verse.  You come down here to these altars and you do business with God.”

But the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in church came from an evangelist in the middle of his sermon.

“We ought to take these altars and put them out in the parking lot.  That way people can get right with God before they come in here.”

The congregation went nuts.

“Amen, brother!”

“Preach it!”

Thankfully, the gospel does not work this way.  Jesus never told anyone to get their act together before they came to him.  In fact, he said quite the opposite to a group of religious elites who thought they were pretty good at getting their act together on their own.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.”  Matthew 23:27 (ESV)

Dead people, it turns out, aren’t so good at getting their act together.  Our best attempts may fool others and they may even fool us but they will not fool Jesus.  And that’s the beauty of the gospel.  Jesus, while seeing the “dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” that has taken up residence within us, still pursues us with his love and forgiveness.

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”      Luke 7:47-50 (ESV)

This is why the gospel is good news.  Salvation is not a result of a stellar spiritual resume, good works or our ability to somehow find God through some sort of moral enlightenment. Salvation is a result of God finding us, dead in our sins, and transforming us into saints.  This is really good news for adulterers, crooked politicians, drunks, gluttons, homosexuals, liars, home-wreckers, rebellious kids and Southern Baptist pastors that grew up in good Southern Baptist churches.

Religious elites have a long history of keeping people outside, in the parking lot, so to speak.  It’s part of what they were doing to Jesus at his crucifixion.  But just before he died, he managed to breathe out, “It is finished.”  And then the curtain, the one in the temple that reminded men of their very limited access to God, was torn.

Jesus came to earth to live among the folks in the parking lot.

He died and rose again for the folks in the parking lot.

And his death purchased them the right to come inside from the parking lot to enjoy full access with God.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)

The Southern Lexicon 3.0

The southern dialect is a lot like our nation’s tax code.  If you look away for a minute, you’ll miss a lot.  To keep you up to date, here’s the latest installment of The Southern Lexicon.

1.  Thoto move something through the air from one location to another

“John Raymond, tho me da remote.  They supposed to show our street on Honey Boo Boo tonight.”

“John Raymond, you aggravatin’ me.  Go outside and tho da bawl with yur dead-ee.”

2.  Give outtired

Everywhere else in the country, give out means to distribute.

“Morgan, thank you so very much for helping me give out buttons for father’s re-election.”

Not so in the south.

“John Raymond, I can’t play with you right now.  I’m just too give out.”

3.  GrayshussOh my goodness!

If you’re at a church in Vermont, this word is a theological term.

“God has been so gracious to us.  Turn to hymn 432 as we sing At the Cross.”

In the south, grayshuss is used in church a lot too but, more often, it’s used when a mom finds her kid acting crazy in Sunday School.

“John Raymond, get off the table.  And give Miss Lillian her shoe back.  Grayshuss!”

4.  Mileniremiles per hour

“I thought you told John Raymond that he couldn’t ride his fo-wheela.”

“I did.”

“Well he just came by the shop on it.  Had to been goin’ 60 milenire.”

“I’m gonna tho dat boy.”

5.  Cump-kneea business; people that visit your house

“Some cump-knee up in Atlanta hired John Raymond to do they figurin’.”

“John Raymond, stop chewing on the furniture.  We got cump-knee.”

6.  Lil’ Bita small portion; a girl’s nickname

“John Raymond, give me a lil’ bit of dat coe-cola.”

Although there are some exceptions, there are two things you need to know about girls in the south that go by the name of Lil’ Bit.

1.  They will have the name Lil’ Bit written somewhere on their car.  Most likely it will be on the top of the windshield.

2.  Lil’ Bit is not a very nice girl.  Again, this does not go for all ladies named Lil’ Bit but for the most part, Lil’ Bit likes to fight and chew tobacco.

“John Raymond, who you takin’ to da prum?”

Lil’ Bit.”

Grayshuss!”

Presbyterian Football, Replacing Tebow and other Theological Dilemmas

Football season has officially begun.  To put it another way, baseball season is officially over.  Who wants to watch a bunch of overpaid athletes stand around in the grass when you can watch a bunch of overpaid college athletes hitting each other in the grass?

On to the predictions.

Georgia at Missouri

The good news for Missouri is that they get to play their first game as a member of the SEC at home.  The bad news for Missouri is that, as of late, no Georgia player has gotten drunk and taken a swing at a cop or pushed his girlfriend down a hill.  So if nothing changes between now and Saturday, the Dawgs will have all of their players and come back to Athens with the win.

Georgia 21, Missouri 10

Presbyterian at Georgia Tech

This is a tough one.  I haven’t had enough time to do any research on this college named Presbyterian.  If Presbyterian belongs to the PCUSA branch of Presbyterianism that means that they’ll probably have a woman starting at quarterback and maybe one at left tackle too.  In that case, Tech should manage to pull out the win.  But if Presbyterian subscribes to the more conservative form of Presbyterianism one would find in the PCA, the Yellow Jackets could be in trouble.

I don’t want it to look like I’m piling on the Yellow Jackets after their tough loss to Virginia Tech last Monday.  I’m here to help, Tech fans.  To prove it, I’ve taken the time to make a template for your status updates before and after every Tech game of the season.  All you have to do is fill in the blanks.

Pre Game Status Update

We ready baby!  Gonna take it to ________________.  This is our year!  Nothing can stop us.

Post Game Status Update

Why can’t we get a real quarterback and coach?  We are so much better than _____________.  SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Georgia Tech 3, PCUSA Presbyterian 0 or Georgia Tech 0, PCA Presbyterian 3

Atlanta @ Kansas City

If Tony Romo was a football team he’d be the Falcons.  For the past few years the Falcons have been above average, until the playoffs.  Expect them to be above average against what promises to be a very below average Chiefs team.  I know the Chiefs fans can get loud but unless they plan on helping out on defense there will be a lot of loud booing in Kansas City this year.

Falcons 27, Chiefs 7

Pittsburgh @ Denver

The last time Pittsburgh played a non-exhibition football game it was in last years playoffs against Denver.  That’s the game where Tebow went all 3:16 on the Steelers defense.  But good news, Steelers fans.  Tebow isn’t with Denver anymore so there’s nothing to worry about.  Well, nothing except for the fact that Denver replaced Tebow with a Super Bowl and MVP winner who happens to really excel at the forward pass.  But apart from that, I like the Steeler’s chances.

Pittsburgh 13, Denver 31

Enjoy the weekend.  May the games be ever in your favor.

 

Lecrae’s Gravity, An Album Review

A while back one of my Facebook friends wrote a status update about feeling an earthquake.  At the time, he was in North Carolina.  I checked several major news sites and couldn’t find anything about an earthquake in North Carolina.  By the time I made it back to Facebook, friends in Baltimore and D.C. were posting updates about the earthquake they had just felt.  I went back to the major news sites.  Still nothing.  Around an hour later, the small earthquake that hit the east coast was their top story.

This taught me two things.

1.  If something big happens, it will get out quickly.

2.  Big stories have a way of getting out without the help of traditional media.

Yesterday I listened to Lecrae’s new CD, Gravity, and just like that earthquake, word is getting out, even without Hot 107.9 playing it four times an hour.  Lecrae gets zero play from hip-hop radio stations, at least in the Atlanta market where I reside.  I’ve never seen a huge billboard trying to sell me on Lecrae.  In spite of that, when I went to bed Tuesday night, Gravity was the top selling hip-hop album on iTunes.

Hip-hop, at its core, is a counter-cultural form of music.  More people hate it than love it.  That’s sort of the point.

But somewhere along the way it lost its soul.  You started seeing rappers on lunch boxes and selling Sprite.  When I was a kid, Chuck D told me, “Don’t believe the hype.”  Now that I’m an adult, Jay Z is campaigning for the president.  Something just isn’t right.

And that’s what makes Lecrae great.  He’s more authentic than the so-called authentic hip-hop stars because he truly is counter-cultural.  The song Confe$$ions is a perfect example.

You out to make a killin’ but it never feels fufillin’

So they call and tell me Crae, this how I’m feelin’

Confessions of a millionaire

In a desert of songs about Louis Vuitton and Gucci, this one is an oasis.

Unlike a lot of Christian albums, Gravity does not sacrifice style for the sake of substance.  Some artists act as though a song with a good beat and crazy samples is a sin.  Violence and I Know highlight Lecrae’s ability to lay down a quality rhyme over an original beat.  While other artists can afford to be lazy and rely solely on their name or publicity for 90% of the songs on their album, Lecrae simply creates original music that actually has something to say.  Every song.  Every album.  With Gravity, we’re seeing him at the top of his game.

For most of my life, the Christian music industry has been about five years behind the mainstream.  Lecrae, along with the other artists on his Reach Records label, is changing that.  Hip-hop radio stations are busy playing the same artists saying the same message but Lecrae is going somewhere new.  Without them.  I’m just glad that we still get to come along for the ride.

Abuse of Authority

The police car raced up to my back bumper.  I panicked.

Am I speeding?  At least I’m on my way to church.  That’s got to count for something.

I looked down at my speedometer and saw that I was a few miles over the speed limit so I slowed down.

Now I was watching my speed as much as I was watching the road.  I wasn’t going a mile over the limit, even down hills.  I must have looked like the guiltiest man in the county.  The officer following me had to be thinking that I was trying to hide something, or someone, in my trunk.

My perfect speed only seemed to make the police car get closer.  But he never flashed his lights.  Eventually, in a no passing zone, the officer passed me.  My guess is that he was going around 80 miles per hour.  Still no lights.

This has happened to me a lot and I hate it.  But I’ve also learned from it.

In Ephesians 6:4, fathers are told, “do not provoke your children to anger” but instead to, “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

We can provoke our children to anger when we lay on them a burden that is too heavy for them.  A burden that we don’t even bother carrying ourselves.

“YOU KIDS HAD BETTER STOP YELLING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

In this verse, fathers are also told to bring their children up, not just in discipline and instruction, but in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  In his excellent book, Father Hunger, Douglas Wilson says that the goal of a father is not to get his kids to follow God’s standard but to guide his kids to love God’s standard so deeply that obedience seems like the only sensible option.

This requires a lot of prayer, correction, instruction and leading by example.

That police officer that was behind me a few days ago did an excellent job of getting me to stay under the speed limit.  He is, after all, the one with the gun.  But I couldn’t help but question his methods.  At the same time, there are plenty of methods, mostly involving brute force and fear, parents can use to ensure obedience from their kids.  There are even commercials on the radio guaranteeing a transformed child in under one minute.

But we must remember that the command to obey was given to the children (Ephesians 6:1).  Paul never said, “Fathers, make sure your kids obey.”  There’s no need for grace if our only task is to raise well-programmed robots.  The policeman provoked me to anger because he was a law man that wasn’t keeping the law.  He was being a hypocrite, acting as though he was above the law.  A father who cares only about obedience apart from grace, the instruction of the Lord and leading by example is no different.

The dad who really wants to raise his kids in the discipline and instruction of the Lord must himself submit to the discipline and instruction of the Lord.  Otherwise, he’s just abusing both the authority and the children that God has given to him.

The Strange Ones

I spent last Saturday in Atlanta with my wife, our kids, a friend from Africa, Batman, and thousands of college football fans.  Oh, and the people that were in town for black gay pride weekend.  I almost forgot about them.

My plan was to have a family picnic in the middle of the city and then show our friend a few sites.  Looking back, this wasn’t such a great plan.

It wasn’t until I drove up to a busy intersection that I remembered that Dragon Con was in town.  If you’re not familiar with Dragon Con, it’s a convention where people dress up like their favorite comic book heroes.  It seems like a great event for kids.  But I didn’t see many kids.  Instead there was the 20 something girl dressed up as Robin.  And the grown man dressed up in a camouflage dress.  I’m guessing he was supposed to be Camouflage Man.  Or perhaps Camouflage Woman.  Whatever.

Once we were able to drive through the Dragon Con traffic we entered a new set of congestion.  The night before, Tennessee played North Carolina State at the Georgia Dome.  Later on, Clemson would play Auburn.  This meant that there were a lot of people wearing orange overalls.  This, it turns out, was as equally as disturbing as the guy in the camouflage dress.

Before heading home, we decided to visit the mall.  That would also happen to be the mall where hundreds of people who were in town for black gay pride weekend decided to do some shopping.  We figured this out when we walked in and saw all of the men with pink mohawks wearing women’s jeans.

Our family friend from Africa was shocked.

“Aren’t these people afraid to come out in public dressed like this?  People will think they are strange.”

I told him that, in here, we were the strange ones.

In just one afternoon in the city of Atlanta, I saw hundreds of people dressed up like superheroes, hundreds of people dressed in support of their favorite college football team and hundreds of men with pink mohawks wearing women’s jeans.  Officials with the city of Atlanta would probably brag about this.  They would point to this as an example of how diverse their city is.

But is it really?  After all, the college football fans in orange overalls weren’t mingling with the men dressed up like Luke Skywalker.  This is how diversity works with political and cultural leaders.  What they are usually saying when they tell us to “be ourselves” or “pursue diversity” is to find your group, fall in line and don’t say anything about one of the other groups.

Thankfully, the gospel gives me a better alternative.  I saw it on display the following Sunday night at my church.

A girl from an orphanage in Uganda sang a song that she wrote about God hearing her prayers.  She sang it for us but not as a solo.  She sang it with a white man from south Georgia.  They each come from very different backgrounds but they were joined together by a common bond.

Because of Jesus’ death on their behalf, they have a Father who hears their prayers.  They have a Savior who prays for them.  They have the Holy Spirit, taking their prayers to the Father.

That’s the beauty of the Church.  In the small church that I pastor there are men with very different political opinions.  There are women who work from home and homeshcool their kids and their are women who work outside of the home and send their kids to public school.

None of these groups are divided by city blocks.

They are united by the cross of Jesus Christ.

In the world, they are the strange ones.

I’m thankful to be one of the strange ones.

Zero Tolerance for Dangerous Three-Year-Olds

What would you do if you were in charge of a school district?  And what if, enrolled in one of the schools in your district, there was a deaf three-year-old named Hunter Spanjer?  What would you do if the sign for Hunter’s name looked sort of like a gun?

a.)  Would you forget about it?  After all, it’s just sign language and it is the kid’s name.

b.) Or would you make young Hunter change his name?  I mean, he’s only had it for three years.  Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to get used to a new one this early.

Guess which option officials from Nebraska’s Grand Island school district chose?

Eventually, after receiving enough hate mail and death threats, the school district decided to allow Hunter to keep his name.  Thank you, Grand Island School District, for doing your best to protect citizens from tiny, crossed fingers that kind of, sort of, well, if you look at them a certain way could resemble a gun.

Hopefully we’ve all learned our lesson from this and from now on will consult with our local school district before naming our children.