Hazardous to Your Health

Most things are bad for you and pretty much everything else is going to kill you.

We’ve known for a while that cigarettes, too much fried chicken and teenage drivers can do you in but lately it seems like somebody is just making this stuff up.

Yesterday I read somewhere that if you sit down for more than 11 hours a day you will take a decade or two off of your life.

Sitting down can kill you?

One summer during college I worked in a factory where I had to stand up all day wrapping cheese while listening to women in hair nets curse the entire male species.  I would have been more than happy to put my life on the line by sitting in a chair, preferably one that was far away from the women cursing the entire male species.

Several years ago we were told that if you didn’t clean your grill before cooking out you were practically on your death bed.  As if that wasn’t enough, these death experts, whomever they may be, have now told us that the smell from those very same grills could be poisoning us.

Yes.  You read that right.  The smell of hamburgers cooking on the grill could kill you.

There should be a report out sometime before the end of the year telling us that happiness, laughter, puppy dogs and smiling babies can also be hazardous to your health.

We live in an age of worry.  For all of our medical and technological advancements we still haven’t been able to find an app or HMO that can help us to avoid death.  Just ask the frozen head of Ted Williams or Walt Disney.

The reality of death is bad news for a culture that falls all over itself trying to avoid anything to do with Jesus or eternity.  But, of course, it shouldn’t be bad news for Christians.  Don’t get me wrong.  It still stings.  We should still do our best to take care of ourselves and we still cry at funerals but we should not live and mourn as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).  For us, death is still a painful separation in many ways, but it is not the end.

That’s why Jesus could tell his disciples not to be troubled (John 14:1).  He never said that death is no big deal.  He himself wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35).  He did, however, say that death doesn’t get the final say on a believer.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.  John 14:3 (ESV)

Believers, let not your hearts be troubled.  Your death is the beginning of an eternity with Jesus.

So this weekend, have a seat, grill some hamburgers, drink from the water hose and, I don’t know, maybe play some Lawn Darts while going down a Slip ‘N Slide.

But whatever you do, don’t let fear get the best of you.

That’s only for people with no hope.

Meth-Dealing, Wife-Abusing, Dog-Fighting Theologians

How do you get a guy that sells meth to kids, beats his wife and runs a dog fighting ring to suddenly start talking like a theologian?

Easy.

Just tell him to quit dealing meth to kids, beating his wife and running a dog-fighting ring.

When you do, there’s a very good chance that he will respond with what is perhaps the most popular verse in the entire Bible.

“Hey man, the Bible says judge not lest ye be judged.”

The ye is always thrown in to add some extra authority.

The defensive scheme of our drug-dealing, wife-abusing dog-fighter is clear.

“Since Jesus said something somewhere about not judging, I can do whatever I want and you and your church have to stay out of mine and Jesus’ business.”

But is this really what Jesus was driving at in his Sermon on the Mount?  Was he telling his followers to mind their own business and let their brothers and sisters and neighbors do whatever they want to do?

To answer that question, we should go to the Bible looking for two things.

First, what was the immediate context of Jesus’ command on judging?

Matthew 7:1 does not stand alone.  You may think that it would make an excellent bumper sticker but that was not Jesus’ intention.  Instead, as he neared the end of his Sermon on the Mount, he was addressing the viral hypocrisy of the religious leaders of his day.

The Pharisees were known for their very high religious standards and they expected everyone to keep those standards.  Well, everyone but them.  So Jesus goes on to give an analogy of a man with a gigantic piece of lumber in his eye who launches a theological assault on a man who has a piece of dust in his eye.

Jesus is essentially saying, “Don’t confront someone else’s sin without first dealing with your own.  Dealing with your own will give you clearer vision and help you to better serve your brothers and neighbors.”

Church leaders would do themselves, their congregations and their communities a huge favor by putting these words into practice.  How many sermons have been preached on the evils of alcohol by men who can’t manage to drive by a Golden Corral without stopping in for a light snack from the buffet before heading home for dinner?

The second thing that we should look for is other places in the Bible that address this same topic?

In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives a very detailed approach to confronting someone who has sinned against you.  It begins with a private confrontation and, if needed, moves on to bringing a few more witnesses with you and even bringing that person before the entire church body.  This is a long, long way from the mind your own business approach that many have adopted.

In Galatians 6:1-2 and James 5:19-20, Christians are commanded to keep a close watch on one another and to rescue those who are wandering from the truth.  This matches perfectly with Jesus’ concluding command to take the log out of your own eye so that you can, “see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

It scares me to think about where I would be if, during different stages of my life, brothers had not had the clear vision to pull me aside and help me with the obstruction in my eye.

Whether you’re a wife-abusing, meth-dealing dog-fighter or just caught up in some sin that is less headline grabbing, you should know that the worst thing that could happen to you is to be left alone in your sin.

Ye need to be judged.

Fire Mark Richt!

Mark Richt has been the head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs football team for 12 seasons.

Before his arrival in Athens it had been nearly 20 years since the Bulldogs were relevant.  Richt came up from Florida State and brought their culture of winning with him.  And he’s done it the right way.  Richt has a reputation as a class act that somehow manages to put his faith in Christ and his obligations to his family ahead of his profession.

Those kind of priorities have probably cost the Bulldogs a few wins, maybe even a national title.

And that’s why, for almost every year that he’s been the coach at Georgia, Mark Richt has been on the hot seat.  For some, “Fire Mark Richt!” has become the new “Go Dawgs!”

Some fans have wanted him gone because he’s too nice.

Some don’t like him because he can’t seem to win the big game.

Some fans don’t like seeing other, seemingly less talented teams, win national titles while Georgia hasn’t won one since the 1980-81 season.

This weekend, Mark Richt will coach the Georgia Bulldogs in the SEC championship game.  It will be the Bulldog’s second appearance in two years.  They’ve won this game twice under Richt’s leadership.  Before he came along the joke was that SEC officials decided to put the championship game in Atlanta because they wouldn’t have to worry about Georgia ever making it to the game and having an unfair home field advantage.

The game this Saturday is probably the most important game involving the Georgia Bulldogs in the past two decades.  If they win they will go to the national title game to play an undefeated Notre Dame team.

If they lose, a small but vocal group of fans will reignite the Fire Mark Richt campaign.

These are fans that have not learned from the experiences of their rivals to the north and the southwest.

Phil Fulmer was a long time successful coach at the University of Tennessee.  He won a lot of games with Peyton Manning as his quarterback and even won a national title the year after Manning left for the NFL.  But the game had passed him by, or so the fans thought.  They let Fulmer go and replaced him with a hotshot NFL coach named Lane Kiffin.  After a year on the job, Kiffin left for the greener pastures of the University of Southern California.  He was replaced by Derrek Dooley who was fired just a few days ago after one of Tennessee’s worst seasons.  Phil Fulmer has never been so appreciated in Knoxville.

Auburn University rests just over the Georgia/Alabama border and in the shadow of the mighty Crimson Tide.  When it came time for them to fire their coach a few years ago they chose a surprising replacement.  Gene Chizik had experienced little success as a head coach and the Auburn fans were not happy.  They quickly changed their tune when Chizik led the team to an undefeated national championship season in 2010.  But a mere two years later, Auburn was 3 and 9 with 0 conference wins and an embarrassing 49 – 0 loss to that bitter instate rival whose shadow seems to always be looming over them.

Tennessee and Auburn force us to grapple with a very difficult question, one that goes beyond sports.  If you sacrifice everything to win it all, have you really won anything at all?

Georgia doesn’t stand much of a chance to win against Alabama this Saturday, at least according to the experts.  Alabama is very good and they have been very good for a while.  But they play the game for a reason.

My two boys and I will be watching from the comfort of our home.  Three Georgia fans enjoying the biggest game of the season.

But when Alabama jumps out to an early lead, say 21-3 in the first quarter, there will only be one Georgia fan in our house.

“Dad, who’s winning?”

“Alabama is right now.”

“Roll Tide!”

And then I’ll teach them the importance of sticking by your team, even when they aren’t playing so well.  This is a lesson that I hope they will learn and carry with them throughout their lives as husbands, fathers and leaders.  Leaders stay the course, even when the ones you are leading are calling for your head.  Fans jump ship when things get tough and get back on when things are looking better.  Fan is, after all, short for fanatic.

I’d rather my sons grow up to be leaders than fanatics.

And win or lose, I’m thankful that the three of us have an example like Mark Richt.

Stop Raising Kids

If there would have been a vote at my house yesterday morning for Greatest Dad Ever, I would have been passed over by the selection committee.  Thanks for trying.  Maybe next year.

My kids needed me and I wasn’t there for them.

I was an absentee father.

I bailed on my two precious young sons.

Looking back, I have no regrets.

It all started with a Lego.  Doesn’t it always?  I spent a few minutes building with my sons before it was time to make breakfast.  When I got up to go into the kitchen I suddenly became the most wanted man in the county.

“Dad, he’s putting Wolverine’s hair on Superman!”

“Dad, he won’t help me look for one of those long pieces.”

“Dad, can you put this on for me?”

“Dad, how do you build that molotof cocktail again?”

Made that last one up.

I left the kitchen and told my boys that I couldn’t help them.  They were going to have to figure things out on their own because I was making breakfast.

The tears flowed like waterfalls.

I didn’t walk away from my kids that day because I was too busy.  I walked away from them because I was trying to teach them a valuable lesson.  I was preparing them for manhood and there are some manhood lessons that can’t be learned from a book or even from the best of fathers.  They can only be learned away from adult supervision.

As the father of two boys I have been given a divine mandate and it has nothing to do with raising kids.  In fact, it’s just the opposite.

Have you ever thought about that phrase, raising kids?  It implies that after the work of raising is done the finished product is still a kid.  The only difference is that instead of crawling around in diapers the kid is shaving, driving an expensive truck and even has kids of his own.

I have failed as a father if, twenty years from now, I’m talking about the kids that I raised.

Jesus gives fathers a higher task than merely raising kids.  He has commanded us to make disciples.

If you’ve grown up in the church, you probably think about world missions when you hear the Great Commission in Matthew 28.  This is good but we miss the point of the passage if we confine Jesus’ words to overseas ministry.  When Jesus left his followers with the command to make disciples and teach them everything they learned from him, he had in mind the unreached tribe in South America as well as the slobbering diaper consumer in your living room.

Jesus wants us to stop raising kids and start training up disciples.

Raising kids has left us with generations of grown kids that are overprotected and underprepared for the challenges of adulthood.

Making disciples means teaching kids to take calculated risks in hopes that one day they will take great risks for the spread of the gospel.

Raising kids means always being there for your kid, even when your kid is 35 and doesn’t seem to care too much about finding a job.  They’re so cute at that age, aren’t they?

Making disciples means, as Tim Elmore points out in his book Artificial Maturity, training your children to gradually reduce their need for you while at the same time increasing your influence over them.

Raising kids means raising consumers.

Making disciples means training up servants.

Raising kids means that you’ll do anything to win that Greatest Dad Ever Award every single day.

Making disciples involves a vision that goes beyond the walls of your home and into eternity.

Yesterday when I came home for lunch I saw something better than the Greatest Dad Ever Award.

One of my sons was doing laundry.

I stood for a second and watched his small hand close the dryer door before he moved a chair over so he could climb up and hit the start button.

He was doing this all by himself.

No adult supervision.

Ever so slowly, becoming a man.

A disciple in training.

Rewriting History: Red Dawn

In a few more days the remake of Red Dawn will be released.  If you’re not familiar with the first Red Dawn, I’ll wait a minute while you either watch it or renounce your citizenship.

Okay, good to have you back.

Just to let you you know, the first Red Dawn won zero Oscars.  I know, I know.  It seems almost impossible that a movie containing Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen got no love from the Academy.  Terrible.

If you plan on watching the newer, hipper, hopefully better acted version of Red Dawn you should be warned.  Remakes always take a few too many freedoms in changing the original plot in order to relate to a new audience.  America is not the same country that it was in the mid 1980s when the first Red Dawn was released.  Here are a few of the changes we should be expecting.

1.  Transportation and Weapons

In the first movie, Jed drove a truck with all of his friends tagging along in the back.  They all had guns.  Now, guns are out of style.  And so are trucks.  Too offensive.

So get used to seeing Jed and the boys riding around in a Toyota Prius with a can of pepper spray mounted to the hood.

2.  The Battle Cry

Before everything went sideways, these kids went to a normal high school.  Some of them even played football.  The mascot of the football team was a wolverine.  When the war started and these guys did something cool to the bad guys, they would use that mascot as their battle cry.

“Wolverines!”

Not today, my friend.  High school football has been banned in all but maybe three or four states and The US Department of Media and Animal Justice has made it clear that no animals will be used in association with war or any other form of violence.  Snow Dogs and that movie about the dolphin that got a fake tail is as far as it goes.

This time around, after pepper spraying an enemy tank, the gang will yell out something a little more in line with the times.

“Universal healthcare for all!  And free tuition!  And how about a cell phone too, while your at it?!”

It kind of brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

3.  The Fighting

We were allowed to fight the enemy in the 1980s.  But not now.  Are you crazy?!

The pepper spray is just to help subdue the enemy so that he can be sued by the people whose cars were damaged during the attack.  But as we all know, this villain will never make it to trial.

Instead, he’ll run as the GOP nominee for president of the United States of America.

And he’ll get a lot of votes too.

Lesser of two evils, you know.

Doomsday Fakers

Earlier this week I stumbled upon a show called Doomsday Preppers.  The show follows different families each week as they prepare for a doomsday scenario, which at this rate, should be happening sometime around the middle of next week.

In this particular episode a man was leading his wife and two sons through a drill because when the zombies attack, it’s a good idea to make sure that your zombie ray gun is in proper working mode.

The man had a bomb shelter dug out under his garage that was equipped to hold his family for up to six months.  For now the family would just be going for an eight hour stint.

Every member of the family had a job in this practice run.  The husband and his two sons had jobs that involved sitting in the bomb shelter and making sure the cans of Beanie Weenies tasted okay.  The wife’s job was to stand at the front door with a shotgun.

For eight hours.

So in the event of a terrorist attack or massive looting in this family’s neighborhood, the boys are supposed to wait things out by playing cards and hanging out with Chef Boyardee in the bomb shelter while mom stands behind the front door, waiting to fight off the attackers.

Sadly, this is a pretty good representation of the modern American male.

I’m sure that this man thought that he was doing a good thing for his family.  He was making sure they were prepared for the worst and that’s what real men do.  But in reality, he was hanging out with the boys while his wife did the hard work.

When I was a kid I watched reruns of shows like Three’s Company and WKRP.  Shows like this all had one thing in common – a dumb blonde.  This was the girl who cared more about her appearance and shopping than she did her intellect.  Every episode was about how she couldn’t manage to stay out of her own way.

Today the dumb blonde is gone.  Too offensive.  But she does have a replacement.  The new dumb blond is the man.  In television shows and even commercials he’s the butt of every joke.  He’s the one that cares more about looking or acting like a man than actually being a man.

I’ve never killed a deer with my bare hands and I don’t know how to reroute the solenoid valve in a ’86 Camaro.  Yet.  My time is coming.

But real manhood is about more than that.  Some guys do those sorts of things merely as an escape from their real responsibility.  For them, it’s playing the part of a man instead of actually being a man.

Being a man means leading your family, if you have one.

It means finding ways to love your wife like Christ loves the Church (Ephesians 5:25).  This will likely involve folding clothes and packing lunches.  Those things are hard to do when you’re gone all the time.

It means daily and lovingly teaching your kids about the God who created them (Deuteronomy 6).

It means actually being committed to your church and leading your family to do the same (Hebrews 10:23-25).

Preparing for a catastrophe is wise but the Bible guarantees a doomsday scenario where no amount of ammo or beans can pull us through (Matthew 24).  Christ is our only rescue and it is before him that we will have to give an account for how we managed those who were placed under our care.

Real men lead by loving, protecting and guiding.

Real men stand at the door.

An Open Letter to the GOP

Thanks for pulling away from listening to Hannity to read my letter.  I’ll do my best to make it worth your time.

I know that the past seven days have been difficult for you.  In the days leading up to the election gas prices were through the roof, the Middle East was on fire, your target audience was alienated and everyone in New Jersey was standing in line for gas.  The presidential election was yours to lose and, well, you lost it.

The game was in your hands.  You were at the free throw line with 0:20 seconds remaining.  But somehow, instead of sinking the easy basket and cutting down the net, you managed to miss the entire backboard and hit the old lady on the fourth row.  She’s recovering nicely but thinking about never attending another basketball game.  Well done.

Here are some things to consider for next time around.

First, stop taking advice from the progressives.  For years they have been saying that Republicans can never win a presidential election because they are too conservative.

“Conservatives,” they say, “can never win until they adopt policies that are more in line with ours.”

This is sort of like the fisherman telling the fish that he needs to spend more time hanging around shiny hooks.

But, for some reason, you keep listening to them.  And that leads right in to the next concern I would like to bring to your attention.

Could you please stop making us choose between the lesser of two evils?  Personally, I don’t vote that way.  I would much rather write-in Macho Man Randy Savage than vote for a so-called conservative that wants me to pay the bill for a company’s poor business decisions and thinks that killing babies and snooping through my e-mails is a good idea.  But a lot of good people who care about our country feel like they have to go with the lesser of two evils.

This lesser of two evils is usually always a candidate that masquerades as a conservative but in reality cares more about launching missiles and flying drones over my house than protecting my rights.

Usually, as was the case last week, the lesser of two evils looses (See also: John McCain).  But the presumed less evil candidate did manage to get elected a couple of times and went on to give us a few wonderful little gifts like the Patriot Act, No Child Left Behind and a massive bailout.  Diet Evil, it turns out, is still pretty evil.

This less evil approach has led many to believe that the GOP, at least at the national level, is run by rich cowards that care more about making money than they do helping the country (see Karl Rove).  It has turned your party into The Waffle House.  Nobody plans on going to The Waffle House.  You just kind of end up there at 3:17 in the morning because nothing else is open.  And you feel and smell really bad when you’re done.

But The Waffle House makes a pretty nice profit for itself from people like this.  And so do you.

Here’s to hoping that you leave the profit making to the producers that you talk so much about and start paying more attention to our ever deteriorating Constitution.

Thanks for reading.  Now you can get back to Hannity.

I’m going to the Waffle House.

An Open Letter to Seminary Students

Thanks for taking some time away from reading Karl Barth to read Jay Sanders.  Sorry for the intellectual drop-off.  And the lack of a pipe.

I’m writing to warn you.  You need to be aware that even though you are able to spend most of your time around other Christians and great theological minds you could still be doing yourself harm.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some diatribe about seminary or theological studies being a waste of time.  Seminary is very important and I benefited greatly by graduating from what I believe to be the best one in the world.

But none of that can protect your heart.  If you’re not careful, the institution that was designed to train you for ministry could actually be the place where you learn to be a better Pharisee.

You see, your theological training will go one of two ways.  Hopefully, what your mind absorbs will work its way down to your heart and out through your mouth and hands to produce years of fruitful, faithful ministry.

Or it could do the exact opposite.  It could be mere information that has no impact whatsoever on your life or how you treat others.  This will make you like the people that you hear about every now and then that witness a beating and do nothing to help the guy laid out in the middle of the road.  You’ll have the knowledge but it won’t be doing anyone else any good.

So which are you?

Here are some questions to consider.

1.  Has seminary turned you into a critic?

When others pray, are you joining with them in talking to God or are you evaluating how they pray so that you can correct them?  All for their own good, of course.

“Lord, please be with Danny during his job interview tomorrow.”

“Actually, the Lord is everywhere so he’s already with Danny.  Why did you ask him to do something he’s already doing?  Heretic!”

Or what about sermons?  While everyone else is listening, are you too busy acting like Simon Cowell with an M.Div?

“Point number three was teh-rubble.  Tew pitch-ee.  Hair-uh-tick!”

2.  Are you more in love with your tribe than you are your church?

Maybe, like me, you subscribe to Reformed Theology.  Do you find it difficult to read Ravi Zacharias, Eugene Peterson or anyone else outside of your tribe?  Remember, it’s good to read people that you are not in total agreement with.  It will either make you stronger in your position or show you where you are wrong.  Just because someone doesn’t sign off on all five points of Calvinism doesn’t mean that you won’t be seeing him in heaven or that he has nothing to teach you.

Your tribe should be the body of Christ, not a particular muscle group in the body of Christ.  This is important because it involves your identity.  If you are searching for indentity in a particular group, no matter how theologically on point that group may be, it’s likely that your group has become an idol.

Just because something is correct does not mean that it cannot also be an idol.

3.  Do you love the church or the idea of the church?

Because you are a seminary student, there’s a good chance that you go to a swell church.  Your pastor has written tons of books and the janitor is working on his dissertation about Paul’s use of nouns in his letter to the Romans.  Solid church.

But what happens when you graduate and move to Conway, Texas, miles and miles away from the nearest seminary?  Will you still love the church when one of the Sunday school teachers is a big Creflo Dollar fan and the pianist doesn’t know how to play In Christ Alone?

Loving the church doesn’t mean loving the perfect church.

It’s likely that you will be called upon to lead a church in desperate need of help.  This will require a lot of prayer, time and patience that can only come from a heart that is in love with Christ and his body.

And remember, if you did happen to land a job at the perfect church, you’d probably mess it up in a week or two.

This is the kind of advice that I needed when I was in seminary and I’m guessing that you probably need it too.  If I lost you in the first paragraph because I failed to quote your favorite pastor or author, maybe you should give this another read.  Maybe three or four.

So hang in there, keep studying hard and, above all, keep a close eye on your heart.

As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.  2 Timothy 4:5 (ESV)