There’s Just No Macon Peace with Atlanta

I live in Georgia, halfway between the city of Macon to my south and the city of Atlanta to the north.  While they both have their share of crime and crooked politicians, the two cities couldn’t be more different.    Nowhere is that more evident than in the traffic reports I hear on the radio.

The traffic reporters in Atlanta have names like Captain Herb and fly over the city in a helicopter.

The traffic reporters in Macon have names like Josh or Lisa and sound like they just got out of high school.  In fact, I think that they’re still in high school.  They give the reports on their way to 1st period American History.  Kids today.

Atlanta traffic has a way of making you think that the world is about to come to an end.  Earlier this week a truck full of potatoes got into a wreck and turned the interstate into Idaho.  That same day a man fell off of a different truck.  Oh, and there’s always a ladder in the middle of one of the interstates.  Always.

In Macon, it’s all smiles.  The reporters always say the same thing.  “No incidents to report on 16.  Smooth sailing on 75.”  I’m thinking about throwing a ladder in the middle of the road down there, just to give the Macon traffic reporters something to talk about.

Atlanta is only a couple of hours north of the much smaller city of Macon.  But, like I said, in reality the two cities are worlds apart.  And most of the people who live in each city aren’t killing themselves trying to get to the other city.

My grandfather lived a few miles south of Macon.  He said that anyone who lives north of Macon was a yankee.  I heard another guy describe Interstate 285, the massive expressway that loops around Atlanta, as the “seventh circle of Hades.”

People who live inside the city of Atlanta think that those of us who live beyond Interstate 285 eat spaghetti with our hands and play the banjo.  But that’s not true.  Some of us prefer the washboard as our instrument of choice.

Georgia is made up of a variety of people.  Sadly, most of those varieties don’t much care for the other varieties.

Same corner of the world.  Same state.  Completely different cities.  Completely different people.

The same is true of every state.

But it should not be true of the Church.

Last week, I got to baptize people from all different walks of life.  Some were grandparents and some were barely old enough to go to school.  But they each walked in to the water with at least one thing in common.  They were sinners who were transformed into saints by the blood of Jesus Christ.

This Sunday, I will get to lead my church in the Lord’s Supper.  Some who will drink from the cup have grown up in the church and began following Christ at a very early age.  Others rebelled for many years before finally submitting to Jesus.  No matter their differences, each participant will come together to remember the cross and to celebrate Jesus’ power to forgive sins.

Different sinners.  Different sins.  One Savior.  One body.

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:17 (ESV)

The Voices in My Head

I keep hearing voices in my head.

They never say anything.  All they do is laugh.

I should probably explain.

When I think about the church that I grew up in several men always come to mind.  Whenever I meet up with old friends from that church, we always talk about those same men.

Men like Al.  Al was a spiritual giant.  He wasn’t all that educated but he loved Jesus.  There was nothing trendy about him but he loved people.

And then there was Todd.  He was my pastor when I was growing up.  He had a strong passion to see people get saved.  Even people who lived halfway around the world.  He’s the person responsible for helping me to see that world missions is not a slide show about snakes and funny clothes.  He brought it to life.

Turk has always been my hero.  He was built like a middle linebacker but wired like a prophet.  I still remember the time when he showed me how to read the Bible for myself and how to develop a sermon.

Marty is probably the smartest man that I know.  In most cases that’s a red flag but not for Marty.  At the time he had minimal formal training but he was still one of the best preachers I had ever heard.  Now that he has a lot more training and experience he’s still one of the best preachers that I have ever heard.

Keith was always my friend.  He’s the wisest and most strategic person that I know.  He hates the fact that there are still people on this planet who have never heard of Jesus.  That’s why he moved his whole family to a different part of this planet.  So that others may know.

All of these men come from different backgrounds.  But they all loved Jesus.  And they laughed a lot.  Each in his own distinct way.  I think about those laughs every day.

Our meeting place each week was not a stadium, gym or pub.  It was the church.  And these men always seemed happy to be there.  It’s not because times where so much happier or easier back then.  While they were laughing they were also dealing with physical ailments, sick relatives and whatever else most people deal with today.  They just lived as though Jesus was in charge and it made them happy.

And I’m better for it.

In today’s world, it’s easy to convince ourselves that there is nothing to laugh about.  At our current rate, I’m expecting some congressman to introduce a bill outlawing public laughter.  Or at least slapping a tax on it.  Too offensive.

Christians should be known for a lot of things.  Laughter is not the most important thing but it is important.  We, of all people, have reason to live as though Jesus is in charge of everything.  We, of all people, though our hearts may break, have reason to be happy.

My sons are growing up in church like I did.  I’m thankful that a few times a week they get to hear the sounds of men who came to church because they love Jesus and love his people.  The sounds of godly men laughing.

I know that they’ll never forget those sounds.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Acts 2:46-47 (ESV)

Organized Religion

People keep talking to me about organized religion.  It’s never positive.

“Hey, let’s go join an organized religion and then get some ice cream!”

Instead, I hear about how Jesus is good for answering prayers and maybe even keeping us out of hell.  It’s just the people for whom he died that cause all of the problems, or so they tell me.

I’ve spent over a decade working as a minister in the local church.  So I guess that you could say that I’m neck deep in organized religion.  But to a certain degree, I can still see where the anti-organized religion crowd is coming from.

A while back I met a guy from another country who is now trying to adjust to life in the south.  He told me that he loved Jesus but then went on to describe how his church is driving him nuts.  At most churches in his home country, the moderate use of alcohol is no big deal.  But in his church here it’s on the same level as triple homicide and not listening to The Fish.

He told me that, in spite of his church’s strong stance on the issue, he couldn’t find anything prohibiting the moderate use of alcohol.  He could, however, find a few verses that condemn taking too many trips to the buffet.  Coincidentally, a lot of the leaders in his church, the ones that have a problem with a glass of wine at dinner, have yet to find those verses prohibiting gluttony.

An excellent observation indeed.

But in addressing this or any other church problem, we have to be very careful not to use a chainsaw when a scalpel will do.

The chainsaw will force us to do away with all forms of organized religion.  The scalpel helps us to see that maybe we just belong to the wrong organization.

It would be easy for my friend to give up on the Church as a whole and sit around in his underwear every Sunday morning watching Joel Osteen.  Or maybe he could find someplace where he could serve without a church getting in his way.  He could even convince himself that he is really following Jesus by doing these things.

Jesus would disagree.

Jesus is the one, after all, who places the Church’s identity on himself (Acts 9:4).

And it is the Church that he rules over as “the head of the body” (Colossians 1:18).

And it was to the Church that the Holy Spirit, through Paul’s pen, gave specific instructions on how to organize (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

And it was the Church that Jesus died for (Matthew 1:21).

God, in his sovereign will, could have addressed the Bible to the guy sitting in his underwear watching Osteen sermons.  But he didn’t.  Under his guidance and will most of the New Testament was written to, Gasp!, local churches.  Rick Warren notes that there are over 50 New Testament commandments that you cannot obey unless you are involved in a local church.

So much for loving Jesus but not his Bride.  It turns out that this is a package deal.

There’s no such thing as a perfect church.  Whether the flaws are organizational, interpersonal or somewhere in between you can be sure that the flaws are there.  If, by some chance, one of us managed to find a church without those flaws, you can also be sure that we’d find a way to mess things up about four seconds after walking through the front doors.

But that’s the beauty of the Church.

Christ died for a mess (Romans 5:5-6).  A mess that he knew would never be fully restored until his return to earth (Romans 7:7-25).

But he loves that mess.

And those who truly love him will too.

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Hebrews 10:23-27 (ESV)

The Divine Author

I’m bad about throwing things away.  If it hasn’t been used or looked at in, I don’t know, maybe the past ten or fifteen minutes it belongs in the trash can.  It’s become a personal goal to never appear on an episode of Hoarders.

But there are some things that I keep.  Things that may not make much sense for a guy like me to keep.

Like the old acoustic guitar in my room.

I can’t play it but I keep it because it has a story with it.

A long time ago, my mom wanted to buy me a guitar.  She didn’t know where to go or what kind to buy so she paid a family friend to find her one.  That family friend’s name was Tadpole.  He almost hit the big time in the world of country music so I guess you could call him an expert.  He took my mom’s money and found a guitar at some truck stop.

Deep down inside, every man wants to be Johnny Cash.  Owning a guitar that your mom paid a guy named Tadpole to buy at a truckstop makes you a little more like Cash.  That’s why I keep that guitar.

I have a table in my office that most people think is filled with clutter.  But everything on that table tells me a story.  Like the black and white picture of my friend Casey, a white country boy from Georgia, baptizing a kid in an African lake.  Next to that picture there’s one of Tay.  Tay is a black country boy that used to live just right down the road from Casey.  Casey’s mom treats Tay like he’s her own son.  When I look at those two pictures, I’m reminded of how racial barriers are no match for the power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10; Galatians 2:11-14).

On that same table there’s a bottle with just a little bit of oil in it.  We put some of that oil on Jan’s head one night during a prayer service.  She asked the leaders of the church to pray for her because she was losing her vision (James 5:13-15).  At the store the other day she told me that she saw a lady bug for the first time in years.  She went on to say that on Sunday mornings, all she saw was a big blur when she looked at me preaching.  She was looking forward to finally being able to see her pastor preach.  I apologized in advance for the disappointment.

And we used some of that same oil to pray for Julian.  He was healed a couple of weeks ago when he woke up to the voice of his Master telling him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  I wanted to see both Jan and Julian healed physically on this earth.  Looking at that bottle reminds me that Jesus is sovereign, good and trustworthy and that he heals as he sees fit.

Whether we know it or not, we’re all surrounded by memorials of God’s grace and power. Some of those memorials tell stories of what God rescued us from and some tells stories about our new identity in Christ.  They are the things that we will never throw away because they remind us that behind those stories there is a Divine Author crafting each scene of our lives together to make a masterpiece that reflects his glory and goodness.

And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the LORD your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”
Joshua 4:5-7 (ESV)

Good Thing

Her smile was the first thing that I noticed.

It was a Tuesday night.

On the following Friday, I knew that I wanted to marry her.

A month later, on a windy Halloween night on the banks of the Mississippi River, I asked her if she would marry me.  I’ll never forget her response.

“Who are you and why are you following me?  Police!!!”

Actually, she said yes.  I was relieved because I knew that I didn’t deserve her.  As I saw it, Marsha had no reason to agree to marry me.

She had it all together.  She was smart and had things planned out.  Even the little things.  I, on the other hand, was a human collage of every character that Adam Sandler ever played.  I was a twenty-six-year-old child.

But at least I had enough sense to know a good thing when I saw it.  Old timers tell me that I out-punted my coverage.  They’re right.

Sometimes on Facebook people talk about their marriage in an awkward way.

“Happy anniversary to my loving husband.  It’s been a very tough, long, and painful two years but we’ve made it.  Sorry for calling the cops on you last night.”

I can’t say that about our marriage.  Sure, we’ve had to endure difficulties together but that’s the thing.  We did it together.  I’ve never felt like we were two competing entities fighting for the biggest piece of pie.  She gets the credit for that because I really, really like big pieces of pie.

We’re all familiar with the man that verbally and emotionally abuses his wife.  But this kind of abuse can go both ways.  It doesn’t make one less wrong than the other.  It just means that selfishness and cruelty aren’t isolated to one particular gender.  I hear a few women who talk to their husbands like he’s the villain in some Nicholas Sparks story.

“You should’ve turned left, idiot!”

“You’re such a wimp.”

“Remind me again why I married you.”

And the woman who says those things is surprised when her husband becomes emotionally distant, develops an addiction to pornography and can’t seem to get the kids to respect him.

That’s one of the things that I appreciate most about Marsha.  I know that when I come home, I’m not entering enemy territory.  I look forward to coming home every day.  Through ten years of marriage, Marsha has done an excellent job of supporting me, disagreeing with me and following me.  No drama.  And that same great smile.

There’s a scene in the movie As Good As It Gets where Jack Nicholson tells Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.”

Marsha has made me a better man.

This weekend our family will celebrate Marsha’s birthday.  I’ll obsess over getting her the right gift.  Something that somehow lets her know how much she means to me.  But I’ll also thank God for the gift that he has given to me.

He really has given me a good thing.

He who finds a wife finds a good thing
and obtains favor from the LORD.
Proverbs 18:22 (ESV)

Rudy

He’s never been to Bible college or seminary.  He doesn’t pastor a church or even preach regularly.  But for all practical purposes, Rudy is the pastor for an entire community.

Several years ago, a favor for a friend turned in to a full-time job.  More than that, really.  A ministry.

Rudy was a logger by trade.  He spent his days cutting down trees and loading them up on his truck.  He’s got scars on his chest and legs to remind him of those days.  Big scars.

He knew that it was time to leave the logging industry.  The work was starting to wear on him.  He just didn’t know that he would replace that job with one at the funeral home.

At first, it seemed weird, dealing with dead bodies.  But he quickly learned that he was good at putting his arm around hurting people and telling them, in his deep voice, “It’s going to be okay.”  And that’s what he’s been doing for going on three decades now.

When a family loses a loved one and they don’t have a pastor to call, they call Rudy to preach the funeral.  That family will hear the gospel at that funeral.  A few of them have given their lives to Christ and joined a church because of Rudy’s ministry.

Some families, when they know that death is getting close, call Rudy before calling anyone else.  The last thing some people here before they meet their Creator is Rudy’s gospel presentation and petition to squeeze his hand if they understand.  He says that it’s like the thief on the cross, crying out to Jesus for salvation, at the last minute.  And like the thief on the cross, those people are with Jesus now.

Rudy will never write a book or be asked by CNN for his opinion on the nation’s economy. But he has been commanded by his Heavenly Father to love God and love others.  And as much as any fallen man that I know, he has done just that.

A lot of ministers are known for their impeccable knowledge or the quality of their education.  Sadly, for them, that’s where it all stops.

As important as knowledge and education are, they are not as important as obedience.

Rudy is obedient.

And Jesus is glorified.

And an entire community is better for it.

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-31 (ESV)

Kids with Guns

I completed a handgun safety course this past weekend.

To put it another way, I’m now officially banned from ever living in New York, California or Illinois.

I had a great instructor named Ricky.  He’s from Puerto Rico and he spent twenty years serving as a United States Marine.

“I come from the mountains of Puerto Rico,” he told us in his thick accent.

“I love this country and I love the second amendment.”

Ricky made me want to stand up and sing America the Beautiful.

I’m far from a gun expert.  But as I sat in class, listening to Ricky, it made me proud to hear a few things that I already knew.

“Every gun is a loaded gun.”

“Don’t touch the trigger unless you know what you’re going to hit and you’re okay with killing it.”

As a kid I spent a lot of time playing with my cousins at my grandparent’s house. There were guns in every room.  But the gun safe industry had yet to take off at that time.  Instead, my grandfather’s guns were hanging on the walls.  Fully loaded. Ready to go.

Thanks to my grandfather, we knew to stay away.

He was the one that took me on my first two hunting trips.  The first trip was fake.  I was shooting an old Coke can that represented a bear.  While I was aiming, my grandfather quietly and patiently instructed me.

“Don’t let the bear get us.”

“Watch where you aim.”

I didn’t do so well.  I never hit the Coke can and it mauled my entire family.

The second hunting trip was real.  We walked around in the woods, both carrying real guns, hunting birds.  We never saw anything but we weren’t mauled this time so it was a big improvement.

I don’t think I’ve been hunting since then.

When I got a little older, maybe 12, my dad bought me a .22 rifle with a scope.  I got to use it when I visited him but it had to stay at his house when I left for mine.  I lived with my mother in Clayton County, Georgia.  The only hunting that happened there was when the police tried to find the guy that spray painted Mike Is A Wimp on the side of some convenience store.

While I sat in class last weekend, learning about handguns, I thought about my dad and my grandfather.  I thought about how many kids today are growing up without any kind of a male presence in their lives.  I wondered why nobody is talking about this when they talk about gun violence.

Could it be that the gun isn’t the real problem, no matter how many rounds that it holds?  Could the reason why 15-year-olds shoot other 15-year-olds have something to do with the the problem of fatherlessness in this country?  Yes and yes.

Our society preaches sex without consequences, especially for men.  If you slip up and make a “mistake” there’s always the abortion route.  But if that’s not an option, and you’re willing to pay a few bucks a month, you can still go about your normal life while the “mistake’s” mother handles the hard work of parenting.  And we’re somehow surprised when that “mistake” doesn’t know how to act around a gun.

Being a dad means being responsible.  Responsibility is in short supply these days.  Maybe it’s not just the teenage gang bangers and school shooters that need to grow up.  And there is no government program, bill or restriction that can make this happen.  The human heart, it turns out, is outside of federal jurisdiction.

A while back, my dad gave me my grandfather’s shotgun.  The same one that hung on the wall of the room where I played as a kid.  And I finally got to take my .22 rifle back to my own house.  Now my young son carefully looks through that same scope while his dad quietly gives him instructions.

“Remember, it’s loaded and ready to go.  It’s always loaded.”

“Watch where you’re aiming.”

“Don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.”

“Okay, whenever you’re ready.”

But this time, the Coke can almost always dies.

An Exegetical Analysis of Every Single Episode of The Biggest Loser

The Biggest Loser is an NBC reality show about people who are tying to lose weight.  It airs once a week and each episode lasts for 15 hours.  Something like that.

If you’ve ever missed an episode, or if you ever will, here’s the low down.

1.  Jillian Michaels yelled at someone.

No, you don’t understand.  I mean really yelled.  Like, Full Metal Jacket yelled.  For some reason, Jillian continues to be surprised when a man that’s getting pretty close to tipping the scales at 950 pounds doesn’t want to do another jumping jack.

2.  Someone cries.

People don’t like getting yelled at by Jillian Michaels.  It makes them cry.  This always leads to a counseling session that goes a little something like this.

Jillian: “DO ANOTHER JUMPING JACK!!!!!!!!!!

Contestant: “I can’t.”

Jillian: “SMH!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Contestant: (crying) “I have trust issues that date back to my early teen years when my dad made us get rid of the dog.  Since that day all I’ve wanted to do is lay around and eat doughnuts.”

Jillian: (compassionate whisper) “It’s time you start thinking more about yourself.”

Contestant: (smiling) “Good point.  Now let’s do that jumping jack!”

3.  Someone gets all self-righteous.

The gang gets to leave the Biggest Loser campus for a nice meal at Chili’s.  When they place their order, they make sure to let the waitress know that the regular menu items simply will not do.

“I’ll have the Southwest Chicken Crispers but I’m going to need you to empty out the cooking oil that you normally use and replace it with fish oil.  Oh, and instead of using chicken, I’m going to need you to fry up a small lamb.  And I’ll have a Coke Zero with that.”

Jillian couldn’t be more proud.

4.  Some celebrity shows up to inspire all of the contestants.

But don’t worry.  You’ve never heard of him.

“Oh my gosh!  It’s Don Lewis, celebrity chef!”

5.  Someone gets voted off.

And they cry a lot.  Too much.  And then you see them at home inspiring their kids who, most likely, will be on the show next season.

6.  You get hungry.

Don’t worry about this.  It happens to everyone.  There’s just something about this show that makes you want to eat a doughnut.  Embrace this desire.  If you’re lucky, you just might get to be on the show next season.

The Baby Box

“God, I will die for these children.”

From the website:

In December 2009, a Korean pastor named Lee Jong-rak built a wooden “drop box” on the outer wall of his home. But the box wasn’t intended for clothing, food, or school supplies, it was meant to collect unwanted babies.

When “the drop box” “or “baby box” was constructed a few years ago, it flew completely under the radar of Korean government officials. However, as more and more children arrive in this box every week, the nation is starting to take notice.

Lee knows that his little wooden box isn’t the best solution, but his plight points to a much larger issue of abandonment, both in Korea, and across the globe.

As a simple man, with little education and no public notoriety, Lee was voiceless, much like the children he has sworn to protect.

Soon, the whole world will know his story.