When People Fear Their Government

The doctor looked at my wife and I like we were evil. He tried to convince us that we were wrong. We didn’t want our two young sons to get the flu vaccine. For us, it was just too new, mysterious and ineffective. We stood our ground, said thank you and went back to the safety of our own home.

Anna and Alex Nikolayev weren’t so lucky.

Their baby, Sammy, has a heart murmur. Like my wife and I, Anna and Alex weren’t so sure about the prescribed treatment for their son, who also had the flu. There were mysterious shots with no explanation and even talk of heart surgery. Alex and Anna wanted a second opinion before taking such a big step. They didn’t have a problem with the idea of heart surgery, they just weren’t too sure about it being done at a hospital where they didn’t feel comfortable.

And so they got Sammy and they left.

Instead of going home they went to another doctor. A doctor that released the baby to go home under the care of his parents.

But, for the police and Child Protective Services, a note from the doctor just wasn’t good enough.

So CPS, under police power, entered the Nikolayev home and took Sammy from Anna and Alex. The agency with the title of Child Protective Services did anything but protect baby Sammy. They kidnapped him. And the police stood by to ensure that it happened peacefully.

Would you stand by peacefully while Child Protective Services kidnapped your child?

Somehow, aside from their tears, Anna and Alex did remain quiet. My guess is that the four or five armed police officers had something to do with that. One of them said the following during the kidnapping.

“I’m going to grab your baby. And don’t resist. No fighting. Okay?”

When people fear their government, things have a way of getting turned upside down. People enlisted to protect children put them at risk. Officers sworn to uphold the law pervert it and abuse the very people they are supposed to serve.

Maybe that explains why more Americans fear their own government than they do an foreign terrorist.

But don’t think for one second that this is an Obama problem. Or even a Bush problem. They both have their share of guilt but the blame can’t be pushed off on them. Nor can it be pointed at the international terrorists. No, to find the real culprit we have to look in the mirror. And mirror looking can be painful.

But we are the ones who do nothing when our government gives itself permission to look through our phone records, e-mails and sock drawers without a warrant. We tell ourselves that it’s worth it as long as it keeps the bad guys at arms length. But all the while we fail to see that the bad guys are the ones doing the searching. And in some cases we voted for them.

We are the ones who convince ourselves that America wins again when police roll down our streets in tanks and force innocent people from their homes. Hey, they did get the bomber, right? But what precedent was set? Do we really want the fourth amendment suspended in the event of an emergency? It’s sort of like my mom told me a long time ago when I got a credit card just for emergencies.

“You’ll be surprised how many emergencies come up now.”

And none of us really cares about Anna, Alex and Sammy. Deep down we try to convince ourselves that they probably deserved what happened before flipping the channel to Celebrity Diving. What would our forefathers say?

“Wait. You sat by and did nothing while police stole a baby from his rightful parents just so you could watch Louie Anderson jump off of a diving board. Louie Anderson?!” George Washington

Bread and circus. Fat and happy.

When I was a kid we used to worry about the Russians attacking us because they hated our freedom. A few years later the Russians were replaced with the Taliban. They didn’t like our freedom either. And now that’s changed. Now we fear our very own government.

It seems as though the Soviets and the Taliban aren’t the only ones who have a problem with our freedom.

“When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Thomas Jefferson

A Word for Sorry Fathers

Am I doing this right?

I ask myself that question every day. When I leave at night to visit someone in the hospital I secretly wonder if I’m abandoning my family. When I turn down an engagement so that I can spend more time with my family, I wonder if I’m worshiping them.

I guess what I’m really asking myself is, am I a bad father?

If my mom and my grandmother were still alive, I’m sure that they would both say that I was doing a wonderful job. But that’s what moms and grandmothers always say. It’s their job.

I was raised by my mom. She and my dad divorced before I was five years old. I don’t know the whole story of everything that happened. I don’t care to. All I know is that I spent most of my childhood with my mother. She did an excellent job but there was one thing she couldn’t do. She couldn’t show me how to be a good dad. She could tell me, and she did, but she couldn’t show me.

And that had me scared to death when I became a father a few years back. Sometimes, it still scares me today.

Am I doing this right?

There’s no real guidebook for being a dad. The Bible tells me to raise my kids up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4) and I pray every morning for God to help me in that task. But the Bible doesn’t go into specifics. How do I apply the discipline and instruction of the Lord to my kid’s soccer practice, their social skills and the best way to educate them?

I didn’t have much of a relationship with my father while I was growing up. My mom would make me give him a call and go see him from time to time but that was pretty much it. But when I became a young adult, I started to spend more time with him. A lot of our time was spent driving around the country roads that snake their way through the sandy middle Georgia terrain. He would tell me the history behind some of the old houses and how our ancestors played a part in that history. It was fascinating.

But one day he pulled over on the side of one of those roads. There wasn’t really a place to pull over but he did anyway. That’s what trucks are for. He stopped talking to me about family history and started talking about his own history.

“Son, I don’t know what all you know about me and your mom. But I want you to know that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for you.”

Whenever I look back on that day on the side of some beat up county road, I find the answer to my question.

Am I doing it right?

No.

No father does it right all the time.

But the good ones, the fathers that really care, are the ones that are man enough to pull over on the side of the road to say that they’re sorry.

Three People You’ll Meet This Summer

Summer is almost here and it’s important for you to know what to expect. If you live in the south, you can expect really hot weather. But the hot weather has its way of bringing other things along with it. Like people. Here’s your warning.

The Complainer

You’ll know him when you meet him. Trust me. You’ll start up some conversation about the weather and know exactly who you’re dealing with.

You: “Sure is a nice day.”

The Complainer: “I guess. But we sure do need some rain. I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Two weeks later.

You: “Sure is nice to get all of this rain. We really needed it.”

The Complainer: “I guess. But _____________________ (Insert: “it’s not nearly enough.” or “we didn’t need this much all at once.”) I’ve never seen it this bad. We’re all gonna die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Nudist

This is the person that’s just a little too happy about it being summer. It’s the same guy who, during the winter months, frequents the local Golden Corral and Wal-Mart in his pajamas. In the summer, he still visits Golden Corral and Wal-Mart but he does so in his bathing suit. The one he wore in the third grade. When he was 200 pounds lighter. And by “bathing suit”, I mean cutoff jean shorts.

To finish off this little fashion statement, The Nudist is wearing his Crocks, only now without socks what with it being so hot outside and all.

The Protector

In the south, it’s hard to make it through the summer without spotting a snake. Snakes like to surprise you. Dogs can be annoying but at least they give you some advanced warning. Snakes have a way of just appearing. And when they do appear and you tell the story about it later on, The Protector is usually somewhere within earshot.

You: “And then I looked down and there it was. Man, it must have been 6 feet long.”

Your Friends at the Table with You: “No way. I hope you killed it.”

The Protector (seated three tables over): “Excuse me. I know that you don’t know me but I just happened to overhear your conversation and, judging by your description, it sounds as though you were talking about the Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake. You know that it’s against federal law to kill those, right?”

You: “But it was wrapped around my car and spitting at my infant son.”

At this point, The Protector turns into Sally Struthers and starts trying to make you feel sorry for the Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake.

The Protector: “Please don’t ever kill this snake. It helps to keep the bad snakes away and the oils from its skin helps to regulate blood pressure in men over 50. In fact, for just the price of a cup of coffee you could sponsor your very own Western Ridge Spotted Common Snake.”

Never, ever sponsor a snake. It’ll come back to… never mind. Just don’t do it.

But if you really want to give some money away maybe you could buy a new Florida Gators tank top for The Nudist to wear with his “bathing suit.”

Have a great summer!

It’s been great sitting next to you in English class all year!

LYLAS!

Magnifying Grace

When my firstborn son grows up he’s going to own a car title pawn shop. You know, the kind that give you a little cash for your car title and then make you pay it back at 300% interest or they’ll keep your car. He’ll either work there or for the IRS.  But really, is there a difference?

It all started with a magnifying glass. My oldest son got one in his Sunday School class. My youngest son didn’t. If you ever wonder if mankind is naturally good or naturally evil and the evening news hasn’t convinced you yet, find two kids and give them one magnifying glass. Our trip home from church was a lesson in total depravity.

The boys spent the rest of the afternoon arguing over that magnifying glass. Eventually, the fighting stopped. It’s good when the fighting stops. Until you find out why it stopped.

My youngest son came to me with a solemn look.

“Dad, I had to take four dollars out of my bank.”

“Why?”

“He made me give it to him so that I could have more time to play with his magnifying glass.”

The he being referred to was my firstborn son, the future Federal Reserve chairman.

When I called his name, my little businessman knew that his empire was about to come crumbling down. As he was walking towards me he sort of looked like Bernie Madoff.

I explained to him that it’s wrong to rent his toys to his brother.

I told him that sometimes you just give things to people, even when they have nothing to give you in return or no rights to what you have.

And you do it because you love them.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)

The President and the Supremacy of the Healthy, Wealthy and White

Imagine what would happen if a sitting United States president was the keynote speaker at a racist organization’s annual fundraising dinner. And what if, at that same dinner, this racist organization handed out an award named after a person who devoted her life to the extermination of, among others, blacks?

Sadly, you don’t have to imagine what this would be like.  It will be happening for real later this year when President Barack Obama delivers the keynote address at Planned Parenthood’s fundraising gala. And at that same gala, Dr. Ruth Westheimer will be given the Margaret Sanger Award because of her lifelong commitment to helping men and women talk about sex.

Margaret Sanger is more than just the name of a Planned Parenthood award.  Sanger was the woman responsible for founding Planned Parenthood. She was a big supporter of eugenics as a means of reducing the growth of the black population. Her plan of attack was called the Negro Project. Is it any wonder that today Planned Parenthood is so determined to spread their “care” among blacks?

Randy Alcorn’s words are worth noting.

“I do not believe that most people who support abortion rights are racists, any more than I believe there are no racists among pro-lifers. I am simply suggesting that regardless of motives, a closer look at both the history and present strategies of the pro-choice movement suggests that abortion for the minorities may not serve the cause of equality as much as the cause of supremacy for the healthy, wealthy and white.”

If Gerald Ford or Bill Clinton gave the keynote address at an Aryan Brotherhood rally where the Adolf Hitler award was given out, I’m sure that we would all be outraged. And we should. Just as we should be outraged upon finding out that our current president will be speaking for a racist organization where a racist individual will be honored.

President Obama didn’t just show up on the political scene. No, he got here on the shoulders of men like Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers.  Men who fought against injustice. Men who refused to look the other way. Men who were a voice for those who had no voice.

Imagine what would happen if our president would follow the example of those great men.

The Long, Gone Golden Age of Christianity

I grew up listening to 97.1.  At the time it was called Fox 97 and it played nothing but oldies.  For several years, it was one of the more popular radio stations in the Atlanta market.

Fox 97 is how I found out about Elvis Presley, Credence Clearwater Revival and the Beach Boys.  Whenever my mom drove me somewhere in her 1970ish Chevy Nova with wood panels I would get a lesson in rock and roll history.  For her, it was more of a reminder.  I guess that you could say that we both grew up on the exact same music.  I called it oldies but I don’t know that she ever used that term.

Several years later I was at a pizza restaurant with high school students from my youth ministry.  During our meal, a song from Journey came on.  One of the kids at our table got real excited and started to sing along.  I was shocked.

“How do you know this song?  It came out a decade before you were born.”

Her response crushed me.

“Oh, I love oldies.”

I was only about 25 but I had never felt so old.

Fox 97 eventually went away.  Now it’s called 97.1 The River and it plays classic rock.  Whenever I drive my kids places, we listen to 97.1 and they get introduced to Led Zepplin, Def Lepard and the Allman Brothers.  For me, it’s more of a reminder.  A reminder of my childhood.  And a reminder of how old I am.  Now the music I grew up listening to, even the music I listened to in college, could be considered oldies.  But I don’t use that term.

A lot of people look at Christianity like an old radio station.  It had its day and ran its course.  Now it’s time for another religion or worldview to take center stage.  It’s easy to think this way after last week’s events.  After all, if Christianity is so great then why are people getting killed with bombs on the streets of Boston?  If Jesus is still Lord, why are dozens of people getting killed in fertilizer plant explosions?

Some within the Church hope for the return of the long, gone golden age of Christianity when it was possible to at least pretend that the president was an evangelical.  They miss the days when the movement had its swagger and evangelicals were considered a voting bloc to be reckoned with.  If only we could get our power back, then things in this country would turn around, they reason.

But power, at least as it relates to the kingdom of Christ, has a way of looking different than you might expect.

The early Church didn’t look very powerful when one of their new leaders, Stephen, was staring down an angry mob.  But Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit and saw the glory of God with Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand (Acts 7:54-56).

The power of the Holy Spirit sustains us in our weakest moments.

Things weren’t looking good for the body of Christ when that same angry mob started throwing rocks at Stephen’s head.  One after another until, finally, Stephen died.  But during his execution, Stephen was acting just like his Savior (Acts 7:57-60).

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

“Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

This sounds almost exactly like the words that Jesus spoke during his crucifixion.

The power of the cross helps us to live and die like our Savior.

I’m sure that most cultural observers in that day thought that Christianity was done as a man named Saul carried believers from their home and threw them in prison.  And it looked even worse when the remaining believers scattered, leaving only the apostles in Jerusalem.

But consider where these believers scattered to.  Judea and Samaria.  Just like Jesus said that they would in Acts 1:8.  And as they scattered, what were these believers doing?

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.  Acts 8:4 (ESV)

God’s sovereign power has a way of redeeming even the worst of circumstances.

Throughout the Scriptures and the rest of human history, we tend to see God’s power on display when his people are at their weakest.  Jesus doesn’t need the president’s ear or a really big voting bloc to accomplish his purposes.  In fact, those things have a way of becoming obstacles that prevent us from really knowing God’s power.

So the Church hasn’t lost any power.  That’s never a concern because nothing can separate us from the love of God.  But the real issue is whether or not we are willing to rely on God’s power.

Even if it means living without the facade of man’s power.

The Ferocious Word of God

We’ve been in our new house for about a month or so.  I’ve only met a few of the neighbors but most of them seem really nice.  The guy across the street used to ride motorcycles with a friend of mine.  The guy next to him likes to talk about guns.  And the kid down the street likes to stand by silently while his dog tries to maul me.

Two out of three ain’t bad.

Several days ago I went for a run.  I think that dog had me down on his calendar.

Friday, 6 am – scrape posterior on driveway

Friday, 7 am – try to kill the guy that just moved in

I don’t know how things worked out with his 6 a.m. appointment but the one at 7 was almost a success.

When I ran by the first time I saw the dog standing with his kid owner.  For some reason, this reassured me.  I knew that this dog was trouble but I thought that maybe the presence of a five-year-old would help him to stay calm.  I was wrong.  The dog chased me for about fifty yards while the kid gave almost muted commands.

“Stop.  Don’t bite him.  Please.”

I’m not sure if the kid was talking to me or the dog.  Neither one of us listened.

I finally got away but knew that I would be back in about 30 minutes.  I prepared myself for survival.  As soon as I came up over the hill and onto my street for the second engagement, the dog saw me.  This time he chased me even further before I finally pulled away, safely in my house.  That dog is really intent on keeping his appointments.

Both times, my adrenal glands came to my rescue.  There’s just something about a set of jaws that are coming after you that does wonders for your speed.

Sometimes the Bible is like our adrenal glands.  In it we find hope that carries us through very difficult and challenging times.

The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.  Psalm 102:28 (ESV)

Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Psalm 100:3 (ESV)

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7 (ESV)

But sometimes Scripture is like the dog at the end of my street.  Along with the Holy Spirit, it chases us down, exposing our sin and attacking our indifference, until we have arrived at God’s intended destination.

My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge.  For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  Proverbs 5:1-4 (ESV)

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.  I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.  Galatians 5:19-21 (ESV)

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.  James 1:26 (ESV)

I’ve decided that there are other ways to get my adrenal glands fired up every morning so I’ve picked a new route.  One that helps me to avoid Cujo.

But this must not be our approach to God’s word.  If we only run to it when we need a little hope or encouragement we’re missing the message.  The Bible is more than a collection of uplifting sayings.  It’s God’s revelation of himself with Jesus as the central figure.

Jesus did come to bring hope to his people.

But he also came to confront sin.  And he confronts sin with the same violence and aggression that my neighbor’s dog likes to confront me with.

The difference is that, at the cross on my behalf, it was Jesus who became the victim of that violent hatred of sin.

Praise God for his ferocious Word.

Sometimes It Pays to be Unprofessional

“Whatever you do, don’t ask for an autograph.  It’s unprofessional.”

That’s pretty much the only rule we had to follow.  But rules, as they say, are made to be broken.

I was an intern and Jeff was an actual employee at a small CBS television station in northeast Georgia.  The same northeast Georgia town where then Indiana Pacer Dale Davis grew up.  His Pacers were playing the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta and our assignment was to go down, grab an interview with the hometown hero and maybe a highlight or two.  This was the Atlanta Hawks so finding highlights would prove to be difficult.

But fortunately the great Reggie Miller was still playing for the Pacers.  We knew that we could count on him for a few highlights.

We weren’t wrong.

Jeff and I took turns sitting on the floor underneath the goal with our camera.  While one of us was on the floor, the other sat courtside at the press table and ate pizza.  Oh, there was one other rule.  We couldn’t cheer.  It would be unprofessional.  Again, I was a Hawks fan so there was nothing to cheer about.  No problem.

The Hawks actually won that night but we had to move on to bigger and better things.  The visiting locker room.  I expected it to look something like a giant Foot Locker.  Instead it looked more like my 8th grade Sunday School classroom.  The room was tiny and the walls were bare.  I think that my 8th grade Sunday School classroom at least had a poster of a guy dunking that said “Soar with Jesus.”  The Pacers locker room didn’t even have that.

We easily got our interview with Dale Davis because everyone else wanted to talk to Reggie Miller.  I don’t remember what Dale said but I’m sure that it had something to do with “taking it one game at a time” and going out and “playing our kind of basketball.”

When we were done we decided to hang around with the big media guys and try to get an interview with the man himself, Reggie Miller.

All of us leaned up against the wall opposite the Pacer’s locker room.  The major market veteran reporters and the two young guys like us were all in the same boat.  Waiting.

While we waited the door opened and we got ready for action.

But Reggie didn’t come out.  It was one of his handlers.

“Reggie doesn’t do any TV interviews until he’s fully clothed.”

Completely understandable.  More celebrities should try to adopt that policy.  But upon hearing that news most of the other TV guys cleared out.  They were too busy to wait for Reggie to get dressed.

We continued to wait.  Guys from TV stations in northeast Georgia are never busy.

After we waited a while, Jeff leaned over and whispered.

“Jay, look directly in front of you.”

When someone gives you a command like that, do everything you can to disobey.  It’s not going to be good.

I obeyed.

The door to the locker room had somehow come open without me noticing.  And there sat the great Reggie Miller.  Right in front of me.  Fully undressed.

Somehow I didn’t plan on this happening.  But we were already committed.  We had to make our move.

Jeff was bold.

“Hey Reggie.  How about an interview?”

Without knowing it until that moment, we both had a policy of not making eye contact with unclothed NBA stars.  So we both looked at the ceiling as we waited for Reggie’s response.

“Not tonight guys.”

There it was.  At least Reggie was nice when he shot us down.  And at least I would have a story to tell my friends when I got back to my dorm room that night.

I started to walk away when Jeff spoke up again.

“Well, how about an autograph?”

And right there, in the tiny visitor’s locker room of a basketball arena that no longer exists, a naked NBA Hall of Famer signed a couple of napkins for me and Jeff.

Not many people can say that.  At least I hope not.

Sometimes it pays to be unprofessional.