That Which They Value Most

I once heard a comedian complain that the problem with 80s music is that there are no good protest songs, unless you count Fight for Your Right to Party by the Beastie Boys. Maybe I was too young to notice but the 80s weren’t a big decade for protests. These days people are protesting pretty much everything. But all most of them are really fighting for is their right to party.

This is why people don’t care that there is no longer a fourth amendment in this country.

“Hey, did you know that the government has been listening to your phone calls and reading your e-mails for the past 12 years?”

“Shut up, man! I’m trying to watch Big Brother 15.”

And it’s the same reason why so many people are ready to march on Washington, or Los Angeles, or New York or wherever the Food Network headquarters are located, to let their voice be heard in support of Paula Deen. Canning the woman who teaches us how to deep fry shrimp in a five gallon pot of butter does serious harm to our right to party.

It’s why we like to talk about women’s rights when it has to do with a girl that doesn’t want her baby but we don’t care so much for the rights of the baby. It’s why my local news station jumps at the opportunity to tell me about politicians in Texas fighting for a woman’s right to an abortion while saying almost nothing about babies in Philadelphia who would just like to be delivered full-term without having scissors pushed through the back of their heads.

It seems as if the only rights most of us really care about in this country are our own. And even among those rights, there is one that takes precedent over all others. The right to be entertained. The right to party.

When the history books are written on the country formerly known as the United States of American, our nation will be remembered as one that was established by men who sacrificed their own lives for basic human rights. Free speech. Freedom of the press. The right to bear arms. But we will also be remembered as a nation that fell because somewhere along the way we started fighting for the wrong rights.

History has shown us that those societies which value the right to party over essential human liberty are always punished by being given that which they value most.

A Word of Encouragement Just In Case You’re Ever Left for Dead

The posters at the church I grew up in were terrible. The ones in my room at home were awesome because they had legitimate, big name athletes on them.

Herschel Walker.

Dominique Wilkins.

Dusty Rhodes.

Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

But the ones at church were different. One poster in particular was a picture of a generic white dude. The generic white dude was wearing a generic basketball jersey. I think it said something like Bears or Tigers. And the generic white dude who played for the Bears or Tigers was dunking. At the bottom of the poster was this verse.

I can do everything through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

This was my favorite verse as a kid. Mainly because I was a generic white dude that desperately wanted to dunk. Of course I couldn’t jump over a brown paper sack but the promise was right there in the Bible. Jesus will help me dunk.

Paul wasn’t writing to the Philippians about joy and perseverance only to switch gears in the middle of the last chapter to throw something out for the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was speaking of something much more miraculous than any athletic endeavor. And he was speaking from personal experience.

In Acts 14, Paul heals a man who has never been able to walk. But that’s nowhere close to the most amazing thing that happens in that chapter. As a result of the healing, a mob tries to worship Paul, thinking that he and Barnabas are gods. Paul uses the gospel in an attempt to persuade them to worship the real God instead. It barely worked (14:18) but there was something else that was much more effective in turning this mob around.

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Acts 14:19 (ESV)

In just a short time Paul goes from being worshipped to being left for dead. But as other believers stood around him, perhaps wondering what this tragedy meant for the church and their faith, Paul sat up. He wasn’t dead after all. Bloodied, bruised and hurting but not dead. And that’s when the amazing thing happened.

He walked right back into the city where his attempted murder took place.

After that, he went to Iconium, the headquarters of the group that instigated that attempted murder. And he wasn’t walking around like the guy from No Country for Old Men looking to settle scores with an air gun. Instead, he was “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (14:22).

That’s what Paul meant when he would later write, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

The strength of Christ is in us when stones fly by our head. Even real stones, not just the figurative ones.

The strength of Christ is in us when one or two of those stones finds its target, right between our eyes.

The strength of Christ is in us when all physical strength is gone and we are left for dead.

The strength of Christ is in us when everything else inside of us is telling us to run the other way or settle a score.

History has shown us, and Paul is the perfect example, that the people who make the biggest difference for Christ are the ones with a few scars. The ones who have been knocked down. The ones who keep getting back up even though they have nothing left inside of them.

Nothing but the strength of Christ.

Something Better

When I first moved to Jackson, Georgia I subscribed to the local newspaper. It’s called the Jackson Progress-Argus. I have no idea what an Argus is but it sounds painful.

One of the first editions I read of the Jackson Progress-Argus was called The Best of Jackson. Over the previous month, readers voted for their favorite politician, waitress and local celebrity. Flo, the lady that’s always chewing gum and saying “Kiss my grits!” won all three categories in a landslide.

There were two other categories that stuck out. One was best restaurant. I made up my mind to eat at that fine establishment. The other category was best church. My church didn’t win. Not even close. But I made up my mind that we would next year.

I made this decision because I’m a lot like Herod. I like to be glorified.

On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man.” Acts 12:22 (ESV)

I keep forgetting that it never ends well for us when we seek the approval of other men. Thankfully, Herod is there to remind me.

Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. Acts 12:23 (ESV)

I’ve never seen an obituary like that in the Jackson Progress-Argus.

But sometimes the praises of men come your way even when you’re not looking for them. Like when Paul and Barnabas healed a man who had been crippled since birth.

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, “The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!” Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. Acts 14:11-12 (ESV)

Paul and Barnabas convinced the mistaken crowd to stop. I might not have been so quick to do that. I mean I am a pastor. And a father. And a faithful husband. So what if someone wants to pat me on the back? Or offer a sacrifice to me?

Again, my memory fails me. I keep forgetting that crowds can be terribly fickle. If you don’t believe me, see how many Miami Heat fans you can find today. Now, wait five years when Lebron is no longer with the team and try to find a fan. Fickle. And it’s no different when it’s you that’s being cheered for.

But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. Acts 14:19 (ESV)

Just in case you lost track, the crowd throwing rocks at Paul was the same one trying to worship him a few verses earlier. Fickle. If we are living for the approval of man, we are living for the most temporary of pleasures.

A year later the Jackson Progress-Argus released the latest Best of Jackson edition. My church didn’t make it. Not even close. But there was something else that stuck out even more that that.

The restaurant that won the previous year couldn’t do it again. That’s because they had to close down.

And the church that won the previous year couldn’t do it again. That’s because they had to close down.

Fickle.

You can live your life for your own glory but you will die and be eaten by worms, just like Herod. But, hey, the good news is that you’ll probably get your name in the paper so there’s always that.

You can live your life for the praise of man and you may even get to experience some of that praise. But you can be certain that sooner or later, those cheers will turn into boos.

Or you can remember that there is nothing greater than God’s approval of you because of who you are in Jesus Christ.

“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.'” Matthew 25:21 (ESV)

I think that’s why Paul and Barnabas were able to ignore the temporary pleasures of an adoring crowd. They knew that something better was waiting for them.

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8, (ESV)

Strong Rock, Bad Dreams

A little girl’s dreams have been crushed. There’s no doubt about that. The only question is, who did the crushing? Popular opinion is that it’s all the fault of a school. A Christian school, mind you.

Maddy Paige was a starting defensive tackle last year for a recreational football team. Next year she wants to play for her school, Strong Rock Christian School. The private institution has a policy prohibiting girls from playing on all boys teams. As a result, everyone who is everyone is mad at the school.

Sexism is alive and well down in Locust Grove, Georgia!

The Bible Thumpers are at it again!

And so on and so forth with all of the expected moans and groans.

What do we want? 

Seventh grade girls to play football!

When do we want it?

Now!

But no one wants to look beneath the rhetoric, at the core, where the real problem rests. Isn’t that where one can usually find the painful truth? Maybe that’s why so many people prefer the surface arguments. They’re not nearly as painful as the truth. On the surface, I can play the victim. It’s beneath the surface where we find the real culprit. And we may not like what we find. Hooray for the surface!

The school isn’t the problem here. Yes, I know. They’re the ones crushing a young girl’s dreams. But is it the job of an educational institution to inspire kids to follow their dreams? Absolutely not. An educational institution, as well as a family institution, at least the good ones, the ones that care to look beneath the surface, see that their responsibility is to give guidance, not continual and groundless affirmation. Not all dreams are worth following.

Parents and teachers are there to narrow down dreams for kids and help them to see which ones are worth following. So in a very real sense, parents and teachers are supposed to crush dreams. Gasp! But the fact that nobody wants to be a dream crusher is why so many young adults find themselves in a quarter-life crisis. All of their lives they’ve been told by parents and teachers that they can do anything they want to do and nothing can stand in their way, even gender or a lack of talent. As a result, they end up following their dreams, however wild and irresponsible they may be, only to see them crushed by the hard realities of life. Better to have a wild and crazy dream crushed at 10 than 25.

As you might expect, Paige’s mother is furious with Strong Rock’s dream-crushing policy.

“What they’ve done here is they’ve taken Maddy – they let her have that cake, then they took it from her and they smashed it.”

Fair enough. But wouldn’t it have been easier if mom and dad had done the smashing long ago. Or perhaps, I don’t know, not even let her have the cake to begin with? Maybe a different piece of cake?

Look Maddy, football is for boys. That doesn’t mean that boys are better than girls or that God loves boys more than girls. He just created them to have different roles. It’s sort of like the Trinity. The Father, Son and Spirit each have different roles but they are still equally God. Hey look, a softball!

Oh, but I can hear the arguments already.

Do you honestly expect a parent to talk to a sixth grader about the Trinity?!

No. But it would be nice. Besides, if we think that our little ones are old enough and responsible enough to be activists, maybe they can handle a little theology better than we might expect.

And that’s another thing that’s lost in cases like this. The child. Parents have to know that this cannot end well for the child, whether it’s in the seventh grade or in the NFL. Strong Rock said that Maddy’s presence on the middle school team “may” cause boys to have impure thoughts.

May?

May!

Seventh grade boys have impure thoughts looking at a can opener. Imagine what happens to the minds of those little seventh grade boys when they are told to wrap their arms around young Maddy’s waist or push her in the chest. Go ahead. Imagine. I can guarantee you that a group of seventh grade boys already are imagining. And that’s the thing that no one wants to talk about. When it comes to the blurring of gender lines, imaginations are given the opportunity to become actions.

In our culture we are quick to make accusations about sexism. And institutions usually, over time, cave to those accusations. That’s why there are women in our military fighting side by side with men on the front lines.

But we can’t have our cake and eat it too, to borrow a phrase from Maddy’s mother.

We cannot then be surprised when the real sexism takes place. The sexism that leads to a powerful man raping a woman under his command while on the field of battle. Or the sexism that takes place when a seventh grade boy with a wild imagination and a camera phone spends the better part of the afternoon tackling a girl.

Maddy says that Strong Rock Christian School has taken away her dreams. Maybe so. But maybe, in taking away those dreams, Strong Rock Christian School is protecting something that is much more precious to Maddy.

Her innocence.

Friends with Straight Faces

I ate dinner at church last night. It was Vacation Bible School so the room was packed. Kids were everywhere. But there was one kid that really stuck out.

It was my son. I watched as he came out of the kitchen with a plate full of food. He walked all around the room but couldn’t find a place to sit. I wanted to call him over to sit with me but I didn’t. Instead I just watched. My heart sank when he finally found a table and sat down. All alone.

Seconds later the table was full. Some of the kids I had never seen before and some were his long time friends. It made me start thinking about the friends my sons will grow up with. It made me hope that they have friends like mine.

Friends like Jared that make them laugh. Jared was sitting across from me in the first grade when I wrote my first love letter to a girl at our table. She frowned and handed the note back to me because I spelled the word love wrong. Jared laughed. That girl went on to become a devil worshipper. Grammar can be overrated. Friends aren’t.

I also hope that my boys find friends that don’t laugh at their jokes. That sounds simple enough. If you don’t want people to laugh at your jokes all you have to do is become a Southern Baptist pastor. But this is deeper.

One time I told a joke to my friend Keith. It was a bad joke. Not unfunny bad. Unholy bad. Keith didn’t laugh. Instead, he pulled me to the side and told me that he was disappointed in me. I was probably 14-years-old then but I still remember that conversation. It helps me every day.

Several years later I still hadn’t learned my lesson. I was talking to my friend Gerald before church and I told him another bad joke. Unholy bad. He didn’t laugh either. I still remember his words.

“You can do better than that.”

I never stop hearing that phrase.

I hope that my kids have friends that make them laugh.

But I also hope that they find friends who love them enough to keep a straight face.

Friends who care enough to push them on to something better.

Do not reprove a scoffer, or her will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.  Proverbs 9:8 (ESV)

 

Tragically Hip

Later this month I’ll be eating at a Mennonite restaurant. It’s called Yoder’s Deitsch Haus. It’s right next to Schrute Farms.

I’ve been there several times before so I know the routine. As I arrive, I’ll marvel at the beautiful, flat farm land that seems to have taken over the world. Once I walk in I’ll respond to the warm greetings of the people working. I’ll remind myself that they’re not wearing costumes or uniforms. The bearded men in suspenders always look that way.

I’ll eat their food, wander around their bakery and take a look in the general store before heading back home. Back to civilization. Back to real life. Away from people whose religion keeps them living in a bygone era.

If Christians understand and apply the gospel right, the surrounding culture will look at us like I look at the Mennonites. Sure, we must do everything we can to understand and engage the culture. But those of us who are tempted to equate cultural engagement with coolness must remember that no amount of Sigur Ros vinyls or fair trade coffee can make us socially acceptable.

Not when we believe that God created the heavens and the earth.

Not when we believe that Jesus died as a substitute for his people.

Not when we believe that he really did come back to life a few days later.

Not when we believe in a real place called hell and actually allow that belief to impact the way we evangelize.

And not when we subscribe to a traditional, biblical view of marriage.

As time passes, there are more and more people in our culture who hate those beliefs. And hate those of us who believe them. They think that we’re confined to living in a bygone era because of our religion. Some even think that we’re terrorists.

This shouldn’t surprise us. “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

I’m not advocating a return to the three-piece leisure suite and southern gospel cassettes. Those things, just like the skinny jeans and Kanye downloads that have come after them, are inconsequential. But the Bible is not, no matter what everyone else says about how intolerant or outdated the message is.

Even the most casual reading of the New Testament reveals that Christianity is inherently an uncool religion. If we’re not okay with this, we are in danger of compromising what must never be compromised. It usually starts with something like the historical Adam or the virgin birth and believing the culture when they compare those biblical doctrines to fairy tales. After all, we convince ourselves, those things don’t really matter. A compromise on the lordship of Jesus Christ is always sure to follow. And before we even had time to notice, our faith stops being real. It becomes a uniform. A costume.

The whole point of engaging the culture with the gospel is to show them something different. Something better. To give them a drink of the Living Water so that they will never thirst again. But if the salt has lost its taste, it is no longer good for anything.

I’m afraid that we’ve lost something in our fascination with evangelism through coolness.

Maybe, in our attempt to become all things, we’ve become nothing.

30 Minutes or Less

I learned a lot in college. But no lesson during those four years was more important than the one that I learned late one night in the home of two strangers.

I was working for Domino’s Pizza. The job came with its disadvantages. Like delivering to churches that seemed to have a bylaw against tipping.

“Here’s your pizza. That’ll be $8.99.”

“Okay. Here’s $9.00. I’ll stand here and wait for you to give me my penny back.”

But it also came with some advantages. Like delivering to happy drunks who gave 120% tips.

“Here’s your pizza. That’ll be $8.99.”

“Well here’s your hundred dollar bill. Keep the change. Go Dawgs!”

Thankfully, the happy drunks in my small college town liked pizza more than the Christians did. But sadly, not all of the drunks were happy. Especially when you didn’t bring them there pizza in 30 minutes or less.

Joe was my boss. He was a hard worker and he expected us to work hard. But he was fair. It was easy to respect him because he knew what he was doing and he was always willing to help. Seeing as how I was a pizza delivery boy that couldn’t manage to go from the bathroom to the kitchen in my own house without getting lost, I needed all of the help I could get.

I was up for the next delivery. It was a long way away from our store but Joe reassured me with his directions. I was feeling confident as I walked to my car under that early evening north Georgia sky. An hour later, the sky was completely black and I wasn’t feeling so confident. I still hadn’t found that house.

These were the days before cell phones. The pay phone at Fat Harry’s Stop ‘N Sip was my cell phone. I probably spent $20 going back and forth to that gas station pay phone to ask Joe for directions. Finally, Joe’s directions clicked. I knew where to go and how to get there. What I didn’t know was that the house I was delivering to also happened to be where the cast of Deliverance was having a little get together.

The house was off of a dark road that snaked it’s way through the woods. The driveway was gravel. The house was a trailer. The two men inside were furious.

I’ve never been called so many cuss words. That’s saying a lot for a Southern Baptist preacher. I have a feeling that Chris Rock, had he been there that night, would have told these two gentlemen to cool it with the language. Chris Rock wasn’t there. It was just me. In the middle of nowhere. Alone with two strangers.

In the short time that it took me to walk from my Mazda 323 to the front door of their modular home these two men must have reminded me 20 times about the Domino’s policy of a free pizza if it’s not delivered in 30 minutes or less. Why couldn’t Domino’s have a 4 hours or less policy?

These guys weren’t paying and they were letting me know about it. Really letting me know about it. As in, I’m now inside of their house, with the door closed, listening to them tell me that they weren’t going to pay. I’ve never been kidnapped before but this seemed pretty close.

So that’s when I pulled out my switchblade.

Not really. But that would have been very cool on my part. Maybe next time.

If you’re not familiar with the movie Deliverance, do everything you can to keep it that way. Just know this. There are some weird looking bad guys in that movie. I know I’m not supposed to judge but that’s kind of hard not to do when you’re sort of being kidnapped. The two guys in that house looked just like the weird bad guys from Deliverance. I drew my own conclusions and wasn’t too thrilled with where they were leading me.

I noticed that one of the gentlemen was on the phone. I hoped that the guy on the other end of the phone wasn’t named The Gimp. The guy motioned for me to come over and handed me the phone. The voice I heard was a familiar one. It was my boss, Joe.

Joe usually talked loud and fast with the hint of a laugh behind every word. Not this time. This time his voice was steady, quiet and serious.

“Jay. Listen to me. Get out of that house as fast as you can.”

I handed the phone back while looking at the front door, hoping it was unlocked. It was. I ran out to my car, leaving in my wake the cast of Deliverance, the pizza, my tip money and probably a few years of my life.

I made it back to the store in 30 minutes or less having learned a very important lesson.

If the cast of Deliverance, or at least people looking like they belong in the cast of Deliverance, decides to have a party in your town and, for whatever reason, you’re in charge of bringing the pizza, make sure that you get it there on time.

And if you can’t do that, bring a switchblade.

An Open Letter to the Future Husbands Living In My House

Dear boys,

When I say the word girlfriend, you both run away screaming. You want nothing to do with one of those. I kind of like that but it won’t last forever. One day you’ll meet a girl that makes your heart race. You’ll try to play it cool around her, and maybe you’ll succeed, but on the inside you’ll be a mess. Eventually you’ll let that girl have your racing heart forever.

But until that day, it’s my job to make sure that you’re ready. And that you pick the right girl to give your heart to. God only gave you one heart and, while it is certain to be broken from time to time as you grow, you’ll want to make sure that it’s in safe hands with your wife. I hope that this advice helps you to find those safe hands.

1. Make sure that she loves Jesus.

I know that I’m being predictable here. I’m a pastor so this is what I’m supposed to tell my sons. But don’t let the predictability fool you. You may meet the most beautiful woman in the world but if she doesn’t know Jesus, she doesn’t really know what love is (1 Corinthians 13). It’s sort of like a piece of fine jewelry pierced through a pig’s nose (Proverbs 11:22). By all means, marry a girl who you are attracted to (Proverbs 5:15-19). Just remember where that beauty really comes from (Mark 7:14-23).

2. Make sure that she honors her father.

If she’s constantly referring to her father as a meth-addicted, wobbly-eyed buzzard, even if he is, she’ll probably end up calling you the same thing, even if you’re not. It’s impossible for me to overemphasize the importance of a peaceful spirit. If you and your wife both have one, it will save you a lot of grief. Build a love nest with a woman who is always looking for a fight or something to complain about and you’ll be better off living alone on the roof of that love nest (Proverbs 21:9). If you want to know if a girl has a peaceful spirit, watch her attitude towards her father. It speaks volumes.

3. Stop looking around.

Remember who the most beautiful girl in the world is. It’s not the plastic lady on the cover of some magazine or the exhibitionist that likes to take off all or most of her clothes for some camera, the boys at the beach or the perverts from the NSA trolling through social media accounts. The most beautiful girl in the world is the one you’ve agreed to spend the rest of your life with. Forget about what your friends say. Their opinion doesn’t matter here.

All other women fail in comparison to a good wife. So stop looking around. Stop wondering (Proverbs 5:15-20).

4. Modesty matters.

If you walked in on the average woman while was in the process of changing clothes, she would most likely reach for the first thing she could find to quickly cover her half-naked body. But that same woman would have no problem walking out into public wearing clothes that leave her, well, half-naked. There will come a time when you’ll want to believe that this is a good thing, that you’ve found that special someone because she has something to show off and is willing to do it. Don’t listen to yourself. Some things are best enjoyed in private and human sexuality is one of them. This goes deeper than style preferences. A woman who wears clothes that shows the world all that she has to offer usually doesn’t have very much to offer.

There will be some girls that you’ll just know to avoid. Something in their eyes will tell you that they like to throw plates and boil live pet rabbits on the stove. Listen to your instincts on this one. Run away. Don’t walk.

But things usually won’t be that easy. Just remember that you’re not alone. I’m here to help. More than that, God has promised to give you his wisdom if you just ask in faith (James 1:5-6). Take him up on that offer. I do and he never fails me.

Boys, this isn’t all there is to be said. Not even close. But it is a start. A good wife is a blessing from God (Proverbs 18:22). But it’s not one of those blessings like rain or sunlight that just comes your way. It’s more like food. You have a little work to do in order to enjoy it.

All of this advice may seem overwhelming. It is a lot to remember so maybe I should wrap it up with just a couple of sentences.

When you start to think about the kind of woman you want to marry, find a beautiful woman whose beauty doesn’t stop with her skin.

To put it another way, if you can somehow manage to marry a woman who is anything like your mother, you’ll do just fine.

Love,

Dad