Making Sense of the Excuses

I’m a pastor. That’s means that I hear a lot of excuses. Mostly from church members who haven’t been to church in, I don’t know, forty years. I don’t even have to say anything. If they ever see me out in public they just skip past the pleasantries and go right in to the excuses.

The excuses never sound anything like this.

“Well hello preacher. I just wanted you to know that I am now a member of The American Society of Pagans and I haven’t been at church because  I’ve been busy sacrificing kittens to The Thunder Beast on Sundays.”

Or this.

“Hey, pastor. I  haven’t been coming around because I finally figured out that church is for losers and that my Sunday mornings would be much better spent watching reruns of Renegade staring Lorenzo Lamas as Reno Raines.

The excuses are much more subtle and, like I said, come out before I ever say anything. It’s sort of like when you come home from work and you hear one kid crying and see the other one holding a bat. Before you even say a word, the kid with the bat informs you that he, in fact, did not throw said bat from the top bunk just to see what would happen when it hits his brother in the mouth.

I’ve started thinking about all of the excuses that I hear. What do they really mean? I don’t guess that there’s anyway to know for sure but sometimes, just like when your bat-wielding kid tells you that he didn’t do anything, the excuse can be very telling.

“I’m sorry that we haven’t been around. We’ve just been so busy.”

I love this one because it implies that the millions of people who manage to make it to church on a regular basis have absolutely nothing going on in their lives. As if there are no single moms with three kids who also happen to be faithful to a church.

The problem with the busy crowd isn’t their schedule. It’s usually their priorities. But hey, “We’ve been too busy” sounds an awful lot better than “We’ve completely lost control of our schedule and everything is falling to pieces” or “My boss won’t let me skip work to go fishing but Jesus doesn’t mind if I skip church.”

“Sorry but we won’t be around for a while. __________________ season is about to start.” (Insert: baseball, quarterfinal gymnastic regional finals for children ages 3 months to 2 years, football, elk or NASCAR.)

Maybe it’s just because I was no good at baseball when I was a kid but at what point did little league teams start traveling all over the country and playing 162 games a year? It’s always funny how missing a practice is completely out of the question but being committed to other believers is acceptable. For this crowd, it’s all about convenience but don’t expect to hear that.

“Sorry, but we won’t be around for a while. Infant golf tryouts will be going on every Sunday morning for the next two months. Don’t worry, we still love Jesus but we figured that we could take him with us on Sundays while the recreational sports gods sort of require that we go to them on Sundays. Isn’t God’s grace good?”

“It’s just that Sunday mornings are my time. I need at least one day to sleep in.”

Sleep in? What time does your church start, 4 a.m.? Look, if you’re really that tired, just come to church and sleep. It happens all the time. Trust me on this.

“Church is full of a bunch of judgmental hypocrites.”

This one actually isn’t so bad. At least there is an attempt to be honest and not sugar coat things. But the real problem is that sometimes calling an entire group of people “judgmental hypocrites” can be, well, judgmental. And hypocritical.

It’s sort of like this. When you walk into a Wal-Mart, you will hear a child screaming. Count on it. And then you will hear that child’s mother screaming.

“Stop screaming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

And you wonder where that child got his lungs from.

Some things sound good but they’re self-incriminating. It’s easy to say that the church is full of judgmental hypocrites. It’s also true. But that’s sort of the point. Jesus died for judgmental hypocrites. Once they give it a try, judgmental hypocrites that don’t go to church usually find out that they fit in rather nicely with all of the judgmental hypocrites that do go to church.

So if you’re not busy sacrificing kittens this Sunday, come to church and hang out with all of us other judgmental hypocrites who have nothing else going on in our lives.

We may not even scream at you if you fall asleep.

What You’ve Been Missing

A few times a year I go off the grid. No Facebook. No writing. No news updates. No e-mail. The first few times I did this, I always wondered the same thing. What will I miss? Will the government pass some new law that I should read up on? Will someone on Facebook say that they’re pregnant? What’s everyone on Instagram having for dinner?

But eventually I began asking a different question.

Even when I’m on the grid, I feel like I do alright at not letting my phone get in the way. I rely on the checkpoints I have set up for myself. I keep the phone away from the table at meals. I let calls go to voicemail. It can be taken care of when we’re all done eating.

A few weeks ago I found myself longing for my kids to finish eating. It wasn’t bed time and there was no place that we had to be. I just wanted to see what was up on Twitter. In my typical hypocrisy, secretly wishing that the kids would finish eating seemed more noble than just picking up my phone.

But I caught myself. I decided to just sit there at the table and watch my kids. I’m glad that I made that decision because it helped me to see what I’m missing when I have one eye on my phone and one eye on my family.

Like the look on my son’s face when he hugs his mom and tells her that he enjoyed his meal.

And two unhurried brothers laughing at the things brothers laugh at.

Or the ridiculous dance my son did when his favorite song came on.

It was all a gift. A gift from a loving Father who likes to see his people enjoying each other.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. James 1:17 (ESV)

I think we can include our phones in that category of gifts. They can make our lives easier and help us to stay in touch with loved ones who live hundreds of miles away. But, like all gifts, they can be abused. Abused to the point that they keep us from connecting with the loved ones sitting across the table from us.

A while back I took a trip to Africa. Before I went, a few people who were familiar with the region gave me some practical advice.

“Leave your camera at home. Someone else in the group will be taking pictures. You need to see Africa with both of your eyes.”

I’m trying to apply that advice in my house. My phone has its place. But there’s a lot going on that I need to see with both of my eyes.

So, like I said, I quit asking what all I’m going to miss during those few weeks out of each year that I’m off the grid.

Here’s my new question.

What am I missing during the other weeks of the year when I am completely plugged in to the digital world?

The answer to that question makes it easier for me to look away from my phone and focus on the tiny gifts that are all around me. With both eyes.

Sometimes you can know everything that’s going on in the world and still not know what you’re missing in your own house.

If You Really Want To See The Devil

I was probably only eight-years-old but I was still old enough to know that something wasn’t right. It was more than not right. It was demonic. Satanic. And it was happening in the middle of my living room.

It was a party. A Sunday School party. The kids were several years older than me. One of them was laying in the middle of the floor. The rest were sitting around her, each with two fingers under her body. They were chanting.

“Light as a feather. Stiff as a board.”

I don’t remember how the rest went. But they were trying to levitate this girl off of the ground. Did I mention that this was a Sunday School party? Who said Christians don’t know how to have a party?

Later, I heard stories about standing in front of a mirror with something like a candle in one hand and, I don’t know, the wool from a virgin lamb, in the other hand. If you said some other chant three times while listening to an AC/DC record backwards you would see an image standing behind you. A scary image. But really, at that point, isn’t any image scary?

I was always too scared to try it. Sometimes fear can be a good thing.

As I grew older I got into horror movies. With each one I saw, I wanted to be scared out of my mind. But it never happened. Not because I was a really tough kid with nerves of steel. The movies just never delivered. A guy from your dreams with knives for fingers just didn’t seem realistic. Well, unless he could cut your hair.

Horror movies have changed. People still go to see them wanting to be scared. But instead of a villain in a hockey mask, most of today’s horror movies seem to focus on the supernatural. The Satanic. When I talk to people about their reaction to seeing those films, I find out that they respond the same way that I did all of those years ago. The movies never deliver. But maybe the next one will be really scary. And the vicious cycle continues.

We are fascinated with fear. To go a step further, we are fascinated with the supernatural. The Satanic. And as things progress, it takes more to scare us. Freddy and Jason just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to see the devil.

But, if you really want to see the devil, there’s a much more proven way. Just spend some time at a church that takes the Bible seriously.

Make no mistake, if your church is making any attempt to raise up disciples, demons are among you. They are present in your sanctuary on Sunday mornings. But this isn’t scary. Christ has already guaranteed victory for his church and equipped us in whatever daily attacks we face from our Enemy (Ephesians 6:10-20).

I’m not an expert. I’ve only been in ministry for around 15 years. Only five of those have been as a senior pastor. And I’m not one to see a demon behind every bush. If your car breaks down on the way to church, call a mechanic. Don’t call me to come and sprinkle something on it while rebuking the demon of busted fuel pumps.

But in the time that I’ve spent working in churches I have seen the demonic. Sometimes, it has been very dramatic. Like the completely rational person who feels a presence in the house or the person that violently looses all bodily control in the middle of a gospel presentation or the small child that can’t quit thinking about suicide and takes heavy doses of medication just to go to sleep at night.

You’ve seen it too. Everyone has. But the problem is that we never want to admit that a demon has something to do with any of this. We’d rather call it a medical or psychological condition. Sometimes that’s the case. But sometimes there’s more to it. Like the boy who kept having convulsions and falling into deep water and fire pits. When Jesus met that boy, he didn’t give him a psychological evaluation. He cast out the demon that was living inside of him (Mark 9:14-29).

But Satanic forces aren’t always working that way. In fact, sometimes I wonder if they would rather not be so visible. If maybe they prefer to be more subtle in their attacks. Perhaps by allowing gossip or divisiveness to take root in a church. You can be sure that whenever the Spirit is really working and people are getting saved and growing, from out of nowhere, somebody is going to complain, and I mean loud, about the chairs in the church gym being set up wrong.

Demons also like to show up in the teachings of a church.

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. 1 Timothy 4:1 (ESV)

If the Enemy can’t destroy a church through gossip, or strange noises coming from the basement, all is not lost for him. There are a lot of churches that he has no problem with. Churches that he would hate to see close down. Churches where a message of sin, repentance and faith is replaced by platitudes about life goals or no cost salvation for all.

Churches where he has already won the battle.

Typically, at churches like that, everything is peaceful. There are no strange distractions during services. No gossip or divisiveness to deal with.

No demons.

And no Satan.

After all, why would the Enemy bother messing with a church that is working to promote his  agenda? He’d just rather leave it alone.

And that’s really scary.

She’s Just Being Miley

You can say this about Miley Cyrus. At least she was being herself on Sunday night.

That’s what the world tells us to do, right? Just be yourself. Sunday night, at MTV’s Video Music Awards, Miley took advantage of her platform to show anyone who didn’t already know that she was no longer Hannah Montana.

To say that her performance was sexually suggestive would be inaccurate. It was pretty much just sex. There was nothing suggestive about it.

And, for some reason, we’re all shocked. Even those who don’t have a problem with that sort of thing had a problem with Miley just being Miley.

But what did we expect? Did we really expect her to keep being Hannah Montana? It never works that way. Remember when Britney Spears was a seemingly innocent Disney girl? Remember when Justin Bieber was just another kid who had a good voice and a mom that knew how to promote her son? And in both cases we were told that this kid was different. This kid was well-grounded. Now, several marriages and meltdowns later, nobody knows what has happened to Britney. And Justin has a pet monkey and is in the middle of a very public and very ugly meltdown. It never ends well for child stars. Miley Cyrus is just one more example.

That’s part of why what happened Sunday night should not shock us. But there’s another reason why we shouldn’t be surprised. This kind of thing would happen to anyone, including you and me, who gets huge amounts of success and popularity at an early age and grows up in a generation whose motto is, Just be yourself. Nothing helps you to be yourself like truckloads of money and fame at an early age. But the thing is that the you you really are, the yourself that everyone keeps telling you to be, usually isn’t very pretty. It’s called original sin.

What should really surprise us, or more specifically, what should surprise Christians, is our response to Miley Cyrus.

I saw the first few seconds of Miley’s performance before I turned away and started making jokes about her. When I came back, I saw the crowd treating Kanye West like a god and I instantly thought of ten other rappers who are better than he is. Later, I saw the heroes of the civil rights movement degraded as their struggle was equated to that of the gay marriage lobby. Through it all, I was bothered but not for the right reasons.

I longed for the days when music was better. When people didn’t lip sync. When there were guitar solos. When the weirdest thing that happened at the VMAs was the guy from Rage Against the Machine climbing up on a stack of speakers. But never once was my spirit provoked because Miley, Kanye and a significant number of their fans were likely on a path to a very real hell.

2000 years ago Paul was in Athens with nothing to do. His plans were to just wait for Silas and Timothy to join him (Acts 17:15). But as he looked around and “saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16) he spoke up. Not because he hadn’t met his evangelism quota for the month. Not because he felt guilty. And not because there’s no such thing as hell and we all end up in the same spiritual amusement park in the end anyway. He spoke because his spirit was provoked. The lostness all around him didn’t sit well with his spirit. He didn’t like the idea of people going to hell.

Paul was a follower of Christ. He had been rescued from a life devoted to empty religion. Now he had a new identity in Christ. Speaking up in love just seemed natural. In Acts 17, Paul was just being Paul.

And on Sunday night, Miley was just being Miley. She doesn’t know Jesus. She’s famous. She wants to sell records. She has a platform. What did you expect? None of that makes what she did right. It just helps to explain why she did it. And why, without Christ, you and I would have done something similar in her situation.

Sunday night’s VMAs had a lot in common with what Paul saw in Athens. The MTV awards show was a worship service “To the unknown god” (Acts 17:23). An unknown god who, in this case, has something to do with sex.

Hopefully the commonalities won’t end there. Hopefully those of us who follow Jesus will have the same response to this idolatry that Paul had all of those years ago.

A provoked spirit.

Provoked because of all of the people who worship a 20-year-old girl instead of the Living God.

Provoked because that 20-year-old girl has settled for the temporary pleasures of fame instead of the eternal joy of knowing Jesus.

Provoked because, no matter how outrageous they may be, Miley, Kanye and Gaga are real people. They have real souls. And they will one day have to give an account before their Creator.

Provoked because so many people, both the famous idolaters as well as the more normal ones that would never dream of twerking with men dressed as stuffed animals, are rejecting God’s command to repent despite quickly moving towards his righteous judgment (Acts 17:30-31).

When Miley did her thing on Sunday night, she was just being Miley. I think that the true nature of her heart was on display.

But when Christians sit by, apathetic to the idolatry that surrounds us and unprovoked in our spirits, we are the ones who are putting on the show. If we are in Christ, it is in our nature to be provoked by lostness. And it is only when our provoked spirit leads us to share the good news that we are being who we really are.

Bow Down Before The One You Serve

With all of the bad news out there it’s good to finally hear some good news.

The kids at Calimesa Elementary School no longer have to bow down on one knee in front of school administrators before they are dismissed for the day.

Wait.

Wait!

What did I just write?

Apparently the school district thought that it would be a good idea to make kids kneel down before the principal and other school administrators at different points during the day. Here’s how one parent found out about the ordeal from her 7-year-old daughter.

“She says that she has to drop down on one knee with her hands at her side, wait for the principal to come out, lift his arms and tell them to go to class.”

Thankfully, several parents had a problem with this and they spoke out. As a result, the school has decided to no longer enforce what they called their “positive behavior intervention.” Now the only question that remains is this. Will the school district get a refund for all of that money they spent on the 90-foot tall golden statue of the principal and the fiery furnace for those young rebels who refuse to bend the knee (Daniel 3)?

I’m assuming that every kid bowed down to the principal. It seemed innocent enough, I’m sure. I mean it was called a “positive behavior intervention,” not “Communal Worship of the Beast.” And we’re told that all of that bowing was only done for purposes of safety and order. So I’m sure that most, if not all, just fell in line with the principal worship.

This is part of why parenting is so important. We exist for more than teaching manners and running a taxi service. We’re here to teach our kids to stand up. Even when all of their friends are kneeling down. Even when the principal demands that they kneel.

The demands to kneel, whether symbolically or physically, are legion.

Like the demand to kneel by keeping quiet about our faith. But, we must teach our children to be like Jeremiah and Paul. We must teach them to refuse to commit the hate crime of silence. We must teach them to stand.

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9 (ESV)

Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Acts 17:16-17 (ESV)

But we cannot expect them to stand against all of the pressures to bow if we have been kneeling all along. If we are bowing to an ever expanding government by accepting its handouts, should we expect our kids to be any different?

If we neglect our responsibilities as husbands, wives and parents so that we can manage our 12 fantasy baseball teams or focus on “my time,” should we be surprised when our kids grow up to be irresponsible, selfish kids who are willing to bow before anything just so long as they get their way?

And if we are silent about our faith, bowing down at every 90-foot statue or overzealous principal in our path, we can be sure that our children will follow in our footsteps.

When I was a kid it seemed like every third commercial on TV was telling me not to do drugs. This is your brain on drugs and so forth. In one of those commercials a dad was yelling at his kid for getting caught with drugs.

“Where did you learn this? Who taught you this? How did you get these drugs?”

And then the climax.

“You! Alright, dad. I learned it from watching you.”

The commercial ended with the narrator telling us that, “Parents who use drugs have kids who use drugs.”

That’s not always the case but the point was clear. It’s clear in this case as well. And sometimes it keeps me awake at night.

If some self-important official asked my kids to bow before him, what would they do? Would they quietly do as they are told or would they remain standing, no matter the cost? I hope that they would do the right thing but until that day comes, it’s hard to know for sure.

But I can be certain of one thing.

They will probably do what they have seen me doing.

Those Text Messages That Change Your Day

There are those text messages that change your day. Sometimes the change is for the better. And sometimes it’s for the worse.

I got one of those text messages the other day.

And this time the change was for the better.

Soccer practice was cancelled.

Soccer practice. We love it. Really, we do. It’s fun to see our kids get better and have fun running around with their friends. Running through the grass and chasing a ball is always better than sitting on the couch while a digital version of yourself chases a ball for you.

But sometimes soccer, or any childhood sport for that matter, can get out of hand. If my sons keep playing, they’ll spend a significant portion of their lives on the road, driving from one game to the next. I have my concerns. Other people have told me that I need to think long term. Think about what soccer could do for us. Think about the college scholarship.

College scholarship?

“No pressure son, but if you don’t play well today it could end up costing the family somewhere around $54,000. Now get in your car seat.”

At some point in this country it became acceptable to stop enjoying your kids and to start using them as vehicles for reliving your failed childhood endeavors. Or, as the ticket to free college tuition. Working for a college scholarship is great if you’re, I don’t know, four or five years away from graduating from high school. It’s not such a good idea when you’re four.

We’ve gotten things mixed up with what it means to be a parent. When our kids are barely old enough to walk, we expect them to be adults. Once a lady told my wife that something was probably wrong with our then one-year-old because he wasn’t using complete sentences. Her four-month-old was already diagraming sentences, writing a doctoral thesis and was a minority owner of the New York Jets.

But we never stop to think about the consequences if our kids get burned out on our dream for them before they even turn 12. What then? Or what if they get the scholarship and don’t know what to do with it because their parents were more like coaches than, well, parents? More and more, here’s what’s happening today. They move back in with mom and dad so that they can have the childhood they never had. At 30. Aren’t they so cute at that age?

So earlier this week, my two boys took a few steps back in their journey for a college soccer scholarship. But, if there is a college offering a scholarship in jumping on a trampoline, things are looking pretty good. At the time of this writing, I think that Auburn University is the only school offering such a scholarship.

Instead of learning how to dribble, pass and steal, my kids jumped on the trampoline with their dad. And they learned a lot. Like how to laugh. And how to get up and jump again when you fall head first off the trampoline. Don’t tell their mom about that one.

There was another lesson learned too. They learned that their dad enjoys spending time with them. Even when there is no schedule. And no agenda.

One of these days, my kids will quit playing soccer. It might be next year or it might be when they turn 60. I don’t know. And I really don’t care.

But as long as they are alive, they can’t quit being men.

And once they become men, I hope that they remember all of the lessons that they learned.

Lessons on the trampoline.

With their dad.

At the Hospital with Stephen King

The look on the lady’s face let me know that this wasn’t going to end well. I should have turned around and went back home and spent the rest of the day in bed. Instead, I pressed on. I didn’t think I was ever going to get out of that hospital.

There’s something strange about the hospital in Griffin, Georgia. When you walk in the main entrance, you’re on the third floor. When you take the elevator down one story, you’re on the first floor. If you take the elevator up as far as it will go it will kindly drop you off in the middle of a Stephen King movie.

I was at the hospital to visit a friend. When I asked the lady at the front desk for the room number she quickly searched her computer.

“Mercy. I don’t know what that means. I’ve never seen it do that before.”

What she should have said was, “Oh, that’s on the Stephen King floor. Right this way.”

I made it to the general area where I was supposed to be. I was about the only person on that entire wing. It was very quiet. And I was lost. Like I said, Stephen King.

A nurse stepped out of nowhere.

“Sir, are you lost?”

Like any respectable male, I said no. I’ve never been lost in my entire life.

“Well, who are you looking for?”

I told her and that’s when she informed me that I was lost. Apparently I looked really lost because she followed me to where I was supposed to go. Every few feet she spoke directions to me.

“Stay straight here.”

“Turn right here.”

“You’ve gone too far. This is the Pet Sematary.”

I made it safely and sat with my friend for a few minutes. When I walked out of the room I noticed several exit signs. I didn’t exactly know how to get back to my car but at least with all of these exit signs it wouldn’t be a problem getting out of the hospital.

So I thought.

This entire wing of the hospital was empty again. I went to the first exit door and started to walk outside when I heard a voice.

“Sir, you’re not allowed to walk out of that door.”

The voice stopped me in my tracks. When I turned around it was that nurse again.

She said something about me being really lost. And then she started bending her forefinger and saying something about Red Rum.

And so I went around the corner and down the hall to the next exit door. It was locked. And so was the next one. And the next one.

When I turned around I saw two other hospital employees. I was like a guy trapped on the side of a mountain who just saw a rescue helicopter. But what should I say to these ladies?

“Excuse me, I’ve never been much of a Stephen King fan so could you please get me out of here?”

I thought that was probably a good way for them to lock me away in the padded room so I went with a more refined approach.

“Can you help me get out of here?”

I wasn’t ready for their response.

“Are you a patient?”

A patient? A patient! Do I look like a patient? That’ll be the last time I ever wear a backless gown out in public.

The lady told me that it would be easier for her to show me the way out than to tell me the directions. What she really meant to say was, “You look like an idiot. I mean who gets lost in a hospital? Here, put this leash on and follow me.”

And so I did and in no time I was back in my car. Safe.

So if you ever have to stay overnight in the hospital, don’t get mad at me if I don’t come to visit you.

Most likely, I’m at the hospital.

I just got lost.

And somehow ended up in a padded room.

With Stephen King.

Government Gods

Somewhere in New York City last month, at the studios of NBC, the following conversation had to have taken place.

“Okay, tell me something crazy that we can do? Melissa, any ideas?”

“You bet. I’ll go on my show and say that parents have the right to abort their 15-year-olds but that those same parents aren’t smart enough to care for their kids without help from the government.”

“Very nice. How about you, Ed?”

“That’s a hard one to top but what if I go on my show and say that any Christian who does not support Obamacare is a phony Christian?”

“Brilliant! Now, if we can just bring back Friends we’ll be all set.”

MSNBC host Ed Schultz used his show last Saturday night to inform us that supporting Obamacare was the Christian thing to do. After all, Schultz noted, Jesus did say to love your neighbor. And he did tell his followers to heal the sick. So how could any Christian in his right mind be in favor of taking away President Obama’s wonderful gift of free health care to all Americans?

The problem here is not a political one. There’s more to this than people disagreeing over how to apply the Scriptures to public policy. This is a theological problem.

I grew up in a culture where voting Republican was basically an ordinance of the church. The Lord’s Supper. Baptism. George Bush.

During election years, my church passed out voter guides from the Christian Coalition to help Christians make informed decisions.

The night after Bill Clinton won the election against George Bush it was raining. Someone told me that the rain was God crying because Bush didn’t win.

One Sunday we had something called Friend Day. The idea was to invite a friend to church. Most of my friends were already at church so I didn’t do so well. But someone else really showed out by inviting Newt Gingrich. Newt came. And Newt spoke. From the pulpit.

As my generation grew older, we started to see through the supposed link between Republican politics and genuine Christianity. Some of us started to look at politics through the lens of Scripture instead of the other way around. Others just gave up on politics all together. But some reacted to the Jesus Would Probably Have Been a Republican Movement by changing their membership to the Jesus Would Probably Have Been a Democrat Movement.

That seems to be where Ed Schultz is coming from. And that’s where our theological problem is.

The further one moves away from Scripture, the more likely that person is to create a Jesus in his own image. For Republicans, it means a Jesus who likes to bomb small countries and wave the flag. For Democrats, it means a Jesus who only eats Grape Nuts and listens to John Denver in his smart car. For true disciples, it means prayerfully examining the Bible so that it can examine us, exposing our idolatries.

Paul was kicked out of Thessalonica because he “reasoned with them from the Scriptures explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” (Acts 17:2-3). This was absurd for the Jews of Thessalonica. They wanted a Jesus who ruled with might, not one that suffered. The Scriptures blew up their idea of Jesus and they didn’t like it. Expelling Paul from the city limits was their way of hanging on to their Jesus, even though that Jesus didn’t exist.

But Paul didn’t quit. He ended up in another Jewish synagogue in a place called Berea. His message there was exactly the same. The response was different.

Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11 (ESV)

For the Bereans, the Scriptures were God’s truth and all other truth claims had to fall in line with God’s truth. Even if the truth claims were coming from someone as intelligent and passionate as the Apostle Paul.

Picking and choosing verses to promote a political agenda does not help us to see Jesus for who he really is. It only affirms our vision of who we wish he was. Politicians and pundits have been doing this for years. It’s always interesting to hear progressives invoke the name of Jesus and his message of love and tolerance in order to promote their agenda, all the while ignoring what Jesus had to say about marriage, repentance and hell.

Ed Schultz would have those of us who follow Jesus and oppose Obamacare to believe that we are being hypocrites. “It’s free,” he tells us repeatedly. Why would we be against something that helps so many people and is free? A simple reminder from ninth grade economics gives us our answer.

Nothing is free.

When the government gives something to someone for free, it is forcing someone else to pay double. And therein are the primary differences between government generosity and Christian generosity. Government loves being generous only as long as they can do it with other people’s money. The gospel motivates Christians to be generous with their own money. When the government decides to help someone, that help always comes with a gun pointed at someone else. If you don’t believe me or if you think that I’m being too harsh, try telling the government this April 15 that you’ve decided to help the poor on your own. The gospel works differently. The gospel works in people’s hearts in such a way that helping someone just comes naturally (Acts 4:32-37).

One of the most disgusting things in nature is the way a mother bird feeds her young. After finding their food, she eats it and then vomits it into their mouths. Sadly, this is how many people approach the Bible. Instead of examining it daily so that it can examine them, they prefer to be fed by others who are only interested in using the Bible to promote their god.

Sometimes they even call that god Jesus.

But in reality, their god goes by another name.

Government.