A Special Message For Good Parents: Loosen Up

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Both boys looked at me like I was crazy. They were being told to break what they thought was an unbreakable rule. And from their own father at that.

It was a lazy Saturday at our house. One of those days when you leave your pajamas on until 3 in the afternoon. And then at 3 in the afternoon you put on a fresh pair of pajamas. Lazy Saturday. Well, for more and more people in our country that’s the regular routine for every other day of the week. Call it Lazy Tuesday, I guess.

Everyone, minus the lazy Tuesday crowd, needs a lazy Saturday. You need to rest. You need the time together as a family with nowhere to go and nothing to do. That was our day. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. We had a busy afternoon scheduled. But my son got sick right about the time when he was supposed to change out of his pajamas. So much for our busy day. Bring on the new pair of pajamas.

Our original plans included dinner. Our new, Lazy Saturday plans did not. But we were all hungry for dinner. That’s the thing about Lazy Saturday. You still get hungry but you don’t have time to make anything, what with being lazy and all. Also, you’re not Mike or Carol Brady so there’s no maid to do the job for you.

Since there was no maid, I decided to go with the next best thing.

Pizza Hut.

There’s nothing better for a child’s upset stomach than Pizza Hut. Right? Didn’t Doctor Oz recommend that? Also, my seven-year-old son earned himself two free personal pan pizzas because he read somewhere around 45,000 books at school last fall. It would have been 45,001 but War and Peace took him a little longer than we expected. Oh well, maybe next year.

This was a beautiful scenario for our family. Free pizza that none of us had to cook.

So, like any proud father, I called Pizza Hut, told them about my son’s free pizza that he earned by reading 45,000 books last fall and warned them to be ready for us. I didn’t mention anything about his struggles with War and Peace.

“Okay sir, but if you want two free pizzas through our book program, you’re going to have to bring both kids in with you.”

Really? Is reading certificate fraud that big of a problem? I mean, I’ve heard of parents stealing their kid’s Social Security Number and opening up credit cards in their six-month old’s name. But reading fraud? That’s a new low.

So much for staying in all day.

“Come on kids, we’re going to Pizza Hut to get our free pizzas.”

That’s when they both looked at me like I was crazy for asking them to break some unbreakable rule.

“But dad, we’re in our pajamas.”

I was prepared for such a response. So I had to use my extensive training as a theologian, counselor and leader to convince them to come with me.

“Boys, it’s Pizza Hut. Everyone there is in their pajamas. Some people aren’t even wearing that much. You’ll probably be the best dressed people in the whole place.”

“Okay but can we wear jackets?”

Compromise is a very important part of fatherhood.

So off we went in our pajamas and ski jackets. We were headed to Pizza Hut. And we looked like hungry superheroes from Colorado.

My oldest son still wasn’t convinced we weren’t going to get arrested for wearing pajamas in public.

“Dad, are you sure that this is okay?”

My youngest son thinks that clothing is a disease and nudity is the cure so he was doing just fine. As he sees it, pajamas are the next best thing to wearing nothing at all.

My oldest son almost convinced me to turn the car around and head back home minus those two free pizzas.

“Dad, my pajama pants are green.”

“Yeah. So what?”

“People might think that I’m a Florida Gators fan.”

He had a point. Florida Gator fans are frequently found wearing their pajamas out in public.  But seeing as how none of us were wearing jean shorts with boots, I decided to press on.

When we walked in to Pizza Hut, my prediction was proven true. We were the best dressed folks in there. People were looking at us and wondering why the prom was so early this year.

We got our pizza.

We drove home listening to loud rock and roll music.

We ate in front of the TV.

And after that we had dessert.

Rules are important. But sometimes some rules can be just as beneficial when they are broken as they are when they are kept. Otherwise, the rule becomes an end in itself and ten years later we wonder why our kid turned out either a.) smoking weed during Sunday School, b.) looking down on others who are no good at keeping rules that he can’t even keep, c.) or even worse, becoming a Florida Gator fan.

Our kids need rules. They need structure. But, from time to time, they need to be taught that rules exist to point to something greater.

These are lessons that can only be learned when a kid is pulled out of bed by his mother and father and taken to Dairy Queen at 10:00 on a school night.

Or when she is checked out of school right before lunch, not because she has to go to the dentist but because her dad wants to take her to see Frozen.

Or when he creates a piece of art that isn’t quite inside the lines and his parents tell him how much they love it.

Parents, your kids need rules. More than that, they need you to enforce those rules. But it is possible to miss something in all of our enforcing.

No sugar.

No television during dinner.

No laying around all day on a Saturday.

And no grace.

Your kids also need you to remind them that there is more to life than just keeping a list of rules.

At some point, they’ll learn that lesson, with our without you. It could be learned at home, on a lazy Saturday, eating pizza in front of the television with you. Or it could be learned a few years later on a weekend night in a crowded parking lot with all of the wrong people. The choice is yours.

So if you ever see me in a Pizza Hut, stop by and say hello.

I’ll be the guy standing next to two kids in green pajamas.

But whatever you do, please don’t mistake us for Florida Gator fans.

Blowin’ Snow On The South

Wimps.

That was the word used in a northern newspaper headline to describe people from the south. Just because we don’t know how to drive in a couple of inches of snow.

The south can’t get a break. If a heavy thunderstorm comes within 30 miles of New York City it’s all the media ever talks about for a month. There are even benefit concerts with Bruce Springsteen headlining. And it’s never just a New York problem. The talking heads on the news are sure to remind us that New York’s problem is America’s problem. And whoever happens to be New York’s mayor/governor/czar is, by default, America’s mayor/governor/czar.

On the other hand, when a rare snow storm shuts down a few cities in the south, it’s because we’re backwards. And we’re wimps.

I wasn’t aware that not being able to drive in the snow classified one as being a wimp. Quickly, here is a list of a few people who I’m quite sure would not be able to drive in the snow.

1. John Wayne

2. King David

3. Bruce Lee

So, if in fact we are wimps, at least we’re in good company.

And backwards?

Talk to me in six months when the news is reporting about a “heat wave” that is ravaging New England with highs in the mid 80s.

“But you don’t understand,” I’m reminded by my friends from the north. “Most of the houses up there don’t have central air conditioning.”

Interesting. And we’re the ones who are backwards?

But maybe being called a backwards wimp isn’t so bad.

Especially when a “backwards” man in Alabama named Mark Meadows reopened his Chick-fil-a restaurant during our little snow storm so that he could cook chicken and hand it out, free of charge, to stranded motorists. When asked why they were doing this, one of Mr. Meadows’ employees said that helping those in need was more important than earning a dollar.

And how about the wimpy students just north of Atlanta at Kennesaw State University? They spent Tuesday afternoon pushing cars out of ditches and up hills. On Wednesday, they woke up early to do it all again.

Strangely, all of this generosity happened without the prodding of some new government program. No federal tax dollars were spent when those kids pushed cars, Mark Meadows reopened his store and dozens of Home Depots turned into temporary shelters. How does something like that happen without government intervention in such a backwards part of the world?

While it is true that southerners aren’t the best at driving in the snow, that wasn’t really the problem that caused the rest of the country to look down their collective noses at us. The real culprit was the poor planning of bureaucrats and elected officials. I’m sure that nobody up north can relate to the misguided actions of a few government officials negatively impacting the lives of thousands of people.

With the exception of a brief stint in Louisville, Kentucky, I’ve lived in the south all of my life. Sorry. Louisville is a nice place but it’s just not the south. When you order sweet tea in a restaurant and they inform you that there is sugar on the table, you officially are not in the south. Anyway, I’ve lived most of my life in the south. It’s far from perfect. But it is home.

I’ve got friends down here that may not be much for driving in the snow but are sure enough good at building sheds in their backyard with their own hands, fixing Jeeps and checking in on widows when it starts to get cold outside. There are a lot of words I could use to describe these men. Wimp is not one of them.

I’ve preached a lot of funeral services. At most of them I stand in a room with the family to say a final prayer before the service begins. The funeral director is always very clear.

“I need the family to come into this room over here so that the preacher can pray with you before the service begins. Just the family.”

Most of the funerals I preach are for white families. But at a lot of those funerals, when I pray with “just the family” there are several black men and women in there with us. Just the family. The kind that runs deeper than skin color. That is not to say that race relations are everything that they are supposed to be in the south. Far from it. But maybe the south isn’t quite as backwards as one might think.

By the weekend all of our snow will be gone. But you’ll still be able to smell fried chicken when you drive through the center of the town where I live. And the next time it snows, some of us will have a hard time going up a hill or getting our car out of a ditch. That’s okay. Because while we’re waiting on a friend to show up in his 4-wheel drive and pull us out, we’ll probably be able to get some free chicken.

If that’s backwards, I’m okay with that.

Besides, I never was much of a Springsteen fan anyway.

About Last Night: A Southern Snow And What The President Should Have Said

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President Barack Obama gave his State of the Union speech last night. Here’s what he should have said.

“Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress and my fellow Americans, thank you for being here.

The State of the Union is very weak. Not all of that is my fault. Some of it is due to those of you who have put personal interests above protecting the freedoms of those you came here to represent. And some blame can be given to those citizens we are supposed to be representing. The ones who have chosen to ignore what is happening to their government until they need something from that government. Good government is impossible without good people.

But a lot of this is my fault. And for that I have two things to say.

First, I’m sorry.

I made news for myself a few years back when I apologized for America. Now it is time for me to apologize to America.

My job is to ensure that liberty is protected. I have failed in that job and I have manipulated many of you in that process.

Instead of protecting economic freedom, I have used the IRS to threaten, intimidate and even attack American citizens. This country is far from the most economically free country in the world. I am to blame for some of that. And for that I am sorry.

But it does not stop there.

In the 80s, people feared the Soviet Union. We made jokes about their constant surveillance of their own citizens. Now, we do the same thing in this country. It didn’t begin  on my watch but it did continue. In a very real sense, at least in terms of personal privacy, I have fundamentally transformed  this country into the Soviet Union of the 1980s. It didn’t end well for them and it will not end well for us. For that I am sorry.

I have disregarded the balance of power that this country was founded upon. Instead of allowing myself to be held accountable by the other two branches of government, I have bullied them and berated them when I did not get my way. I have made light of using my authority to bypass Congress. That is one area where I have kept my promise. As a result, I have turned this country into a dictatorship rather than the democratic republic it was intended to be. Our forefathers came here to escape a power-hungry king. In just a couple of hundred years, we have now come full circle. And for that I am truly sorry.

My reign has been a bloody one. I have mismanaged wars both here and abroad. But the majority of blood on my hands is due to the number of babies whose murders I have sanctioned while at the same time calling on God to bless this country. I have talked a lot about a woman’s choice while doing nothing for a child’s choice. These are children who want to live. I pretend to care about those children when they are 12 and someone brings a gun to their school because it fits my agenda of taking away guns. But I have cared nothing for children when they are still inside of the womb. Or even when they are partially out of the womb. For that I am sorry.

And that brings me to the second thing that I want to say tonight.

Because of my failure to faithfully represent and lead the people of this once great country in accordance to our founding documents, I hereby resign as your president. I also call for the resignation of the two men seated behind me as well as each member of my cabinet. I wish that I could go on with the calls for resignation but someone has to lead us.

Someone who cares more about this country than personal gain.

Someone other than me.

Thank you and may God have mercy on our nation.”

Of course, the president didn’t say anything like that. Instead, he told sentimental stories about hardworking Americans and kids struggling to get an education. And he told us how government is the answer to man’s problems. If only we would wise up and realize what is good for us.

While I was watching President Obama’s speech Tuesday night, snow was falling in my yard, even as he referenced global warming. Elsewhere in my state, the city of Atlanta was shut down. Major roads were turned into parking lots. Three years earlier, state transportation officials promised that this would never happen again.

A reporter asked one of those officials why it happened again.

Her answer went something like this.

“If it wasn’t for all of the traffic, we could fix the traffic.”

The president essentially said the same thing in his State of the Union address.

“If it wasn’t for our system of government, I could really do some governing.”

On Tuesday night, hundreds of people sat stranded on Atlanta’s roads. Some kids even spent four or five hours stuck on a school bus. All because their government failed them. Hopefully they learned a few things that they kept with them when they finally made it home to hear the president speak.

Government is essential.

But it is most reliable and most efficient when it is limited.

If only our president could learn those same lessons.

A Word To Wives And Mothers Who Settle For Being Average

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A woman who stays at home to care for her children is average. No, wait. It’s worse than that, really. She’s nothing. Her daily tasks of doing laundry, washing dishes, changing diapers and buying groceries really don’t amount to anything. Work so menial should certainly never be compared to the really important duties of doctors and lawyers.

So says feminist blogger Amy Glass in a recently published post entitled, hold on now, I Look Down On Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry.

Catchy, huh?

Again, this was written by a feminist blogger.

Not Howard Stern.

Not Eminem.

Remember the old days when it was just a few narrow-minded men that were doing all the looking down on women? Maybe “look down” is too mild of a summary for Ms. Glass’ opinion. Here’s how she describes her view of the traditional wife and mother.

“Having kids and getting married are considered life milestones. We have baby showers and wedding parties as if it’s a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration to be able to get knocked up or find someone to walk down the aisle with. These aren’t accomplishments, they are actually super easy tasks, literally anyone can do them, they are the most common thing ever, in the history of the world. They are, by definition, average. And here’s the thing, why on earth are we settling for average?”

This is the typical line of reasoning that results from an ideology that can’t make it further than one’s own nose while looking down on others. Of course getting married is easy. And, for many people, so is having a baby. But the difficult part, the accomplishments – if you will, comes after the vows are exchanged and the umbilical cord is cut.

It’s called marriage. It’s anything but easy. It requires sacrifice, planning and communication.

And it’s called parenthood. Again, not easy. Double the sacrifice, planning and communication.

But Ms. Glass calls this “average.”

Maybe, in one sense, she’s right on this one. After all, marriage and parenthood was part of God’s original design. It’s hard to get much more average than the original. But average, if we’re willing to put aside our agenda and find joy in the well-being of another, is infinitely more pleasurable than other so-called accomplishments. I’d love to hear how Adam feels about bucking the average for that really swell looking piece of fruit.

There’s no trophy or pay raise for putting your kids down to bed after a long day spent chasing them around and then enjoying an evening with the person you have been married to for the past decade like it was your first date. But there are also few joys that match that feeling. That’s how true joy usually works. It rarely comes with a certificate or more money.

As you might expect, Ms. Glass would disagree.

“I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house of kids thing which is the path of least resistance.”

Walking through Asia alone is easy. Anyone, just so long as they are able to walk, can do that. What’s the accomplishment there? Where’s the joy in caring for another? Where’s the sacrifice for the good of someone other than yourself? Somewhere back at the trailhead, I suppose. But who’s got time to worry about that when there’s so much great hiking to do?

Pursuing a healthy marriage and trying to raise men and women is by no means “the path of least resistance.” Taking off to find yourself somewhere in Asia is. And it’s left us with an entire generation of grown children who are still searching for that ever-elusive self. But hey, I hear Asia is lovely this time of year.

Maybe the traditional marriage and family is “in the box.” But honestly, couldn’t we all use a return to thinking inside of the box? It’s thinking outside of the box that has given us New Coke and Segway Scooters.

I went home for lunch on Monday afternoon. My wife was there and my son was sitting on her lap when I walked in the door. He’s not old enough for school like his big brother is. So he stays at home with his mom and watches her teach online math classes to students all over our state. When I come home for lunch we all team up to prepare our meal, clean the kitchen and put away dirty clothes. Afterwards, I leave for work. My wife stays at home to teach through a computer screen while a toddler begs her to play just one more game. I don’t know how she does it. But she does. And she does it well.

Amy Glass says that a husband and kids will only get in the way of a woman fulfilling her full potential.

“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.”

I disagree.

Because exceptional isn’t something you find at the end of a hike through Asia.

The truly exceptional things are found when you sacrifice for the good of another.

And that’s called love.

Jesus and the Food Police

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You’re not eating right. I know, I know, you’ve been trying and maybe you’ve even made a few improvements lately. In an effort to appease the Food Police, you’ve even cut back on the fast food. But it’s not good enough. If you don’t believe me, just take a look on Facebook or tell a member of the Food Police how you’ve made the switch to skim milk. Trust me, by their standards, you’re just not measuring up. But don’t worry. Neither would Jesus. Or pretty much anyone else in the Bible for that matter.

Food plays an important role in our lives. You need food to live so that’s pretty important. But there’s a problem. More and more of it, we are told, is bad for us. Really bad for us. Kidney-shrinking, eye-bleeding bad for us. And so we try to eat healthy. Well, that’s when the Food Police come in to tell us that our alleged health food isn’t healthy enough and is making our kidney’s bleed and our eyes shrink. “You need,” they tell us, “fat-free skim milk that has been humanely taken from kittens. Only demons and Yankee fans drink regular milk.”

So much for eating healthy.

Food plays a pretty significant role in the Bible too. It shows up in one of the first stories in Genesis and plays a part in one of the last scenes in Revelation. And from food that falls from the sky to some kid’s lunch feeding thousands of people, we are reminded of the significant role it plays in human lives all throughout the pages of the Bible. Food certainly isn’t one of the Bible’s major themes but it sure does show up a lot.

Which leads me to a question. What would it look like if today’s Food Police, the one’s who are always reminding us that we’re killing ourselves, were around in Bible times? I think it would go a little something like this.

The Promised Land

“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3 (ESV)

But the Food Police disobeyed the Lord’s command for they had already committed themselves to avoid dairy. Also honey is too sweet and full of carbs.

In The Wilderness

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another,“What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them,“It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” Exodus 16:13-16 (ESV)

But the Food Police disobeyed the Lord’s command to gather and eat and said unto one another, “Do not touch the bread for it hath gluten in it. Also, doest thou knowest where the quail came from? Were they fed an organic diet? Playest thou it safe and come back to Egypt with us where we can enjoy the finest organic flax seed wafers in all the land.”

In The Wilderness Again

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. Mark 1:6 (ESV)

So the Food Police made plans that very night to have John sent to Herod and beheaded saying to themselves, “Locusts? Seriously? And who eats honey anymore?”

At The Wedding Party

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. John 2:7-11 (ESV)

But the Food Police immediately drew nigh unto the jars and, testing them, discovered that they were in fact filled with wine and not Juicy Juice. Later that night, while eating many, many pieces of fried chicken they discussed with one another how much they did not approve of any miracle involving wine that did not also include a liquor store being shut down. And thus they went home but not before stopping along the way for a milkshake. 

Jesus On What’s Really Bad For You

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” Mark 7:5 (ESV)

Pay attention to this part. I didn’t make it up.

And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them,“Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:14-23 (ESV)

Not a lot has changed since the New Testament.

It’s important to eat smart. There really are a lot of foods out there that can hurt you. But if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves being just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day – more concerned with what our food might be doing to our heart than what our heart is doing to us.

I eat a Paleo diet. But that does nothing for my standing before God. And I could have a heart attack tomorrow. My days are determined by God, not my weight or how many miles I ran last week. I try to eat healthy because it gives me more energy. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone has to eat like me. God made us all unique. In the body of Christ, our common bond is salvation by grace, not organic almond milk.

Eat healthy, by all means. Just watch how you view people who don’t quite measure up to your dietary standards. And don’t judge a book by its cover. Not everyone who weighs a little more than you think they should got that way because they ate too much. And sometimes a glutton can have a 30-inch waist.

If you put all of your attention on your dairy intake while neglecting the weightier matter of your heart, you might end up just like the Food Police from Jesus’ day.

Clean hands.

Fantastic diet.

And a dirty heart.

Would That Be Okay?

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What if your kid never really does all that great in sports? While all of his friends are making diving catches and hitting home runs, the only action he sees is during practice. In right field. Where he likes to pick flowers and see how long he can stare at the sun before blinking. Oh, and that’s when he’s in the 11th grade. Would that be okay?

What if your kid never really gets it when it comes to reading? Suppose, on her best day, she’s somewhere around the middle of the pack in her class. And in the second grade, when all of her friends find out that they’re reading on a fifth grade level she has the number 2.1 under the reading comprehension column next to her name. Would that be okay?

What if your kid is never recognized for her exceptional good looks? It’s not that she’s ugly. She’s just not prom queen material. Or even prom date material. And so she misses out on the pictures, limo ride and good times that come along with that rite of passage. Would that be okay?

What if your kid just isn’t wired for college? When God knit him together, he was thinking more of trade school than the Ivy League. And so, when all of his friends are getting acceptance letters in the spring and moving away the next fall, he’s looking for a job that will work around his hours at the trade school where he’s learning how to weld. Would that be okay?

There’s a trend among parents these days. Maybe it’s always been the trend but I’m just noticing now that I’m a parent. We want our kids speaking two different languages by the age of six, dribbling a basketball with both hands by eight and talking to colleges in middle school. And here’s the thing about parents. At least the ones in this country. When we want something, especially something for our kids, we’re willing to pay for it. So we give some guy $75 a week to teach our three-year-old the Spanish word for bathroom. And we give another guy $100 a week to tie our four-year-old’s right hand behind his back so that he can dribble with his left hand. But don’t worry, it’s for their own good. They’ll thank us when they get that college scholarship.

No pressure, kid but here’s to hoping that God didn’t hardwire you to be a welder.

And that’s what we forget in all of our parental hustling. God. What might he want? And what if what he wants for our kids contradicts what we want for our kids? Who wins then?

Maybe your kid will grow up to be a beautiful, well-read athlete with her choice of colleges to attend. Maybe. But maybe not. What then? If she never plays for a World Cup, will your daughter still be able to look back on her little league soccer days with fond memories of friendship and building a foundation for good physical health? Or will she think of her life as one big failure because she never met your expectations? Will that be okay?

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

It’s good to know that our heavenly Father is not like some earthly parents.

While some earthly parents tend to focus only on the physical, our heavenly Father looks deeper.

For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 1 Timothy 4:8 (ESV)

While some earthly moms and dads get wrapped up in how their kids look, our heavenly Father reminds us of what he finds to be beautiful.

But let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:4 (ESV)

Back to the original question. What if your kid grows up to be average? Average as grits. No scholarship. No multi-million dollar signing bonus. Will that be okay? Most of us are quick to answer yes. But that’s just the verbal answer. The Sunday School answer. There’s a better way to find the truth. Maybe the way that we spend our money and time is saying to our kids and the God who made them, “No! It’s not okay. I demand the best.”

Whatever your answer may be, your kids are paying attention to it.

And so is God.

What if all of your dreams for your children came true? The scholarships. The popularity. The success. It was all theirs. And yours. But you lacked one thing. Your First Love. What if you gained the whole world for you and your kids only to lose your soul?

Would that be okay?

The Dumbest Prayer I Ever Prayed And Why I’m Glad God Said No

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It’s the dumbest prayer I’ve ever prayed. It may very well be the dumbest prayer that anyone has ever prayed.

“God, please make me cool.”

As my self-centered rambling continued, I got more specific.

“Make me cool like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke.”

God answered my prayer with a resounding no. Man, I’m glad that he did because he had something better for me.

He gave me a broken home. At least that’s what everyone used to call it when your mom and dad didn’t live together. Now I guess it’s become the norm. Divorce had yet to gain that level of acceptance when I was a kid. Well, except for on the street where I lived. Almost all of us grew up living with only one parent. My grandmother called my street Divorce Court.

Now that I’m a pastor, I deal with broken marriages on a regular basis. I counsel married couples, advise young couples thinking about marriage and, occasionally preach about divorce. But I never talk about divorce like it’s something I read in a book. For me, it was a part of my childhood. It’s real. It hurts. And I carry that real hurt into every sermon or counseling situation. I thank God for that gift.

A lot of times people want to talk to me about the best way that they can care for their elderly parents. Those people are entering that weird stage in life where they have to be the parent to one or both of their parents. They don’t come to me for advice because they are looking for the results from my years of extensive research on caring for aging parents. They don’t care what my opinion is on the best nursing homes in the area. No, they come to me because I’ve been there.

I’ve broken the news to my own mother about having to move her to an assisted living facility. I was there when we told the doctors that another agonizing medical procedure wasn’t what we thought was best for my mother. She was ready to go.

When I sit in a hospital waiting room and talk to a woman who is grieving as she comes to grips with the fact that her mother isn’t going to be around much longer, my coolness never comes up. No one ever asks what it feels like being the new Paul Newman. But they do ask when enough is enough in regards to agonizing medical procedures being performed on their dying loved ones.

The answers never come easy. But that’s not really what they’re looking for anyway. They just want to see that I’ve been there. That I’ve made it out okay. And that the Bible wasn’t lying when it said that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:35).

It’s easy to fall into a trap where a majority of our prayers consist of nothing more than requests for a life of comfort and ease. Or maybe even coolness. But think of how ineffective we would be in helping others if God always granted these requests. At best, our efforts to love those who are suffering would be nothing more than a transfer of information. God knows that information alone is never enough. He knows that human beings respond well to other human beings. That’s why he sent his Son to live as a perfect human being and die as a perfect sacrifice. And it’s one of the reasons why he allows us to suffer.

Don’t go home tonight and pray for God to give you cancer and take all of your stuff away. Ask him for good health and daily bread. He likes it when we ask him for these things (Matthew 6:11; 7:7-11). Just remember that he has more to give you. And trust him when his gifts aren’t as comfortable and easy as you would like.

Trust that his gifts are always better.

Trust that he is making you more like his Son.

Trust that he is equipping you to help those who will one day suffer in the same way that you are today.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (ESV)

What Richard Sherman Can Teach Us About Our Double Standards

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I’m guilty of a double standard. Well, more than one. A lot. I apply double standards all of the time. But before you judge me, slow down. You’re guilty of the same thing.

On Sunday night, along with millions of other football fans, I watched in disbelief as Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman proclaimed his greatness in an on-field interview just a few minutes after making the game saving play that sent his team to the Super Bowl.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I think I said something to myself about Sherman dishonoring the game or showing poor sportsmanship. And then I went to bed. I woke up the next morning thinking about Richard Sherman.

What if he played for my favorite NFL team, the Falcons?

Would I have felt the same way?

No. I would have said something about his passion for the game. So there it was right in front of me. At the heart level, I didn’t have a problem with what Richard Sherman said. He just happened to play for the wrong team.

My favorite fighter is Nick Diaz. In a 15-minute fight Nick Diaz will spend somewhere around 12-minutes telling his opponent the same thing that Richard Sherman said. When the fight is over, he’ll tell his opponent’s wife and mother. But Diaz is my guy so it’s okay.

And the same goes for Reggie Miller. He was the greatest trash talker in NBA history. But I liked him. And so I never said anything about him ruining the game. It was all just gamesmanship.

Like I said, I’m not alone. You have your double standards too. Everyone does. Our society is full of double standards.

Take text messages for example.

The kid on the news who sends out a text while driving and gets into a wreck is being “reckless” and “irresponsible.” When you do it, it’s because you’re busy.

Sometimes our double standards are revealed on matters of free speech.

Like those who rushed to defend Richard Sherman, saying that “at least he spoke from the heart and didn’t give the boring, standard athlete answers” but failed to apply the same measure of grace to a duck hunter from Louisiana.

Perhaps most painfully, we see double standards in matters of race.

Consider your favorite dead historical figure who happens to share the same skin color as you. When he did and said something stupid, or even immoral, it’s because he was doing what had to be done in order to see justice prevail. But what about the man of a different race who crossed the line back in the day? Oh, he’s a terrorist.

A black kid with long hair and baggy pants is “a thug.” A white kid with long hair and the silhouette of some woman on the mud flaps of his truck is just being country.

When five black kids jump a white kid at school, it’s because the school lacked the proper funding needed to provide adequate leadership for those five youths. When five white kids jump a black kid, it’s a hate crime. Correct me if I’m wrong on this one, but if one (or five) people, regardless of race, religion or sexual preference, attack another individual, isn’t it always a hate crime? Aren’t all violent crimes fueled by hate? What exactly does a loving violent crime look like?

To his credit, Richard Sherman apologized for his comments. That means that we should let it go. After all, we all say and do stupid things. A closer look reveals that there is more to the story than just some athlete drawing attention to himself. Sure, that was part of it. But there was more. Sherman and Michael Crabtree, the receiver he shut down to help his team get the win, have a history with each other.

And maybe that’s how we should look at every story we see on the news and every new person that we meet. There’s more to their story than we can gather at first sight. But that would require taking the time to get to know people who are different from us. It also requires taking the time to get to know ourselves and our own tendencies towards double standards.

But who’s got time for that when it’s so much easier to just slap a label one someone?

Even if that label doesn’t really fit.