A Not So Fictional Speech From The Not So Distant Future

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The following is a not so fictional speech from the not so distant future.

“My fellow Americans,

We are a nation built on principles. Principles like love, justice, fairness and tolerance. Our nation started when people left their home country to pursue a better life here. Since that time, millions of others have followed with the same dream. The American dream is one where people are free to love who they choose and to express that love as they choose. It is a dream where ideas and lifestyles are tolerated and people are treated with fairness. It is a dream where justice comes crashing down on those wishing to stand in the way of that dream. It gives me great pride to see the American dream slowly becoming the American reality for so many people.

But, as you all know, there are those who are opposed to this American way of life. They gather one, two, even three times a week in buildings where they rely on an overly literal interpretation of an antiquated text to preach hate against those of us wishing to find our place in the new American reality.

It’s more than sermons. It’s also the members of these hate cults refusing to sell their goods to gay, lesbian, transgender and polygamous Americans who wish to express their love in marriage. As we so often see with acts of terror, it didn’t stop there. Recently there have been numerous leaders, some call them pastors, of these hate cults that some call churches who have refused to officiate gay, lesbian, transgender and polygamous wedding ceremonies.

Ours is a culture established on love and tolerance. Of all sectors in our society, we would least expect religious organizations to stand in the way of this. Most do not. They practice their religion freely but they have the decency to step away from their traditions when those traditions stand in the way of progress and the greater good. This is the pure and undefiled religion that great men like Jesus would approve of.

Sadly, there are some hate cults who spread their hate in the name of Jesus. For years they have been doing this while also enjoying tax exemptions. Let me be clear. We are a nation of freedom. But we are not a nation that supports hate by granting financial breaks to those terror cells which promote it.

So it is with great joy that I have taken action to stop this. I have tried to act with a Congress that is too bogged down in partisan politics. There is no time for such silliness when loving, hard working Americans are suffering. Americans like Jean Williams, Gayle Lafayette and Shawn Timmons are told that the church in the town where they grew up is ‘not the place’ for them to express their love in marriage. This is why I have acted on my own in the form of an executive order that I hope will do away with the hate that we have ignored for far too long in this country.

There are three phases to my plan; financial, instructional and correctional. First, churches and religious organizations which refuse to marry gay, lesbian, transgender and polygamous citizens will no longer enjoy a tax exempt status. Second, the leaders of such churches will be instructed through a series of mandatory training intensives overseen by the Ministry of Religious Matters. Those refusing the guidance of the Ministry of Religious Matters will move into the correctional phase where they will face a swift and just punishment for their crimes of hate.

My detractors will make their voices heard. They will argue that this executive order will do great harm to free speech and the freedom of religion. But they will forget one thing. They will forget the great harm that some speech and religion has done to so many citizens in this country who simply want a better life with the ones they love. Make no mistake, this executive order is not an attack on freedom. It is an attack on hate. Hate does much more harm to the democracy that we enjoy than any executive order could ever hope to do.

This is a step in the right direction for America. It may be painful for some but in the end it will make us stronger, fairer and more unified. Our nation cannot afford not to be unified. We must stand as one. You must not believe the words of those who tell us that the sky is falling, along with our liberties. You must trust those of us who are fighting on your behalf. You must pursue love and tolerance.

No matter the cost.

Thank you and God bless America.”

If I Were The Evil Leader Of A Sinister Group That Was Determined To Destroy America

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If I were the evil leader of a sinister group that was determined to destroy America, I’d give myself a cool name. Probably something like Lars. Lars von Hammer. I’d also do everything I could to destroy the countries that I didn’t like. The United States would be at the top of my list. That’s what evil leaders with names like Lars von Hammer do, right? They try to destroy the U.S.

At first I would think about an all out military assault. But then I would remember that I would be no match for the mighty United States armed forces. I’d continue to talk about my powerful weapons, even if I don’t really have them, and how strong my military is. But when it came down to the actual attack I’d have to go with a more unconventional approach.

I’d try to convince American government leaders that their real enemy was the American people, not me. That way, instead of worrying about me, politicians would be busy taking away the American people’s guns and monitoring their Facebook likes.

The American people would have to be targeted too. That wouldn’t be a problem. All I’d have to do is go after the American’s education system. Kids could learn that 2+2=5, if that’s what they want it to equal. And nobody would fail. Instead, students would be awarded a diploma just for hanging around. Within a generation, the nation would be led by 37-year-old tenth graders who think that 2+2=5 and who want a trophy for feeling that way.

My plan is coming together marvelously.

But there’s still the problem of the American military. That’s a tougher obstacle but one that could still be overcome. First, I would make sure that American armed forces were spread out all over the world. I would convince Americans that they really, really need to have a military base in Iceland. And Ireland. And that Sandals resort in Saint Lucia.

I don’t know what the military would do in those places. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they could guard borders to make sure that the Saint Lucian locals don’t wander into one of the resort buffets. All I would care about is that the American borders are unprotected. Hopefully everyone would believe that a fence with a hole in it and a sign reading “Keep Out” is all the protection the American borders need.

When money started to get tight because the American politicians were spending too much of it on free smart phones for voters, I mean the poor, I would recommend a drastic slash to the military budget and several base closings. Not the bases in Iceland, Ireland and that Sandals resort in Saint Lucia. The ones in Georgia, Virginia and California. I’m sure that everyone would believe me when I told them that a trimmed down military was a better military. Hey, I got them to believe that 2+2=5, didn’t I?

With the American government leaders busy monitoring their own citizens, the citizens busy monitoring their math skills that seem to be lagging further behind other nations and the military busy monitoring what they were going to do now that they’ve been laid off, America would be mine for the taking.

But there’s one problem.

As the evil leader of a sinister group that was determined to destroy America I wouldn’t be able to convince government officials to spy on their own people. And I wouldn’t have enough influence over the education system to dumb down that many potential opponents. I certainly wouldn’t have the power to weaken the military by taking away benefits, closing bases and spreading it too thin.

So what’s the evil leader of a sinister group that’s determined to destroy America to do?

I know!

I could run for U.S. Congress. For years they’ve been doing a fine job at everything I’ve just described. If you can’t beat them, join them and help them beat themselves.

Vote Lars von Hammer for U.S. Congress in 2016.

You might even get a free smart phone.

The Older I Get

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I was seated at a crowded table in an otherwise empty Pizza Hut. It was loud. The music of Journey boomed through the speakers of the restaurant’s jukebox. It was hard for us to hear each other talk. But there was one sentence that came out loud and clear.

“Yes! They’re playing Journey. I love oldies.”

I grew up listening to Journey. The Four Tops are oldies. Music I grew up listening to is not oldies. I felt old.

It’s been over ten years since that jukebox conversation in Pizza Hut and now I really feel old. Not Someone-Get-Me-A-Life-Alert-Bracelet old or I-Could-Really-Use-One-Of-Those-Hoveround-Scooters old. More like, I-Can’t-Believe-That-You-Just-Called-A-Song-That-Came-Out-5-Years-After-I-Graduated-College-Old-School old.

I’m okay with that. I have no plans on coloring my hair, buying a Corvette and piercing my ear. Old is good. As long as you’re okay with change. And the older I get, the more I change.

The older I get, the less I care about what’s on TV. It’s taken me a few years of research to figure this out but I already know the answer to the question that almost every family asks at night. “What’s on TV?” Nothing. Nothing is on TV. Well, unless singing contests, shows about detectives, jobless people who live in nice New York City apartments and the wives of B List NBA players are your thing. In that case, you’ve got the world at your fingertips. I’d rather read a book.

The older I get, the more skeptical I am of any bill signed into law containing the words, affordable, patriot, Americans, unity, the, and, a or safety. Just to name a few. Typically, the law does the exact opposite of what it leads you to believe it will do when you read the name of the bill. For example, the Affordable Care Act makes it harder for you to afford to go to the doctor. The Patriot Act makes it easier for the government to act like bullies towards patriots. The only exceptions are bills containing the word safety. They usually do lead to a certain degree of safety. The same kind you would experience in solitary confinement. But who wants to be that safe? Don’t answer that question.

The older I get, the more I laugh at baseball. What other sport requires the coach to dress exactly like the players? Why does a grown man need to wear cleats just to sit down for three hours, only getting up to change pitchers or to kick dirt on the umpire? You can kick dirt in church socks and sandals just as easily as you can while wearing cleats. Thankfully, the coach dressing like the players tradition does not exist in the NBA. No one needs to see a 60-year-old man in baggy shorts.

The older I get, the smarter my dad gets. The things he was telling me five years ago were called conspiracy theories. Today they’re called, “in other news.” Here’s what I mean.

Five Years Ago:

“Son, be careful what you do with that phone. They can track you.”

“Whatever. And who’s ‘they’?”

Today:

“Action 4 News has learned that Lady Gaga plans on picking up her new dog later on this week. In other news, President Obama listened to your last twelve phone conversations and wants you to know that he’s coming over for dinner tonight. Hamburgers are his favorite!”

The older I get, the more I realize what true toughness really is. Watching your wife give birth helps with that sort of thing. Linebackers in the NFL have nothing on mothers. A lot of what we call tough is really just drug induced stupidity followed by a drug induced recuperation period. But child birth is real toughness. Raising that child into an adult requires even more toughness.

The older I get, the slower I get. Not because my body and mind are making me slow down. Not yet, at least. It’s my family. They’re the one’s slowing me down. When I’m in a hurry to leave in the morning there are dirty dishes left over from breakfast and kids that want to wrestle. I’m learning how to slow down and take care of things like that. I’ve been in some form of church ministry for almost 20 years. I’ve seen a lot of heartache. I’ve seen a man wish with all of his heart that his kid was still around wanting to wrestle. I’ve seen a man long for the days when there was more than just his own bowl to clean up after breakfast. I can’t slow down the clock but I can slow down my schedule.

The older I get, the more I appreciate a good guitar solo.

The older I get, the more I appreciate a singer with a voice that sounds like he’s been through his share of troubles as opposed to a singer with a voice that sounds like he sang into a computer.

The older I get, the happier I get. After 21, we usually don’t like having birthdays. This makes no sense. Each new day is another reason to celebrate God’s grace. I went to school with two kids who quit having birthdays when they were 13. One because of a wreck and the other because of suicide. Birthdays are good. I’m not 29 and holding. I’m getting close to 40. That means I’ve experienced almost four decades of God’s grace. Four more would be nice.

A few weeks ago I walked into a Pizza Hut. You could barely hear the music. There was no jukebox. I looked everywhere for one. For old time’s sake, I wanted to put in a dollar and play a few songs. I would have kept it current too. Maybe something from the Foo Fighters.

When my song came on the jukebox, someone would have shouted, “Yes! The Foo Fighters! I love the oldies.”

On second thought, I’m glad that there wasn’t a jukebox in that Pizza Hut.

And I’m glad that I’m getting older.

One Of The Things I Like Most About Being A Pastor

 

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My Monday mornings all start out the same.

Gambling on chicken fights in the church basement.

Wait. Did I really just write that? Note to self: Have my staff of ghostwriting interns edit out my reference to chicken fights before publishing this post.

My Monday mornings all start out the same.

Looking at a blank legal pad.

I take notes on legal pads for each week’s sermon. I write down my personal observations. I write out the passage I will be preaching on. I take notes from what others have written. And I pray. I pray lot.

There are some passages of Scripture that are so familiar to church people that they basically preach themselves. And then there’s the book of Esther.

Right now I’m preaching through the book of Esther. Looking at that blank yellow sheet of paper on Monday mornings can be intimidating. How will I preach about Esther, the hero of our story, going into the palace to give sexual pleasure to a perverted, pagan king?

Now you know why I pray so much.

But a funny thing happens during the week that I spend asking God to show me what to say. God reminds me of events from my life that relate to what I’m preaching on. He puts news stories in front of me that remind me that the Bible I’m preaching from is just as relevant today as it was hundreds of years ago when it was written. That yellow legal pad doesn’t stay blank.

One time I heard a skeptic say that they didn’t mind people talking to God but it was when God started talking back that he began to worry.

Being a pastor can be hard. But hard tasks, ones like preaching through Esther, are blessings in disguise because they force me to talk to God. And when I talk to God, he talks back.

He never responds to me with a deep booming voice or a vision. It’s much more subtle. It’s a week’s worth of notes scribbled on a once empty yellow legal pad. It’s a lifetime of memories that remind me that we have a lot more in common with Esther and King Xerxes than we first thought. It’s the Holy Spirit, the same one who inspired the Bible, quietly pointing my attention to Jesus and helping me to grasp what he is saying through the passage.

Prayer is not a one way street. If understood biblically, it is a holy interaction between the Creator and his people. It is our confession that life is too hard on our own. But it is  more than God simply listening to us. In his own way and in his own timing, it is God responding.

He doesn’t respond to me like he does because I’m a pastor. He responds the way he does because I am his. It has nothing to do with my job and everything to do with what Christ has done for me – transferring me from a child of wrath to a child of God (Ephesians 2:1-10).

The path of least resistance is awfully appealing. But it is more dangerous than it appears. With it comes a false sense of self-confidence that makes our inevitable crash and burn even more difficult (Proverbs 3).

But grace is abundant when we find ourselves in a position where our only two options are failure or prayer (2 Corinthians 12:1-10; Psalm 70).

I’m reminded of those options every Monday morning when I look at that blank yellow legal pad.

So I pray.

And God answers back.

That’s one of the things I like most about being a pastor.

Straight A Haters

Entitlement.

It’s a big problem in our culture.

We want to be big and strong but we don’t want to work out and eat right.

We want nice food and smart phones but we don’t want a job to pay for them.

“No problem,” says a significant number of influential leaders in our culture. “We’ll just level the playing field.”

Leveling the playing field never means encouraging people to work harder. It usually means rewarding people for the hard work that someone else has done.

Such was the case at a Maryland middle school where school administrators organized a pizza party and dance for straight A students. It sounds simple enough. But just to be safe, administrators decided to invite all of the rest of the students, you know, the one’s with a 13 average in PE, to show up near the end of the party after the smart kids ate all the pizza.

That’s where the problem arises.

“Why can’t my precious angel with a 13 average in PE have pizza too?” cried the parents of said underachieving students.

And then the second problem.

A local news station saw fit to make a story out of the parental crying. Apparently there were no apartment fires to report on that day. But this was more than a story, really. It was a commentary or an editorial disguised as a news story. That’s pretty much what all news is today.

Watch the reporter in the clip below as she talks to the straight A students as if they just threw pipe bombs at a nursing home. And then listen to the anchors at the end of the clip as one of them suggests a “special plaque” for all of the rest of the students. A special plaque?

A special plaque!

“John David, don’t forget to turn in your homework from last semester so I can give you your plaque.”

I have to ask again.

A special plaque?!

What’s so special about it, if everybody gets one.

This should have never been on the news. The fact that it was leads us to the moral of our story. It’s a lesson that we must all pay attention to if we want to know at least a little of what is behind our decline as a culture and what we can do to correct it, stop it or at least slow it down.

Here’s the lesson.

100% of all people want something. But only about 50% of those people are willing to work for it. And in the name of leveling the playing field, some in the media and politics are quick to denigrate those willing to work. In the end, one way or another, we all end up paying. All 100% of us.

The Reason Why Listening To All Of Those Sermons Isn’t Doing You Any Good

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“Vely gud.”

“The body is like an elastic.”

I used to hear those sentences every morning. It was a part of my routine. I guess you could say that was all it was. Routine. It wasn’t doing me any good.

Georges St. Pierre was a UFC champion. He also had a DVD-based workout program called RushFit. I’m the guy who bought it.

So every morning I would workout with the UFC champion. I did really good. Well, at least that’s what Georges kept telling me. And who am I to argue with the UFC champion?

Pushups?

“Vely gud.”

Stretching?

“The body is like an elastic.”

Plain and simple, Georges was impressed with my particular set of skills.

When I completed Georges’ DVD series, someone opened up a CrossFit in my town. I decided to give Georges a break and try it out. Since I did such a good job of impressing the UFC champion, I figured that I would have my name on a plaque and teaching classes at CrossFit by my second day.

I’ve been there for about six months. Still no plaque.

And no one tells me how my body is like an elastic. Instead, I usually hear something along these lines.

“Get lower, Jay!”

“Keep moving, Jay!”

“Someone call 911 for Jay again.”

Jason is my trainer. He’s not a UFC champion. Yet. He’s relentless. He examines every move I make and tells me what I need to do better. My mind has a way of telling me, “Vely gud.” He just says, “get lower.” And when they’re done with their workouts and waiting on me to finish, the rest of the people with us are there pushing me on. And then they call 911.

I keep running into people who have given up on church. For them, listening to a preacher is enough. I always feel bad for them because they’re really missing out. Don’t get me wrong, sermons are important but there’s more to the Christian walk than just listening. You also need people. People who love you. People who know you. People who aren’t afraid to tell you to get lower.

John Piper, Fred Luter and Matt Chandler are fantastic preachers. But they can’t be there to tell you when you need to get lower. Even your own pastor can’t always do that. That takes a community of believers.

You miss that kind of community if your church is a television or if being a part of a church for you means slipping in right before the worship service starts and sprinting for your car as soon as it’s over.

Working out to a DVD made me feel good. But it wasn’t doing me any good. That never came until an actual person, someone who could actually see what I was doing, told me what I needed to work on. Even a UFC champion and his DVD-based workout routine couldn’t do that.

That’s part of why the Church is so important to your walk with Christ.

Walking with Christ means walking with other people.

People who aren’t afraid to tell you to get lower.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

What If People Stop Coming To Your Church?

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It was a Christian organization.

But sometimes Christian organizations don’t act very Christian.

There was nothing spectacular about the woman. Her skin was weathered and her hair was ordinary. The clothes she wore served the purpose of covering her body, not drawing attention to it.

Someone from the organization to which she belonged was walking around taking pictures for a brochure. The photographer walked up to her and spoke with a very kind voice.

“If you wouldn’t mind, could you please move to the back of the room?”

My friend thought nothing of the request. Without a second thought, she left her seat and moved to the back. There was one more request from the photographer. This one was for the lady with the blonde hair, seated at the back of the room.

“If you don’t mind, could you please move to that empty seat up front?”

The pictures were taken. The brochure was published and sent out. The blonde girl was featured. My friend was left out.

Who needs authenticity when the manufactured can be so, well, attractive. And plus, it’s all for Jesus so that makes it okay, right?

That seems to be the approach of a lot of churches today. Sure, there’s a lot of talk about being real or relevant, but the truth, as ugly as it tends to be, cannot be avoided. There’s nothing relevant about manipulation.

I too was a victim of the manipulation game. I was never told to change seats so that another, more attractive person could be featured in my place. I was just told to raise my hand.

It was at an evangelistic crusade. The guy preaching had me confused. I knew that I was a Christian but he was starting to make me wonder. At the end of the service, with soft music playing, every head bowed, every eye closed, he closed the deal. Always be closing. They must have taught him that at Glenngary Glen Ross Theological Seminary.

I don’t remember his exact words but they were somewhere along the lines of, “If you forgot to put the cap back on the toothpaste tube this morning, raise your hand.”

My hand raised.

“Now come down and get saved.”

“But I thought I was already…”

Thankfully I had a pastor who cared more about truth than manipulation. So I went to him. His words are tattooed on my brain to this day.

“There’s something you have to remember about some of these guys, Jay. All they care about is numbers. They just want to go back to their financial backers and tell them how many people raised their hands at the last crusade.”

Some things never change.

Today it’s churches giving away free iPads or $50 gas cards to the first 100 guests through the doors on Easter Sunday.

Or it’s pastors constantly talking about their baptismal numbers and trying to market their technique so that you too can share in their “success.”

Whatever happened to just preaching the simple message of sin and forgiveness, loving God and loving others? I’ve got an idea. Numbers. That’s what happened.

Simply preaching the gospel may or may not draw a crowd. Certainly there are many large churches that are devoted to the gospel without manipulation. But there are even more gospel churches that struggle to draw a crowd. Same message. Different results. So is one church really more successful than the other? God would say no. For him, success has more to do with obedience than numbers (Isaiah 6).

Marketing has it’s place. Somewhere. But the greatest need of the church is the gospel. We need to preach it. We need to live it. We need it to remind us to crucify our egos and fascination with numbers.

We need to be like Micaiah (1 Kings 22).

He was a prophet in the days of King Ahab. Ahab wanted to go to war with Syria. Before doing so he sought his prophets for their opinion. His prophets. They essentially responded by giving him a free iPad, a $50 gas card and a blank check to do as he pleased. Jehoshaphat, another king, had a question for King Ahab.

“Have you sought the advice of someone who actually speaks for God?”

Ahab responded, “No, because he won’t tell me what I want to hear.”

Such is the case for a large portion of our culture today. It turns out that Paul knew what he was talking about (2 Timothy 4:3-4). And sadly, many churches are content to follow the example of Ahab’s false prophets and tell the world exactly what it wants to hear. Just as long as they keep showing up.

Not Micaiah.

“As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” 1 Kings 22:14 (ESV)

Drawing a crowd can be hard work. The old saying is true. What you catch them with is what you’ll have to keep them with. All of those iPads can murder a church’s budget.

But just preaching the gospel is relatively simple just as long as you are willing to do it to an ever decreasing crowd while facing some opposition along the way. It’s a matter of saying what God is saying. Exactly like Micaiah did.

The church that I pastor is growing. Every week I see new faces and returning visitors. And it’s not because our leadership has taken a manipulative approach to get people in the doors. It’s just God being good to us.

But the numbers could go away any time. I could stand up this Sunday to preach to my wife, kids and some drunk lady who got lost on her way to the Waffle House. And if that’s the case, God is still good to us.

His goodness is seen in his character as revealed in his word, not in some number on a pie chart mapping your church’s growth.

Which leads me to a question. It’s one that I think we would all do well to consider. What if your church lost all of its money? And as a result, what if there was no way to have any programs? What if all that was left was the gospel being preached? What if the crowd of people listening to that gospel got smaller every week?

Would we still be successful?

Would God still be faithful?

Jesus never promised us a crowd. He certainly knows how it feels to lose one. And there’s more than one way to do that. Sometimes simply being faithful to the gospel will do it. But sometimes it happens when people begin to see through the manipulation and discover that they have been had.

Once the programs have faded away, there are no musicians left to play the new Katy Perry single in your worship service and the budget has dried up, one question will remain for those of us in leadership positions in the church.

Were we salesmen or were we shepherds?

God has been proven faithful.

May the same be said of us.

What If Your Fear Won’t Go Away?

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I was laying in the middle of the floor. Facedown. Scared to death. I was praying for God to take away my fear.

He said no.

And I’m glad.

I’ve got this thing about crowds. I’m not real comfortable in large crowds. Being a pastor, that’s sort of a problem. Well, unless you happen to be the pastor of Crazy Eddie and the Apostle Will’s Full Deliverance Fellowship and Snake Handling Emporium. In that case, you’ve got things other than crowds to worry about.

I get really nervous before I get up to preach on Sundays. And by before, I mean sometime around Monday afternoon. By Saturday, the worry gets pretty thick. On Sunday mornings it’s almost unbearable. So I’ve spent a lot of Sunday mornings, hours before anyone arrives, praying in our sanctuary. Facedown. Scared to death. Begging God to take away my fear.

It wasn’t an audible voice that told me no. It was the written word. God’s written word.

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 (ESV)

The fear that I was experiencing was a grace. It was a grace that was pointing me to the power of Christ.

I’m a pastor that’s not real comfortable in a crowd. It’s sort of like the tightrope walker who is afraid of heights. At first glance, it may seem like a mistake was made somewhere along the line. A deeper look reveals that God often puts his people in uncomfortable situations. Situations where we are forced to come face to face with our weaknesses. Situations where making it out alive on the other side can leave us with nothing to acknowledge but the all-sufficient grace of Jesus.

I know a lot of godly men and women. Most of them have one thing in common. Pressure. They aren’t the types who would say that their most stressful day was the time that they had to decide which major university to accept a full scholarship from. They are the types that had to see their mother laid out on a cold metal table because she had just tried to kill herself. They are the types who had to walk through cancer with their daughter. They are the types who are all too familiar with their weaknesses. And even more familiar with God’s grace and power.

Men and women of God grow out of the soil of discomfort.

A while back I overheard two guys talking. They were talking about fear. One of them finally reached a conclusion that, for some reason, changed their conversation to a whisper. Maybe they knew that I was listening. The man said something along these lines.

“I know that the Bible says that we shouldn’t fear. But I’ve got a job to do. A hard job. And fear just seems natural. It’s something that I can’t get rid of.”

I could relate. But I wanted to interrupt this man and tell him that God has done something better for me than taking away my fear. He is using it to remind me of this grace. A grace that is much stronger than the source of my fear.

“Fear not.” God says that a lot in the Bible. For a long time, I thought that he just meant that we needed to try harder to not fear. But that’s sort of like trying harder to not try so hard. It seems counterproductive.

It’s interesting what usually follows God’s command to fear not.

“I am with you.” Not, “I will take it away immediately.” Not, “I wouldn’t let anything difficult happen to you.”

Just, “I am with you.”

And that’s enough.

Fear can lead us to two things. It can cause us to dwell on what might happen and therefore control us, leaving us curled up in some corner afraid to take the next step. Or it can remind us of our shortcomings and the all-sufficient power of the God who is with us, leading us to a greater reliance upon him.

On Sunday mornings, I still show up several hours before anyone else so that I can pray. I still lay in the middle of the floor. Facedown. But I’ve stopped asking God to take away my fear. Instead I ask him to use that fear to point me to his strength and to remind me that he is with me.

And through the promises of his word, he always says yes.

What’s So Brave About Preaching To The Choir?

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“Thank you for being so brave.”

That’s what a lady told me as soon as I finished my sermon. It was a sermon against abortion.

I was flattered. I’ve been called a lot of things but brave isn’t at the top of the list. I’ve never fought in a war or pulled someone from a burning car. One day in college I skipped Biology to give my friends Jeff and Derrick a ride to work. That’s about as far as my bravery goes.

By the time I drove home from preaching that sermon I stopped feeling flattered about being called brave. Nothing against what that lady told me. It’s just that there was nothing brave about what I just did.

I didn’t preach my anti-abortion sermon at the Planned Parenthood weekend retreat. I preached it in front of 50 people at a rural Southern Baptist church. In the truest sense of the phrase, I was preaching to the choir. That usually doesn’t involve bravery.

Since coming out as a homosexual, future NFL draftee Michael Sam has been called brave.

Every day since his announcement, ESPN has reminded us of how brave he is.

On Monday the sports media giant released a poll revealing that 86 percent of NFL players have no problem with Sam’s homosexuality.

Sports talk radio hosts in the Atlanta market have gone out of their way to express their desire that the Falcons draft Michael Sam.

Before his announcement, Sam was projected to be drafted in the middle to late rounds. At this rate, he may be the first player selected in the entire draft and then imediately inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

More and more, the world is becoming okay with gay, as evidenced by the gay wedding at the Grammy’s, gay characters on Disney sitcoms and sports broadcasters falling all over themselves to remind us of how brave Michael Sam is.

Which brings me to my initial analogy. What’s so brave about preaching to the choir? Is there really anything brave about going public with your homosexuality in a culture that will seemingly stop at nothing to make sure that we’re all on the gay bandwagon?

Here’s what’s really brave.

Imagine an elite quarterback from an SEC school who is projected to be picked high in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft saying something like this on ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

“I want the world to know that I love Michael Sam. If he was on my team, I would do everything within my power to be his friend. But I strongly disagree with his lifestyle. My opinion is not shaped by hate, bigotry or cultural trends. It’s just that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I view the world through the lens of Scripture and Scripture says that homosexuality is a sin. But it also tells me to love Michael Sam the way Jesus would. That’s just what I plan on doing.”

Are you imagining?

I’ll help with a few imaginary headlines.

Star Quarterback Throws Touchdowns… And Hate

From Certain First Rounder to the Arena League: One Man’s Journey

Toothless Redneck Hate Monger Completes 60-Day Jail Term for Insensitive Remarks

Bravery, in its truest sense, is more than just a title we give to someone. It’s a word used to characterize a lifestyle where what is right will not give in to what is popular, regardless of how good popular feels.

It means standing up when everyone else bows (Daniel 3) and bowing when everyone else walks away, hands in pockets (Daniel 6).

For Christians in today’s culture, the choir we preach to seems to be getting smaller. There are more and more people who would characterize certain portions of the Christian gospel, if not all of it, as hate speech. But no matter how small the choir gets or how thick the opposition grows, we must continue to speak the truth in love.

We must be brave.

Manuel’s Gift

Daniel has autism. And he is fascinated by garbage trucks. One of the highlights of his week is when the giant truck stops in front of his house to take the garbage away. But on this day the garbage truck stopped for a little longer. And the man driving it left something behind.

Sometimes making someone else’s day is simply a matter of stopping for a little longer.