The Decision Maker

President Donald Trump is unlike any other president this country has ever had. Every day of the week, even the usually slow news days of the weekend, gives us a new earth-shattering story about him. The kind of stories that once broke only three or four times during a presidency now come at us with each new day. Depending on your source for information, the news can be favorable or condemning of the president.

How should we respond to this?

The answer is easier than you might imagine. And, in what has become all too rare for these days, it’s an answer that conservatives and progressives can come to an agreement on.

Here it is.

We need to stop thinking about the president so much.

For some on the right, President Trump lives in their hearts as their functional god. Nothing he says can be questioned. Every transgression he has committed is simply the result of media bias. For some on the left, President Trump lives in their heads, like an opponent who has masterfully used his trash-talking skills to gain control of their minds and keep them out of the game. So every tweet has to be examined by a team of psychologists and equated to something Hitler said.

Each day, the president has a countless amount of decisions before him. These are important decisions that will impact the lives of many and even the direction of our country. But the president is by no means the most important decision maker in your life. It’s not even close.

When a father tells his young daughter to clean her room and she fails to obey, he has a decision to make. He can respond in anger and crush her, he can respond with apathy and fail her, or he can respond in love and correct her. In the moments like that in your life, what President Trump tweets doesn’t matter nearly as much as how you respond.

Decisions have been made and will continue to be made about immigration in this country. But what happens when those immigrants move into your neighborhood? You have a choice to make. You can either respond by submitting to the talking points of your favorite political hack or you can obey Jesus’ Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor. In the economy of heaven, the decision you make in that moment will matter much more to you than whatever decision the president makes.

When someone disagrees with you, you have a choice to make. You can follow the trends of the day and resort to name-calling, shunning, and victimhood. Getting blocked by someone on social media can become one of your sacraments. Or you can learn how to love the other guy, even if you fail to come to an agreement and even if they don’t love you back. You won’t have to give an account for the words that the president spoke or tweeted. You have enough of your own words and tweets to worry about. Consider the words of Jesus.

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37 (ESV)

There are people on the right who are so busy defending the indefensible decisions of the president that they no longer have the time, energy, or credibility to make the really important decisions in their lives. And there are people on the left whose rambling on and on about “speaking truth to power” really boils down to their resentment that their person isn’t in power. So in response to the president’s careless words, bigotry, and corruption, they give Hillary Clinton an open mic at the Grammy’s as if she didn’t build her political career by referring to black youths as “super-predators” or shaming the victims of her husband’s unwanted sexual advances. An inordinate focus on presidential power will turn us into deadbeats and hypocrites.

None of this is to say that we should be unengaged and never speak out against or in favor of something a government official does. Rather, we are to keep things in their proper perspective. The office of the president is a very powerful decision but it’s not as powerful as you think. Just because Hannity or Madow aren’t talking about the way you did or did not interact with your kids over the weekend doesn’t mean that it’s insignificant.

We would all be much better off if we devoted less of our energy to the decision maker in Washington D.C. and more of our energy to the the decision-maker in the mirror. The one in D.C. changes every four to eight years. You have to live with the one in the mirror for the rest of your life.

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Jerry Falwell And Rachael Denhollander: A Tale of Two Gospels

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is quite popular. For years I’ve heard progressives proclaim that virtually any form of sexual activity is okay because, well, Jesus did say somewhere in the Bible about judge not lest ye be judged. But it’s not just folks on the left who use Jesus’ words for their own personal gain. People on the right do it too. Some of them even lead Christian colleges.

Earlier this week, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, was interviewed on CNN about his continued support of Donald Trump. As we have grown accustomed to, Falwell defended the president’s character by pointing out that the sexual immorality was years ago and that President Trump said that he was sorry for some of it. Falwell then gave us this gem of theological malpractice.

“Jesus said that if you lust after a woman in your heart, it’s the same as committing adultery.”

Except for Jesus never said that. Here’s what he did say.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28 (ESV)

We mishandle these verses when we view them, as Falwell does on behalf of President Trump, as a get out of hell free passage. “Well,” some say, “all sin is bad so who are we to judge?” But this is not at all what Jesus had in mind when he spoke these words. Rather, he was dismantling the idea that it was good enough to look religious on the outside and remain sinful on the inside. He was addressing the root of human sin – the heart.

Falwell went on to throw in America’s favorite Bible verse, Matthew 7:1. The Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged Verse. And, like those on the opposite side of the culture war who mishandle this verse, Falwell failed to use it in its proper context. In the verses that follow, Jesus tells his audience that they should judge others but only after they take a good look at themselves.

In the interview, Falwell reminded us that he’s no pastor. He was a lawyer and a real estate man before becoming the president of Liberty University. As if we shouldn’t really expect non-pastors to know how to handle the word of God.

Except that we should.

I give you Exhibit A – Rachael Denhollander.

She too gave a speech earlier this week on TV but hers was much different. Hers came from a place of indescribable pain. Hers required great courage. And hers was rooted in the gospel – the true gospel of Jesus Christ, not the gospel of American politics where the ends justify the means.

Rachael was sexually abused by Dr. Larry Nassar over several years. She was the first woman to publicly accuse the doctor but she wasn’t the only victim. There were over a hundred other girls who were preyed on by Nassar.

In the courtroom, just feet away from her abuser, Rachael bravely shared her story. She told how Nassar tricked her and concealed the abuse from her mother. She went into detail about how powerful American institutions did nothing to stop the abuse once they became aware of it. She shared how she was the victim of verbal abuse for speaking up. And she shared the gospel. Maybe shared isn’t the best word. She did more than just share the gospel. She demonstrated it.

 

“In our early hearings. you brought your Bible into the courtroom and you have spoken of praying for forgiveness. And so it is on that basis that I appeal to you. If you have read the Bible you carry, you know the definition of sacrificial love portrayed is of God himself loving so sacrificially that he gave up everything to pay a penalty for the sin he did not commit. By his grace, I, too, choose to love this way.
You spoke of praying for forgiveness. But Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.
If the Bible you carry says it is better for a stone to be thrown around your neck and you throw into a lake than for you to make even one child stumble. And you have damaged hundreds.
The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God’s wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.”

 

And then Rachael Denhollander forgave Larry Nassar.

Sin, regardless of what Jerry Falwell Jr. would have us to believe, is not absolved over time. People are always saying, “Well, that was ten years ago,” as if time heals all transgressions. It doesn’t. If it did, Jesus wouldn’t have to had to come to die. Let’s not forget, some of Larry Nassar’s gross sins were several years ago. Should we give him a free pass? Certainly not!

My concern is not with who you voted for in this last presidential election. But I am gravely concerned at what many Evangelical leaders are willing to do in order to excuse the sins of a Republican president. We are supposed to speak truth to power, like Rachael did and like the prophets Jeremiah and Amos did long before her, not prostitute ourselves out for it, like so many Evangelical leaders are doing.

I grew up in a context where man people looked up to Jerry Falwell Sr. It was as if he was God’s man, sent with his Moral Majority, to protect the church from those on the outside wishing to do us harm. . Now that I’ve grown older and am a pastor myself, I can see that the greatest threat that the church faces is not from the wolves on the outside but rather the wolves in sheep clothing on the inside.

Jerry Falwell Jr., was right about one thing in his interview when he spoke of Jesus’ opposition to “establishment elites.”

“Those were the ones he said were a generation of vipers, hypocrites and they were the ones he came down hardest on. The religious elite of his day.” 

And our day too.

 

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There’s A Big Problem Among High-Achieving Teens And Young Adults

It happened to Tyler Hilinski.

And Justin Cheng.

And Daniel Green.

And Kim Long.

And Miranda Williams.

And Lara Nosiru.

And Elsa Scaburri.

And Sam Symons.

And a host of others just this year.

These people have a lot in common. They share similar ages. They are all high achievers. And they all committed suicide.

As far as we know, none of these young adults demonstrated the typical patters that society once associated with suicide. They went to good schools to study things like neuroscience and law. Eight students at Bristol University and one from the University of West England have committed suicide in just the last 18 months. Tyler Hilinski was probably going to be the starting quarterback for Washington State this fall. He had just returned from a vacation with his family before killing himself. Whatever pain these students were experiencing was not bound by a nation’s borders.

There are no easy answers here. Christians do more harm than good when we resort to clichés about people “needing the gospel.” The same goes for those in the medical world who seem much more apt to administer drugs with questionable results than to address the actual problem.

I don’t know the parents of these young men and women. We must not assume that this is a result of some major flaw in their parenting. To do so would be reckless and self-righteous. But we can learn from these tragedies. The best thing that parents, educators, and others who have influence over teens and young adults can do is to take the time to listen. Pay attention to what they are saying. Get to know the songs and movies that resonate with them and find out why. But as important as listening is, there comes a time when we have to speak too.

We must be careful that the only words those under our care hear are not, “Do more,” “Work harder,” and “Not good enough.” Again, this is not to say that such was the case with the parents of the people listed above. Even those with the most idyllic family situations make the wrong decisions. But I have spent a lot of time on youth sports fields and I’ve come across quite a few parents who would rather give their kids the burden to perform than a word of encouragement.

The young men and women under our care need to be reminded that their true identity is not found in their athletic prowess or academic accomplishments. They are not the number at the bottom of a 20-page paper. They are not their 40 time. They are human beings created in the image of God. It is that, not their abilities, that gives them worth. And if they are Christians, they are sons and daughters of God. It is that, not their accomplishments that gives them hope.

Balance is required here. If we over-protect our students and children, we leave them ill-equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. But if we train them to be nothing more than performers putting on a show for us, we are setting the stage for crisis when the day inevitably comes that they just don’t measure up. We need to challenge them to take risks but we also need to love them when they fail. And in-between the starting line and the finish line, we need to be ready to listen to their fears and guide them through them. The young men and women under our care do not need us to be helicopters or drill sergeants but they could sure use some adults who care enough to listen and know enough to direct.

I don’t have all of the answers for this. There are not Six Easy Steps here. I’m sad for the families of these young adults. I can’t even begin to understand their pain. But perhaps we can begin to understand the pain of the teenagers and young adults in our lives. Yes, even the high achieving ones who show no signs of doing something as terrible as suicide. It starts with compassionate hearts, listening ears, and a few words of wisdom.

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)

 

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For The Crimson Tide, The Price Is Always Right

My first sports memory is running to my room and crying after Georgia lost a bowl game in the early 80s. Against my will, I’ve relived that moment pretty much every football season of my life since then.

On Saturday, December 1, 2012, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray stood eight yards away from victory. There were nine seconds left on the clock and Georgia had no timeouts. They were four points behind Alabama. A field goal wouldn’t do the trick. Georgia needed a touchdown and if they got it, they would play and likely defeat an overrated Notre Dame team for a national championship.

Murray threw the pass and it was deflected. Fortunately, Georgia wide receiver Chris Conley was able to grab the ball before it hit the ground. Unfortunately, Conley went down on the five yard line. The clock ran out and Alabama won the game along with yet another national championship a few weeks later. Georgia won the right to play some forgotten team in some forgotten bowl game.

As the defeated Bulldogs walked off the field, my son looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave him a hug, told him that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent him to bed.

We didn’t get ’em next year.

On Sunday, February 5, 2017 the Atlanta Falcons were beating the New England Patriots 28 to 3 at halftime. My son was sitting next to me as we tried to come to grips with the fact that our team was actually going to win a championship. I saw two things on my phone while I waited for the third quarter to start. The first was a video of people at the Atlanta airport celebrating the soon to be official Atlanta victory. The second was the ESPN app on my phone that said the Falcons had a four million percent chance of winning. Eventually it would say that our beloved team had a 73 percent chance of winning. And then 40. And then zero.

The Falcons lost 34 to 28.

As the confetti fell, my sons looked at me and cried. I wanted to do the same thing but I held it together, gave them hugs, told them that we’ll get ’em next year, and sent them to bed.

On Monday, January 8, 2018, the Georgia Bulldogs were dominating the Alabama Crimson Tide. The Dogs were winning 13 to 0 at halftime and Alabama pulled their starting quarterback to begin the third quarter. Their new quarterback was a freshman who hadn’t played in a game for a few months. By all accounts, it looked like our next year had finally come. We were finally going to get ’em.

But it turns out that Alabama’s freshman quarterback who hadn’t played in a game in a few months was the second coming of Russell Wilson. He threw the game winning touchdown in overtime. As people in crimson and white stormed the field, I turned the TV off. I turned and looked at my son but this time he spoke before I could get out my old familiar saying. He was tired. Not physically, though the hour was late. He was emotionally tired. Tired of the same thing happening. Tired of falling just short. So was I. We both went to our respective beds where we tossed and turned and hoped that we would wake up to find that this had all been a terrible dream.

If they had a Price Is Right for sports fans, the Roll Tide contingent would be the guy who gets called down, nails the right price on the first try, gets to play Plinko where he wins $48 million, and then ends the day by guessing the price on the nose and going home with the new car from his showcase and the trip to Paris from the other guy’s.

My sons and I, on the other hand, are the guy who comes on down with tons of promise only to continually get snubbed by those evil souls who bid $1 or $301 just after our bid of $300. It’s like we’re forever destined to stay in the studio audience. No meeting Drew. No Plinko. No spinning the wheel. No Showcase Showdown.

But in a way, I’m thankful for this. Don’t get me wrong. I want our teams to win. I want to experience that joy with my sons. But they’re learning a lot from coming in second place. They’re learning how to deal with disappointment, they’re learning that their identity and hope are not found in a sports team, and they’re learning that the trophies worth having aren’t handed out. They’re earned.

I have a friend who went to a taping of the Price Is Right. She even got to come on down. But she never got to play Plinko. She didn’t win a new car. She didn’t make it to the Showcase Showdown.

But whenever I ask her about her gameshow experience, she lights up. For her, the experience was enough.

For my sons and I, watching good games and cheering for our underachieving teams is enough. For now, the experience will have to do.

Until next year.

Because next year, we’re going to get ’em.

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Trading One Idol For Another

The only thing worse than worshiping an idol is replacing it with a different idol and then looking down on the people who worship the other one.

Many people who classify themselves as Evangelicals worship the Republican Party. It’s where they find their identity. Their joy is determined by how well the Republican Party does. Their hope is in the Republican Party. And as we have seen over the past year or so, their so called Christian morals take a back seat to the success of the Republican Party. This all became unattractively obvious over the past month as some Evangelicals defended Roy Moore by saying that teen girls should be flattered that a man of his stature would sexually harass them.

There is no denying the idol worship that takes place among those on the political right. But the same is true for those on the left.

In response to those naive Conservatives who were placing all of their hope in Roy Moore, Christians with a more Progressive slant commented on the absurdity of it all. And for good reason. But then they proceeded to do the exact same thing for the politicians and ideologies of their side of choice.

They rightly saw the harm that Roy Moore has caused teenage girls and their families but they turned a blind eye to Doug Jones’ history of condoning the murder of unborn babies.

They cringed as some on the right spoke of Roy Moore as if he were Moses coming down from the mountain with a brand new Contract with America. I cringed too. But then they proceeded to do their best Chicken Little impressions whenever leftists policies from the Obama administration were swept away.

The tax cuts will kill people.

The Net Neutrality decision will kill people.

Changes to Obamacare will kill people.

Oh, and God will judge everyone of a different political stripe.

This hyperbolic talk, of course, was taking place while the real killing of the unborn was going on. But we’re not supposed to be worried about that anymore, or so I’ve been told.

The Church is going to be just fine but I have my concerns about the American church. It’s like we’re in a fight over which golden statue we want to bow down to, the donkey or the elephant. Opinions are good and political engagement is necessary, even when we disagree. There’s enough room in the kingdom of God for a host of political philosophies and theories. But as long as the church continues to whore itself out to the Democratic and Republican parties, they will look less like the body of Christ and more like a very sick body. The answer to the Republican idolatry in the church is not Progressive idolatry. It’s repentance.

Jesus didn’t die so that His church could carry the water for Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.

Until we learn that lesson, we’ll continue looking like the suckers that the political parties want us to be and less like the salt and light that Jesus called us to be.

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Stop Taking God’s Name In Vain

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. Exodus 20:7 (ESV)

Most likely, you’ve done it before. You hit your thumb with a hammer, almost got into a wreck, actually got into a wreck, watched your favorite team blow a huge lead in the Super Bowl or witnessed your middle child spilling grape juice on the new carpet. And then you said it. You used the name of the Creator of the universe as a curse word.

Why do we do this? When we hit our thumb with a hammer, we don’t say, “Oh, Hitler!” Or when we try to check out at the grocery store and only one out of 13 lines is open, we don’t say, “Charles Manson!” Yet, for some reason, it comes naturally for us to use the name of God in that way.

But that’s not the only way that we break the third commandment. There is a more subtle way to use God’s name in the wrong way. If you pay attention, you’ll see it all the time. All you have to do is watch the way that people in this country talk about politics.

Judging simply by my Twitter feed over the weekend, it looked like the world, or at least America, had come to an end. People were losing their minds because of a tax cut that had been passed. Of course, there were the usual suspects who love paying enormous taxes who were not happy at all about this. But there was another group of protestors in the mix. They were the religious left. That’s right, the folks who can’t so much as mention the name of Jesus during a Sunday morning, ahem, sermon, started invoking his name to criticize this tax plan.

Their basic point was clear: if you support tax cuts, God’s going to get you for neglecting the poor.

This foolishness isn’t confined to the left side of the political spectrum. That’s right, even members of the religious right, you know, the ones who claim to revere Jesus, are guilty of using his name in vain. This happens when they declare that the hurricane that just wiped out a city was most definitely God judging the folks of that city for living a lifestyle that does not fit the GOP platform. It also happens when they constantly remind us that a certain politician is, “God’s man” even though the only qualifying attribute in that politician is that he happens to be a Republican. Republicans, some evangelicals would have us to believe, are God’s favorite political party. That’s why it’s okay for a grown man to have inappropriate relationships with  fourteen-year-old girls and it’s why it’s okay for another man to live his entire adult life as an adulterer, even going so far as to be caught on tape joking about his motives that, were he an average citizen would be called for what they are – sexual assault. But this is God’s man, they tell us. After all, they reason, the man did just give a great speech where he mentioned Mary and Joseph and said Merry Christmas. It was the greatest moment in church history since Johnny beat the devil in that fiddle contest!

The church should be ashamed. And, just a short time from now when we have lost any moral ground to stand upon as the sexual revolution continues to spiral out of control, we should not be surprised that no one wants to listen to what the crowd who supported two of the biggest partakers in the foolishness has to say on behalf of God.

For once, the left and the right have one thing in common. They both routinely break the third commandment because they have broken the first commandment.

“You shall have no other God’s before me.” Exodus 20:3 (ESV)

The god of the left is a bloated, angry and hateful beast who wears a disguise of compassion. The god of the right preaches a gospel of family values and the good old days but deep down he only cares about the same thing that the god of the left cares about. Power. That’s because the god of the left and the god of the right are the same. His name is Government.

Government is a gift from God (Romans 13:1-14). We need government. If you don’t believe me, visit a country where there’s a new military coupe every fifteen minutes or so. But here’s the thing about government. It makes a terrible god. Yet, for some reason, folks on the left and the right keep worshiping it. And when their god leaves them unfulfilled, rather than taking a second look at the object of their worship, they just cry for more of him while yelling louder at the folks on the other side. It’s like an addiction.

The early church sold their possessions and belongings and distributed, “the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). They somehow managed to do this without being coerced by the government, as some on the left would have us to believe. And their compassion was not limited to one group of allegedly deserving people (Acts 6:1-7), as some on the right like to model. Rather, they gave because of their devotion to the one true God. He had worked in their heart in such a way that they couldn’t help but live generously with their own money rather than ignoring the needs of others or simply relying on some bureaucracy to be compassionate for them.

Jesus Christ reigns supreme over all political parties and government institutions. He doesn’t need hucksters who pretend to follow him in order for his kingdom to advance, just as he doesn’t need the selectively outraged who only care about the poor online and when cameras are around.

He doesn’t need anything.

But we need him.

It’s time we cry his name out in repentance rather than using it to advance our favorite political cause.

Otherwise, when he says our name, it might just be to pronounce a curse on both of our houses.

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A Haunted Thanksgiving

Relax.

This isn’t one of those posts where you’ll be reminded of how many kids will die of starvation while you get a second helping of mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving.

It’s just a reminder to step away from the culture war and the talking points to remember why there aren’t a whole lot of other countries that have a day on their calendar like Thanksgiving.

I’ve talked to kids in the United States who have told me their dreams for the future. They talk about wanting to get into good schools and become engineers or speech pathologists. For the most part, I expect them to get their wishes.

A few weeks ago I was in Haiti. I spent a significant part of my time there building and remodeling desks for a school. Some of the students helped me. They were some of the nicest, hardest working people I’ve ever been around. And they have dreams too. They want to get into good schools. They want to be engineers. But my expectations aren’t as high for them.

Haiti is a complicated country. When people talk about how bad things are there, they always go back to the earthquake of 2010. It’s hard not too. But the problems started before then. Long before then. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone is smart enough to trace the problems back to one particular issue. Certainly not an American like me who spent all of seven days there. Haiti is suffering from a toxic mix of poverty, corruption, and good intentions gone bad.

One day when I was painting a desk, one of the students helping me told me his dreams for the future. I should say dream. His was a simple one.

“I want to go to America,” he said with a glimmer in his eye.

I spent a second thinking about how America would respond to this young man’s wish.

Some would say, “Don’t bother.” They’d tell him about all of the hatred and violence, about the president’s crazy tweets, and about our own brand of poverty and corruption.

Others would say, “Don’t bother,” for different reasons. They would proceed to tell him about how overcrowded we are, convincing themselves that he wouldn’t do a good job of assimilating.

We do have our problems here in America. And yes, there are those who abuse our system of immigration. But when I looked at that young man, I couldn’t blame him for his wish. Sure, coming to America wouldn’t fix all of his problems but it sure would open up some pretty good opportunities for him. If I were in his shoes, I’d want to come to America too.

I’ve been thinking about the look on that kid’s face when he told me about wanting to come to America. It was one half determination and one half desperation. I don’t see that in my country. The only people who want to leave the U.S. like that kid wanted to leave his country are angry political activists vowing to move to Canada and folks running from the law looking to hide out in Mexico or Europe.

This week I found out about the Trump administration’s plans to send back several thousand Haitians who have been living in the States under special status since the 2010 earthquake. I don’t know all of the details behind this. I’m no policy expert. All I know is that if I had been living here for nearly a decade, I wouldn’t want to go back to a country that isn’t prepared to receive me, even if it meant staying in one that doesn’t want me.

Immigration is a complicated issue. Carelessness on the part of our government is a clear path to losing our freedoms. Apathy on the part of our citizens is just as clear a path to losing our souls. Behind the tweets, talking points, and statistics, there are faces. Faces with a glimmer in their eye. Faces that belong to hard working bodies. Not all of those faces need to be in the United States. Some of them do. Knowing the difference requires more discernment and less pandering to the base.

I don’t have all of the answers to our country’s immigration problem and I certainly don’t know what steps need to be taken to fix what’s wrong with Haiti.

All I know is that kid’s face.

It haunts me.

It haunts me because I want him to be okay, whatever that means for him.

And it haunts me because if a kid wants to come to where I live that bad, I must really have a lot to be thankful for.

But it’s really hard for me to give thanks for where I live without remembering the faces from where I’ve visited.

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Three Degrees Of Ric Flair

When I was a kid I hated Ric Flair.

Saturday nights at my house were devoted to wrestling. It started at 6:05 on WTBS and ended at 2 in the morning on channel 36. I saw the Von Erich family of wrestlers from Texas, I heard a young Jim Ross from Oklahoma and I cheered on the Rock and Roll Express in Atlanta. I was there for all of it. I can even remember the lady in charge of the Christmas play at my church coming up to me at one Saturday night practice and saying, “Don’t worry Jay. You’ll be home in time for wrestling.”

And I was.

Most of my childhood was spent hating Ric Flair because he was the loudmouth who beat all of the guys that I liked. As I grew older I started to appreciate and even admire him. The fact that he made me hate him so badly meant that he did his job well. I guess it’s sort of like how we all hated Darth Vader when we were kids but started to like him as adults.

On Tuesday night, ESPN’s 30 for 30 series covered the life of Ric Flair. Watching it didn’t make me hate Ric Flair again nor did it reinforce my appreciation for him. It made me feel sorry for him.

Ric Flair is really Richard Fliehr, a college drop out who figured out a way to turn a fascination with alcohol and women into a moneymaking lifestyle. That lifestyle turned out to be as fake as the wrestling matches Fliehr participated in almost every night during the prime of his career. He had a jet but he wasn’t really jet setting. He wore nice clothes but isn’t as rich as we were all led to believe. He was around a lot of women but didn’t know how to be with just one woman.

Fliehr wasn’t wrestling. He was running. He was running from the shame of disappointing his parents. He was running away from any form of commitment. He was running to an acceptance and satisfaction that could never be found in the places where he was looking.

Many broken lives were left in the wake of the Nature Boy’s lifestyle. There were four broken marriages. There were four broken children, each suffering in their own way because of their father’s absence. Perhaps none of them suffered more than his son Reid. Ric Flair brags about binge drinking in hotels every night for most of his career. His son Reid followed in his father’s footsteps, not just in the wrestling ring but at the hotel bar as well. Only Reid went further. He added pills and heroin to his diet. On March 29, 2013, Reid Fliehr was found dead, in of all places, a hotel room.

In the 30 for 30 documentary, director Rory Karpf asked Ric Flair what he would say to his son if he were here today. A crying Fliehr said that he would apologize for being his son’s friend instead of his father. There was a lot of pain in those words. And wisdom too.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever really hated Ric Flair. I just wanted to be Ric Flair and I knew it wasn’t happening. I dreamed of putting the playground bully in a figure four leg lock or of walking to my desk in a robe while the Space Odyssey theme played. I think that Richard Fliehr wanted to be Ric Flair too. It wasn’t happening for him either.

Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” But rather than trying to be a man, Flair settled for some other version of manhood. And it ended up beating him.

Now, no one wants to be Richard Fliehr.

But if we’re not careful in discerning truth from reality and what’s really important from what feels really good at the time, we could all end up just like him.

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Of Course Your Prayers Are Useless

I was sitting in the airport in Haiti when I found out about the Texas church shooting. The man across from me was reading a book while his girlfriend looked at her phone. When the news alert went off on her phone she told her boyfriend. His frustration over the news was evident. His basic response was this: “Don’t tell me anymore. I need to process it.”

If only everyone in our country could react that way.

But instead, we have to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind, regardless of how insensitive or wrong it may be. It’s our new pastime. We argue about gun control. We wonder which ethnicity or political party the shooter belonged to. We fight each other.

This is most evident in the way that skeptics and progressives mocked the idea of prayer in the wake of the Texas church shooting. It’s common for Christians, and even non-Christians, to offer prayers for the survivors of such a horrific event. Now, it’s just as common for non-believers to ridicule those prayers. One celebrity tweeted, “If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive.” Another said, “The thoughts and prayers were literally shot out of them.” Their point was clear. Prayer doesn’t work.

In a sense, they’re right.

Those unfamiliar with what the Bible teaches who still like to pontificate about what the Bible teaches tend to view prayer as a trip to a cosmic ATM. You ask for what you need and wait for it to come. As they see it, the ATM never works. Something better is needed. In this case, that better something is government action. Never mind the fact that it was the government dropping the ball that helped to make this tragedy possible.

Prayer doesn’t work the way that the world thinks it does. In reality, none of us knows how to pray as we should (Romans 8:26). But for those who are in Christ, the Spirit makes up for those shortcomings while the Son prays on their behalf (Romans 8:34). James 5:16 goes further in saying that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. This verse requires a closer look.

It is not the prayer of a well-meaning person or a passionate person or a religious person but a righteous person that is powerful. No man, regardless of how sincere, is righteous on his own. Human righteousness comes only through Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). This points us to another way to understand the effective, powerful prayer of a righteous man. Ultimately, Christ is that Righteous Man. He prays on behalf of his people. So in a very real sense, without Christ prayer really is useless.

Without Christ we pray for selfish reasons (James 4:3). Regardless of popular opinion, we are not all God’s children. Without Christ, we are his enemies (Ephesians 2:1-4). Only those who have put their trust in the risen Christ as their Forgiver, Lord, and Savior are children of God. God can answer any prayer he wants to but like the father in a store filled with screaming toddlers, he tends to fix his response on the cries of his own children.

Tragedies have a way of revealing the object of our worship. And make no mistake, we all worship something. Whatever you put your hope in is the place where you run to when the unthinkable happens. The reason why so many run immediately to political causes and Twitter rants is because that is their god. It is their only hope. And it is a terribly inadequate hope.

Frank Pomeroy runs to a different place. He’s the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, the site of Sunday’s shooting. He wasn’t there when the unthinkable happened but his 14-year-old daughter was and she was among the casualties. Frank doesn’t have all the answers but he trusts that God does. He told the bank of microphones before him at Monday’s press conference to, “lean into the Lord” and later, “everything is in Christ.”

 

Government action has it’s place and I guess there’s a time for angry tweets but neither offer any hope. I can assure you that the victim’s of Sunday’s tragedy found no comfort in the angry tweets of Will Wheaton and Keith Olberman. True hope can only be found in knowing that God is in complete control of all things, that he loves you and that you have access to him through prayer.

But this hope is impossible to realize apart from Christ.

Frank Pomeroy is right.

Everything is in Christ.

Because without Christ, our prayers are as useless as a celebrity’s angry tweet.

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The Weinstein Predicament

In recent months, a few high powered celebrities have been exposed as sexual predators. Hollywood heavyweight Harvey Weinstein is the most recent assailant to be accused. Before him, it was a few of the boys at Fox News. As you might expect, rather than condemning the evil for what it is, we’ve politicized it. It’s what Americans do.

If our reactions to these disturbing stories were a script, here’s what it would look like.

Republican: “Our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Leans away from the keyboard and smugly folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Democrat: “No, our sexual predator is less deranged than your sexual predator.” Lowers megaphone and folds arms, admiring his stance for truth.

Evangelical: “We have determined that the Republican sexual predator is the lesser of two evils so we have decided to throw our full, unquestioning support behind him.” Takes his seat at the table, folds arms, and silently wonders why no one listens to his stance for truth.

Regardless of popular opinion, Christians do not have to speak out on every issue. In fact, it’s probably best if we stay silent on some things, especially those things that we do not fully understand. Complex issues are usually made worse when we try to solve them in 140 characters.

Of course, there are times when Christians do need to speak up, namely in response to evil. But it is of utmost importance that our responses are consistent. If we have condoned evil from a group that we identify with only to condemn the exact same evil when it is committed by the folks on the other side, we forfeit our right to be heard. Sure, our blind partisan support may earn us a seat at the table but it will leave us with nothing to say and no one foolish enough to listen. What does it profit a man to gain a seat at the table and lose his soul?

It’s time to call off our affair with political parties. Actually, that time came long ago but now will do. Otherwise, rather than being salt and light in a decaying and dark world, we will be clanging cymbals in a band that is already way off key. Rather than being peacemakers, we will be side takers. Rather than serving the Lord we will be slaves to earthly overlords.

Evil, regardless of who does it, is still evil. It is not bound by political party or confined to that group on the other side. It doesn’t only take up residence with them. It can be found in us. It can be found in me. All of us need the gospel.

It has been said that those who knew about the actions of these sexual predators but did nothing to stop them are complicit in their evil. I’ll leave it to people smarter than me to figure that one out. But I can tell you that when the Church sends out inconsistent messages regarding evil for fear of losing political clout, it ceases to be the Church and instead settles for being an arm of a political party. This happens on the right and on the left and it must stop.

Jesus told us to take up our cross and follow him. I’m afraid that some who call themselves Christians have put down the cross and picked up their favorite political personality’s dirty laundry and followed him instead.

Jesus will have none of this.

And neither should we.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 (ESV)

 

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