A Call For Cooler Heads And Broken Hearts

I just read a paragraph from a respected political commentator that startled me.

I might as well plant my flag in the ground on this point. I will actually be really surprised if we make it to December 31st of this year without people in this country taking up arms against each other. The rhetoric is so overblown, so heated, and so believed by a bunch of people who should know better.

It startled me because he may well be right. Listening to the way people talk these days and watching how they respond to tragedy leaves me no reason to believe that this was mere sensationalism. That’s the startling part.

Here’s the sad part.

The church is supposed to be different. We’re supposed to be salt and light. We find our identity in Christ, not a statue, a flag, a color, or a president. Somewhere along the way, we’ve forgotten all of that.

We don’t care about the truth anymore. We just care about what we want to be true. On social media, some of the biggest spreaders of fake news are Christians. You know, the ones who belong to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And it’s all in an effort to stick it to the biased media.

Here’s the thing. Everyone is biased. MSNBC is biased. Sean Hannity and Fox News are biased. The guy sitting in his mother’s basement in Bulgaria making up those fake news stories that so many Christians share is biased. I am biased. You are biased. That’s why we need discernment. Without it, we just stick to hearing what we want to hear and reinforcing stereotypes. With it, we can actually look and act different in an angry world.

It appears that many in the church have settled for life without discernment.

This anger is on both sides of the political aisle. And on both sides of the political aisle, the hypocrisy runs deep too. Conservatives use words like snowflakes when describing the students who walked out on Mike Pence, forgetting that just days before the election there were several conservative, middle-aged snowflakes who promised to march on the streets with guns if Donald Trump was not elected.

Liberals all of a sudden care about journalistic integrity now that an easy target is in the White House. With the exception of Jake Tapper, no one at CNN seemed too concerned when President Obama threatened the media and targeted citizens with the IRS.

Liberals love to talk about resisting the power while at the same time gladly taking handouts from that very same power and laying down and rolling over when it’s their guy in power. Conservatives ramble on and on about respecting the office of the presidency now that a self-identifying conservative is in power. However, I lost count of how many memes I saw over the past eight years comparing the Obama’s to Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.

Blindly identifying with a political party makes good men into hypocrites. Identifying with Christ actually makes a difference.

In our own country, armed guards are patrolling city streets while people remove statues. It matters not to me what you feel about Lincoln, General Lee or the Civil War. Here’s what really matters. What is your neighbor thinking? As a follower of Christ, I am called to love my neighbor before I’m called to love a flag, whether it be confederate or American, or a statue, whether it be Jefferson, Lee or Lincoln.

One day we will stand before God to give an account for our lives. In spite of what you may have read in some whitewashed, Americanized study Bible, you will not be asked your opinion of a statue or a flag. But your love for neighbor will come into play.

When the black kid across town got shot and killed, did you write him off as just another thug or did you seek to minister to a family and a community that you were already engaging long before tragedy struck?

When the gay activists mocked the God of the Bible, did you hate her as if she were your enemy or did you hate what the real enemy was doing to her and pray for her eyes to be opened?

Did you go on long rants online about justice in regards to the president and the FBI but ignore lesser reported miscarriages of justice in your own community and workplace?

Did you bend down to help the least of these or did you step up on them to promote your own brand?

Were you longing for the Kingdom of God or were the kingdoms of this world enough for you?

Did you care more about the speck in your neighbor’s eye than you did the plywood in your own eye?

That’s what Jesus really cares about.

It’s just a shame that the church doesn’t seem to share in his concern.

I’ve spent most of my life in the church. I’ve heard a lot of preacher types talk about what needs to be done to save this country. It started with rock music.

“We need to get rid of this rock and roll music if we want to save this country.”

Eventually they moved on to politics.

“We need to elect this one and get this one out if we want to save our country.”

All the while the real problem was neglected.

I don’t know anything about fixing our country again. That’s too complex for me. But I can tell you how we can fix the church. And believe me, that’s a big need.

The church needs to repent.

We need to repent for abandoning truth for what feels or sounds right.

We need to repent for rejoicing over those who weep and making distinctions among ourselves by being judges with evil thoughts (Romans 12:15; James 2:4).

We need to repent for placing our identity in a president, whatever party he or she may belong to, instead of a King.

Everyone is angry. Even the church. And for all the wrong reasons.

We must be different.

We must be the ones with cooler heads.

We must be the ones with repentant hearts.

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17 (ESV)

image credit

The Deadly Mistake Of Minding Your Own Business

He was the rock. He was a foundational leader of the church. But he wasn’t above being called out when he was wrong.

 

Peter was eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14). At first, that doesn’t seem like much to me because, well, I’m a Gentile. But Peter had spent his entire life living by the strict dietary restrictions we find in the Old Testament. Things changed in Acts 10 when God gave Peter a vision of several unclean animals in a sheet and said every hunter’s favorite Bible verse, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat” (Acts 10:9-13). My friend calls this the first pig in a blanket.

So a little while later Peter finds himself doing the unthinkable. Eating with Gentiles. And I’m sure that he loved the taste of those pulled pork sandwiches and catfish. Something like that. You get the picture.

But then some of the Jewish elites showed up. And when they did, Peter was caught. Should he stay at the Gentile table at that proverbial New Testament high school cafeteria or should he go back to sit with his old friends. Peter went back to his old friends. But it was more than just nostalgia that pulled Peter away from the Gentile table. It was fear.

The message was clear from Peter. “Gentiles, I’m with you and this new covenant until my people show up and then it’s back to the old way. It’s been real.”

Thankfully, Paul was there and his message to Peter was even clearer. He opposed Peter publicly.

[14] But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas (Peter) before them all, “If you, though a Jew, llive like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” Galatians 2:14 (ESV)

Here’s a translation of what Paul said. “Peter, why do you hold the Gentiles to standards that you can’t even keep?”

This was a pivotal time for the church. Peter was influential and his hypocrisy could have led the young movement back into the self-righteousness that they had been delivered from. Paul’s open confrontation could have caused a major split between he and Peter and, by extension, the church as a whole.

But it didn’t. And for that, we have Peter to thank.

Paul doesn’t tell us how Peter responded to being held accountable by the former murderer turned missionary to the Gentiles. Did he storm out of the room? Did he post a vague Facebook status in all caps about people needing to, “Mind their own business?”

One of Peter’s letters, written years after this incident gives us a good clue.

[15]  And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV)

Peter refers to Paul, the one who rebuked him years earlier, as, “Our beloved brother” and speaks of him having God-given wisdom. He acknowledges that Paul’s words can be hard to understand and easy to to distort but he finishes with a very important assessment of Paul’s letters. They are part of the Scriptures. That is, they carry the authority of God’s word.

We need Paul’s in our life. We need people who care enough about us and the gospel to lovingly correct us when we are wrong. The very worst thing that could happen to the church or to you as an individual is for everyone around you to, “Mind their own business.”

And when those people do step in to lovingly hold you accountable, it does no good unless you respond like Peter and accept their authority and wisdom. Use their words as an opportunity to examine your life.

My growth in my walk with Christ has little to nothing to do with my own individual perseverance. It has much more to do with God putting people in my life who love me too much to, “Mind their own business.” I pray that he does the same for you.

image credit

The Woman With One Of The Most Important Jobs In The World

Her ancestors were slaves.

The word ancestors doesn’t seem appropriate. It wasn’t all that long ago. Her parents spent time being educated in segregated schools and drinking from segregated water fountains. Her father was called cruel, racist names by respectable pillars of the community. Once, her mother was assaulted for daring not to move off of the sidewalk when four young white boys came walking by. Her mother still has a small scar under her right eye to remind her of that day.

But those were different days. Slavery is over. Jim Crow is no more. We all drink our water from the same fountain and share the same sidewalk. After all, it is 2017.

But not for her.

No, when she goes to work, it’s 1955 all over again.

She always did well in school. Helping others was what drove her. She knew what it was like to face one roadblock after another. She saw how bitter it made some of the people who she loved. She was determined not to let that happen. She wanted to serve the weak, not keep them down. As she saw it, there was no better career path for her to take than nursing.

She dreamed of working in a busy emergency room in one of the big city hospitals. That didn’t work out. But she never gave up on nursing. She got as much education as she could. It just wasn’t enough to get her out of her small town. Eventually, she came to accept that small towns need nurses too. Sure, there’s no big hospital or busy emergency room where she lives.

But there is a nursing home.

So that’s where she went to work.

For the better part of four decades, that’s where she’s been picking patients up off of the floor, distributing medicine, cleaning out bedpans and helping folks go to the bathroom. She does it with a happy heart, even when smiling doesn’t come easy. She’s not much for talking but when she does speak, it’s never negative. The same can’t be said for her patients.

Every time she walks into room 4A, she gets greeted with a racial slur. She always responds with a smile and some comment about how this is the day that the Lord has made. She sees the irony in helping a man go to the bathroom who in his younger days wouldn’t use the same water fountain as her parents.

The lady in 1C frequently tells her in a creepy, whispery voice, “If you steal from me again I’ll have you killed and no one will care.” Of course, she never has stolen from the lady in 1C. But she has picked her up off of the floor five times in the last two months and gave the lady’s son a strong talk about coming to visit his mother more often.

3B is the hardest. She used to have nightmares about 3B. The guy in that room knew her parents. He’s the one responsible for that scar under her mother’s right eye.

She thought of recusing herself from that room, sort of like judges do when there’s some sort of conflict of interest. But then she thought better of it. She decided that instead of running away from the man responsible for her mother’s facial scar and countless other emotional scars, she would run toward him in his weakness. She remembered the passion that drove her into nursing. Instead of keeping the weak down, she would try to help them. This wasn’t what she had in mind. It is what God had in mind.

The man doesn’t know who she is. She thought about telling him once. It wouldn’t matter. He’s a shell of his former self. His memory, his strength and his family are all gone.

 

She doesn’t think that her job is all that important to the kingdom of God. If you asked her, she’d tell you that the ones with the really important jobs are the pastors and missionaries and famous Christian authors. She’s wrong. As far as the kingdom of God goes, this woman has one of the most important jobs in the world.

Every day before she walks into room 3B, she prays for strength. She asks her Lord to give her the strength to be like family to the lonely man who did so much harm to hers. She asks for God to give her the power to resist the temptation to turn a blind eye to the man’s suffering and let him get what’s coming to him. Day after day, God answers her prayers. And day after day, the light of Christ shines when a nurse walks into room 3B. By the time she walks out, she has loved her neighbor, loved her enemy and ministered to the least of these.

Just like Jesus did.

And he is pleased.

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:13 (ESV)

image credit

Missing The Point

It’s like we’re in a race. But this race is different. At this finish line, everyone loses.

The race happens every year at this time. It’s the race to see which church can have the most spectacular Easter celebration. It started out innocently. There’s going to be an egg hunt at First Baptist Church.

But that wasn’t enough.

Now First Assembly was advertising the largest Easter egg hunt in the county. And the folks at the new church across town certainly weren’t going to sit back and watch this race. They wanted to be in it. So they decided to have the largest Easter egg hunt in the world. And then the next year they would have a helicopter dropping eggs. Hunting for eggs on the ground is so 1980s. Helicopters is how you win the kids these days.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

So now, in an effort to get back in the race, the folks at First Baptist will have an Easter Bunny skydiving out of an airplane. No one can top that. Well, except for the even newer church that is already planning next year’s event where they will use a tomahawk missile to deliver a few hundred Easter eggs to eager kids. It promises to be a hit.

There’s a rationale behind this.

We have to get people in the doors, they tell us. And at this time of year, nothing does that quite like a few million Easter eggs. But when did the resurrection of Jesus from the grave become about seeing who could draw the biggest crowd? When did churches stop being churches and start acting more like car dealerships that promise you a great deal on a brand new Lexus only to tell you that the last one was just sold right before you showed up? Oh, but can I interest you in a slightly older and more expensive model?

Hunting Easter eggs isn’t the problem. Just like Christmas trees aren’t the problem. Both are fine traditions. But they make terrible replacements for the good news that Jesus came to earth to save his people, died and rose again. In an effort to be relevant, we have moved away from that message, fearing that it won’t make sense to the average non-Christian. But somehow we think that skydiving Easter bunnies will.

On the day that Jesus rose from the grave, Mary Magdalene and her friend Mary had come to care for his burial site. But there was a problem. No one was buried there anymore. The tomb was empty. The guards were out cold and the stone was rolled away with an angel sitting on top of it. That angel had a simple message.

“Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” Matthew 28:7 (ESV)

No gimmicks.

No bait and switch.

No concern with drawing a crowd.

Just a simple message.

Jesus is alive.

On their way, the Marys were interrupted by the risen Lord. When they saw him, the two ladies fell before his feet and worshiped him (Matthew 28:9).

Somewhere along the way, we’ve lost this. The fact that our God has conquered death and that through him death does not have the last say over us is no longer enough. We need helicopters and a few million more eggs.

And instead of worshiping Jesus like the two Marys did, we need a gimmick to get us going.

We’ve come a long way in two thousand years.

I’m just not sure that it’s in the right direction.

image credit

 

Fear And Great Joy: A Resurrection Meditation

So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Matthew 28:8 (ESV)

It’s a strange mixture. We don’t usually hear about people being afraid and joyful at the same time. It’s always one or the other. Either someone is afraid or they are happy. It never seems to be both.

But this was different. This was the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nothing like it had ever happened before. Nothing would ever be the same again.

The women who had followed Jesus were afraid because this was all new to them. They had seen God’s power before but never like this. This was more than feeding the five thousand and turning water into wine. This was the defeat of death, once and for all. When you come face to face with whatever it is that’s scary enough to beat something as scary as death itself, fear seems to be the natural emotion.

But it wasn’t the only emotion.

There was joy as well. There was joy because separation was gone. There was joy because the cross was not the end. There was good news to tell and these women were overjoyed because they were the ones chosen by God to deliver it. The angel of the Lord could have gone straight to Peter and John and the boys. Instead, he appeared to Mary Magdalene, a woman who had once been possessed by seven demons, and another lady who Matthew affectionately refers to as, “the other Mary.” None of that mattered. The body that they had come to visit was not there. It had not been stolen. It got up under it’s own power.

That’s a scary thing.

But it’s also a joyous thing.

That strange combination of fear and joy is still with us today. We often find ourselves afraid because things are not as they should be. We live under the curse of Adam’s sin.

That’s a scary thing.

But Jesus came to undo the curse, take it from us and put it on himself. When we consider our sins in relation to the holiness of God, things definitely are not as they should be.

That’s a joyous thing.

 

From the perspective of the religious elites of the day, the cross should have been the end of our faith. Instead, it is the source of our hope.

If you were hearing this story for the first time, you would think that some of Jesus’ last words would be, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Instead, just a few days later, the women who heard him utter that frightening sentence would hear him say, “Do not be afraid.”

In this world, there are a million reasons to be afraid. When you think about it, there is only one reason not to be.

Jesus is alive.

That is enough.

That is our great joy.

Thank God For CNN

I knew that I shouldn’t watch it but I did anyway. My kids were in bed and the house was quiet and dark. The week ahead looked busy so this was likely the best opportunity I would have to see it. My gut told me that this would not end well. But I didn’t let that stop me.

That night, my wife and I sat down to watch a new show on CNN called Believer where each week Reza Aslan finds a new religion to be condescending toward. The episode we were about to watch focused on the relationship between Vodou and Christianity in the small country of Haiti.

The show didn’t disappoint. When it was over, I was disappointed. That’s because Christians were presented as religious crusaders for daring to build hospitals in the nation that is saturated in corruption and poverty. Vodou, on the other hand, was presented as grossly misunderstood. If you’re keeping score at home, the religion that motivates people to build hospitals is bad and the one that gets people to sacrifice pigs to demons is good. The last few minutes of the show looked like a commercial for Vodou.

This should come as no surprise from a network that spends millions of dollars producing and promoting documentaries in an effort to, “find the real Jesus.” In the CNN lexicon, “finding the real Jesus” is code for the Jesus of the Bible being fake. That’s right. The church has gotten it wrong for two thousand years now. Thankfully, CNN is here to tell us the truth.

We should be very quick to examine CNN’s version of the truth. This is, after all, the same network that likes to feed debate questions to presidential candidates of a certain party in order to help them to prepare beforehand. Truth, we should all know by now, isn’t so high on CNN’s list of priorities. It appears that trying to discredit Christianity is.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve noticed that CNN doesn’t take time out of its regular programming each year when Ramadan rolls around to, “find the real Mohammed.” You know, the rapist and child molester. Some of that could be out of fear. CNN probably doesn’t want the same fate that their counterparts at Charlie Hebdo suffered. To them, Christianity is a much easier target.

That’s because, in large part, Islam is built on the blood of the so called infidels. Christianity is grounded in and saturated with the blood of Jesus. In our world, acts of terror are much less offensive than God dying for the sins that we committed.

Islam is advanced by the sword. Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword (Matthew 26:52-53).

If anyone, even a bestselling author with his own show about religion on CNN, ever tells you that all religions are the same, you can be certain that they have no clue what they are talking about.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an appeal to boycott CNN. I watch CNN regularly and if you care about getting a glimpse into the secular worldview, I suggest that you do the same. Just know that you are being lied to.

But don’t let those lies get you down.

The book of Acts will help you to put CNN and their constant jabs at Christianity into perspective. Slander and persecution are the fertilizer from which the church grows. Acts is filled with accounts of the church being persecuted. And the persecution is much more intense than anything CNN has thrown the church’s way. But notice what happens after each instance of persecution. The church grows exponentially.

After the disciples are mocked and written off as drunks, three thousand people were added to the church (Acts 2).

After Stephen is martyred, Saul, the man who helped to make it happen, becomes a follower of Christ (Acts 7 – 9).

When Paul is kicked out of one region, he moves to another one and gospel growth follows (Acts 17).

And so on.

Christian, don’t let opposition, slander and media misrepresentations about your faith get you down. Be encouraged and know that it is from this that real growth comes. For a few decades now, some churches have tried to grow their numbers through gimmicks and give aways. At best, all those techniques ever do is draw a crowd. Real growth, or discipleship, comes when the church keeps its course through opposition.

CNN is no threat to the body of Jesus Christ. In reality, they are like a kid kicking over dandelions in the front yard. He thinks he’s getting rid of the weeds but all he’s really doing is making them spread.

So thank God for CNN.

image credit

Unholy Alliance: The Grand Old Party and the Southern Baptist Convention

A few years from now, in the thick of some really important election, someone will spend a lot of money conducting a survey to see who evangelical Christians will be supporting in that really important election. I could save that guy a lot of time, money and trouble. I already know who evangelical Christians will be supporting in the next really important election. And the one after that. And the next one. And so on. Here it is.

The Republican.

But, some may wonder, what if the Republican isn’t all that great? Suppose his policies don’t make much sense. Or what if he’s just a really foul individual whose entire life contradicts traditional biblical teaching?

The Republican.

For as long as I can remember, so called evangelical Christians, and more specifically Southern Baptists, have been connected at the hip with the Grand Old Party. Most won’t confess that but it’s no less true. If you don’t believe me, you need look no further than one man for the proof.

Russell Moore.

Russell Moore is the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. For now. There are several influential churches and pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) who would like to see him go. Some of those influential pastors have promised to withdraw their regular funds to the SBC because of Moore. The Louisiana Baptist Convention is even working to see Moore silenced, defunded or let go.

But why? What did Russell Moore do to find himself on the hot seat?

During the last presidential election, Moore did the unthinkable. He did the unforgivable. He went public in his opposition to Donald Trump. Gasp! In that opposition to Trump, Moore didn’t then throw his weight behind Hillary Clinton. But that didn’t matter. Simply not blindly following the Republican nominee and eventual president was enough to earn Moore the scorn of the convention he has devoted his life to.

Influential leaders were worried that Moore’s vocal opposition to Trump would cost them a seat at the table. They were not, however, worried about losing their seat at the table a few years ago when, as Dwight McKissic notes, Richard Land, Moore’s predecessor said that a black males is, “statistically more likely to do you harm than a white man.” For many in the SBC, it appears to be more important to have a seat at a table in the White House than it does to have a seat at your black neighbor’s house.

Here’s the sad reality that many SBC power players just can’t seem to learn. They are a joke. A punchline. A necessary evil. That’s how the elites in Washington, yes even the Republicans, view them. And that’s the best case scenario.

I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of George W. Bush’s devotion to God. I’m no supporter but I believe Mr. Bush to be genuine in his faith. And yet, even in his White House, influential leaders were referred to as, “nuts.” Behind closed doors, of course. That’s how Washington works. Democrats need the poor. Republicans need religious conservatives. Both parties are trying to get the same thing: power. Both groups, the poor and the religious, are left worse off than before as they sell their souls for a supposed seat at the table.

Many Trump supporters have fallen into the same trap that Obama supporters did eight years ago. Back then, if you questioned the president, you were a racist, flat-earther, and a bigot. Today, if you dare question President Trump, you are an elitist who is funded by George Soros. And no proof is needed to support such claims. That was only in the old days when truth mattered. If you want to know what idol someone worships, watch how they react when that idol faces the least bit of criticism. Sadly, many in the SBC worship a giant golden statue of an elephant with the phrase Grand Old Party carefully and lovingly carved on the side.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church. I currently serve as the pastor of a Southern Baptist Church. I say currently because who knows what will happen to me once the Louisiana Baptist Convention gets a hold of this. Anyway, I’ve got the SBC in my blood. When I was growing up, Jerry Falwell was Moses leading us into the Moral Majority Promised Land. Madonna was the devil because of her immorality and crude language. But I’ve learned something over the past year. If Madonna ever wanted to change her reputation among my kind, it appears that all she had to do was run for president as a Republican. She could’ve gotten away with whatever she wanted. Man, she’d even be compared to King David if she said the right things about the Supreme Court.

Thank God for President Trump. He’s exposed a lot. In just a short time, he’s shown us that much of the so-called conservative media wasn’t as much concerned with conservative principles as they are with getting their man in the White House. And he did the same to the church. As one friend put it, President Trump has revealed that whatever unity the SBC enjoys is not centered around Christ and his kingdom but rather being white and Republican.

Jesus didn’t die for the Republican or Democratic party. And he doesn’t need us having a seat at some table in Washington. He’d much rather us represent him before the people he has put next door to us. And get this. Some of the people who God, in his sovereignty, has put down the street from us are in this country illegally. Now, we can debate how to fix that. There is no doubt that reform is needed. But it is even more clear that we are called to love our neighbors, even the ones who, “don’t belong here.” Good luck trying to do that while getting your marching orders from the GOP rather than the King of kings.

The Southern Baptist Convention needs Russell Moore. But they want someone who will tickle their itching ears. They want a man who is much like many of the pastors in their churches – a hireling. And it appears that many within the convention are willing to go to extreme measures to get that man.

Keep in mind, Moore never criticized people for voting for Trump. On national TV he said that he understood the lesser of two evils approach but that he did not agree with it. Joe Sixpack (non-alcoholic for you SBC readers) was never in Moore’s crosshairs. An immoral candidate and institutions that bent over backwards to excuse that immorality as if God could only work through one political party were. And now one of those institutions is firing back.

I am a proponent of a very limited federal government. I can pretty much guarantee you that I’m more conservative than you are. I can say with certainty that I’m more conservative than the president is. So save the liberal tag for someone else. Our government has grown larger and more corrupt every year of my life. But I’m doing just fine. That’s because my identity is found in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, not some silly donkey or elephant in Washington D.C.

I just wish that more people in the Southern Baptist Convention could say the same.

I Don’t Have A Dog In That Fight

I’ve lived in the south my whole life and one of my favorite things here is the way that we talk. It’s more than just the accent. It’s the sayings. When dinner was almost done, my mom used to tell me, “Jay, I’m fixin’ to take it up.” I had no idea what that meant. I still don’t but I think it’s an old Irish phrase meaning, “The fish sticks and tater tots are ready to be eaten.”

Here’s another southern phrase.

“I don’t have a dog in that fight.”

That’s what people in the south say when there is some sort of conflict between two parties that they cannot relate to. When Earl is eating his breakfast at Waffle House and two hipsters in skinny jeans walk in having a heated argument about the Tony Awards, he tells himself that he doesn’t have a dog in the fight.

I’ve felt a lot like Waffle House Earl lately.

On one side I see women wearing hats that resemble reproductive organs marching though the streets demanding equality. On the other side I see a presidential administration playing games with the truth and even more dangerous games with things like war and oil. As I watch both sides go at it, I sit back and tell myself, “I don’t have a dog in the fight.”

It’s not that I don’t care. My head isn’t in the sand. It’s just that I can’t relate.

I can’t relate to leftists who are doing a fine job of reminding the world that Christians aren’t the only hypocrites. That’s always been the knock against Christianity, right? People don’t come to church because it’s full of hypocrites. Setting aside the irony of the statement, most Christians acknowledge the reality of our hypocrisy.

Not so for the left.

The left loves to preach a message of tolerance and inclusion. Until it comes time to tolerate and include a pro-life group of feminists in their anti-Trump parade. In a single tweet, I’ve seen leftists call for the assassination of President Trump while hash tagging something about love trumping hate. Nothing says I love you like an assassin’s bullet. The rules, it appears, only apply to the rest of us. And, call me crazy, but something just doesn’t seem right about a woman calling for equal rights while wearing a plastic reproductive organ on her head. Several years ago, feminists stood against things like 2 Live Crew’s lyrics. Now, a large portion of the feminist movement has become the embodiment of 2 Live Crew lyrics.

I just can’t relate.

But what’s coming out of the White House isn’t much better. Over the weekend we saw President Trump bemoan the fact that we didn’t take the Iraqi’s oil when we invaded. There are many reasonable people who call that a war crime. But for some on the right, war crimes can only be committed by the left. When the right does something barbaric, it’s patriotism. As if that weren’t enough, the president went on to say, “Maybe we’ll have another chance.”

Later on in the weekend, for some reason, a big deal was made out of the crowd size at the Trump inauguration. Instead of just moving along, the current administration decided to go to war over it which eventually led to the White House press secretary making a clearly false statement about the Trump inauguration being the biggest in history. In an effort to cover up the mishap, Kellyanne Conway classified the lie as “alternative facts.” Alternative facts? Maybe if we’re talking about 12 things you didn’t know about Pearl Jam. But this is just a rebranding of the word lie. Sadly, many who claim to belong to the way, the truth and the life, will have no problem with alternative facts just so long as they’re coming from the mouths of those on the right.

I just can’t relate.

But I don’t feel like a man without a country. Sometimes not relating can be quite liberating. I’m free from having to defend indefensible actions like murdering unborn babies. And I’m free from feeling the need to say sentences that start with, “Yeah, but Hillary…” whenever the current administration gets caught in a lie. Excuse me, an alternative truth.

It’s important for Christians to remember that we do not belong to the kingdoms of this world. Our King’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). When we forget that, we end up selling our souls in order to prop up our broken kingdom against the other guy’s broken kingdom, all the while forgetting that both are on the verge of collapsing right on top of their most passionate supporters. Propping up an earthly kingdom, it turns out, can be quite a heavy burden to bear. That burden becomes much lighter when we realize our standing in the kingdom of Christ (Matthew 11:28-30).

When we see two sinking ships, we feel the need to pick one. There is another way. Rather than picking one of two losing sides, why not just pray for both sides while speaking the truth. The real truth. Not the alternative one.

I’m committed to pray for President Trump. I don’t support him but I wish him no ill will. And I’ll also be praying for the #notmypresident crowd of angry feminists. When you can’t relate to either side, sometimes it’s best to just pray for both of them.

And eat eggs.

With Earl.

At the Waffle House.

image credit

 

A Simple Beauty

There is a lot of beauty to be found in simple things. Sometimes it takes a kid to help us to look through all of the clutter and see that beauty in a fresh way.

I became a Christian when I was very young. The church I grew up in put a lot of emphasis on the sinner’s prayer, the walking of aisles and the raising of hands. As a young Christian, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether or not my faith was legitimate. Did I say the prayer right? Was I thinking the right thing when I walked down and stood in front of the church? What if I left something out?

The other night, standing under the cold dark sky in my driveway, it was like I was having a conversation with my younger self. Like me, my son became a Christian at a young age. Unlike me, he doesn’t know much about altar calls and raising hands and repeating public prayers after revival preachers. But he still has his doubts.

He was worried that maybe he got his prayer wrong all of those years ago when he asked God to forgive him for his sins. Like his father did before him, he feared that a misplaced prepositional phrase in a prayer could mean the difference between heaven and hell. To comfort him, I walked him through the Bible. I went to some of the same Bible passages people carried me through when I was younger. We talked about salvation being more about the cry of the sinner’s heart than the repeating of a sinner’s prayer. We talked about things like belief and Lordship and resurrection.

I asked him if he understood what I was saying. Before I had kids, I never did that. I never understood why people would end their sentences with phrases like, “You know what I mean?” or “Do you see what I’m saying?” Now that I’m a dad, I do it all the time. I guess that I just want to be sure.

He told me that he understood. But his face told a different story. It was the canvas for an uncommon mixture of comfort and confusion.

“I get it but it all just seems so simple,” he said in a prophetic tone you can only hear from a child.

That’s when I knew that he really got it.

My son is a worker. A hard worker. A few months ago, he set a really high goal for reading books in one of his classes. About midway through the semester, it looked like he wasn’t going to make it. So he got to work. My son read more words in the last few weeks of 2016 than I did in twelve years of grade school.

He met his goal.

I think that’s why the simplicity of the gospel had my son confused the other night in our driveway. When you meet a reading goal, you get to sit back and delight in the work that you did. You can say, “I did that.”

Not so with the gospel. Before Christ, we were all “children of wrath” fighting against God (Ephesians 2:3). We were dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). Dead rebels don’t usually have a lot to bring to the table. Just their faith.

And, just in case we might begin to think that our faith is somehow a product of our own doing, Paul reminds us otherwise.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

The Christian life is not simple. Temptation can be very difficult. It’s hard to love enemies. It’s hard to fight against sin. Like Rich Mullins sang, “It’s hard to be like Jesus.”

But thanks to things like grace and love and the cross, it’s not hard to come to God. That’s because he’s the one who does all of the work. And he does that work on behalf of the small sons of a preacher as well as seasoned drug addicts. He pours out the riches of his grace, mercy and love, “on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).

It really is that simple.

Sometimes the simplest things can be the most beautiful things.

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13 (ESV)

image credit

So Tell Me About Your Relationship

“So tell me about your relationship.”

If you would have known the answer that was going to follow that question, you never would have asked it.

You are at your high school reunion. It’s been 20 years since you’ve seen most of the people in the room. You can hardly recognize a lot of them. But after the initial awkwardness, conversation begins.

During one conversation, marriage and relationships come up. Everyone starts talking about their families and how having kids has changed them. You notice one of your old friends is wearing a wedding ring. That’s when you ask your ill-fated question.

“So tell me about your relationship.”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional,” he says bluntly.

For some reason, you feel the need to dig deeper.

“Great! So what are you and your wife up to now? Is she here tonight?”

His response startles you.

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

By now, you’re experiencing some combination of curiosity, worry and even anger.

“Yeah. I get that. But what about now? What are you and your wife doing now? What kind of work does she do? Do you have kids?”

“I got married on June 7, 1997. It was a very special day. Very emotional.”

As you turn and walk away, you are certain that all isn’t well in your friend’s marriage, if he is really married.

Marriage is about more than the day of your wedding. It’s about right now. It’s about the future. If all you can tell me about your marriage is the it began, something isn’t right.

In the same way, if all you can tell me about your Christian faith is the day you, “got saved,” something isn’t right.

For far too long we’ve convinced ourselves that following Jesus is nothing more than raising our hands and repeating a prayer after a preacher only to live however we want to live while we wait for heaven. We even spiritualize this by saying things like, “Well, Jesus is my Savior but he’s not my Lord.”

A key indicator of genuine Christianity is perseverance. It’s impossible for someone to lose their salvation. God doesn’t unadopt his children (1 Peter 1:3-5). But it is quite common for someone to fall away from the faith that they once claimed as their own. That’s because the faith that they claimed was never theirs to begin with.

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 1 John 2:19 (ESV)

You can train a monkey to walk down an aisle. A bird can be taught how to repeat a prayer after a preacher. And as important as baptism is, you can hold anything underwater for a second. But only a true disciple of Jesus Christ will remain true until the end (Colossians 1:21-23).

The focus of Bible Belt religion is a date in the past when a hand was raised, a prayer was prayed, and a card was signed.

Genuine Christianity is quite different. It’s focus is on a Sovereign Lord who’s grace is needed on both the day of salvation and the days that follow.

Bible Belt Religion gets along just fine without Jesus and his calls for total obedience, thank you very much.

Genuine Christianity recognizes that no matter how the race begins, what really matters is how the race is being run now and how it will finish. It leans heavily on Jesus at every step.

Hell is filled with the victims of Bible Belt religion.

In Genuine Christianity, imperfect hearts are filled with gratitude at God’s grace, repentance for the sins we still allow to creep in and love for others.

If all you have to say about a relationship is the day that it began, it could be that there really was no relationship to begin with.

So tell me about your relationship with Christ.

image credit