The Scariest Verse In The Bible

The Gerasene Chamber of Commerce would not have been happy. A man named Jesus and a few of his followers had just sailed to their shores. But before Jesus could get out of the boat all of the way and put his feet on the ground, the craziest man in town runs up to greet him.

This wasn’t what typically comes to mind when you think of some guy who’s a little off. This man didn’t walk around pushing a shopping cart talking to himself. His condition was more severe. The gospel writer Mark lets us know pretty early on why the man was so crazy. He was demon-possessed (Mark 5:2).

Mark gives some frightening details about this man who came to meet Jesus.

He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. Mark 5:3-5 (ESV)

Mark is very graphic. The man standing before Jesus lived in a graveyard. People tried to contain him with chains but he kept breaking them. No one in town had the power to control this man. All throughout the day and night, he would scream and cut himself. It sounds like something from a Stephen King novel.

But none of those verses are the scariest one in the Bible.

The man begged Jesus for mercy. Most likely, the request was one part the man wanting relief from Satan’s torment and one part the demon not wanting to face the power of God. And then Jesus asked a strange question.

And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” Mark 5:9 (ESV)

A legion was a group of 6,000 Roman soldiers. Mark is not necessarily saying that this man was possessed by 6,000 demons but we can be sure that it was more than one. The man’s reply was something similar to, “We don’t have a name. We have 6,000 names.” So whether it was 100 demons or 6,000, let’s be honest, this was a scary situation.

But it’s still not the scariest verse in the Bible.

The demons begged to stay in the community before being cast out of the man. Strangely enough, Jesus granted their request. I told you that the Chamber of Commerce wouldn’t like this. The demons were sent into 2,000 pigs which they forced to run off of a cliff and into the sea. If you were the guy in charge of looking after those pigs that day, you were scared. If you happened to be fishing in sea when you saw 2,000 pigs jump off of a cliff and into a watery grave, you would have been scared too.

But still, those aren’t the scariest verses in the Bible.

The pig farmers couldn’t keep this news to themselves. They told the city folks and the country folks about what the strange visitor did to the town lunatic and their pigs. Sure enough, everyone came to see for themselves. Mark’s description of the town’s reaction to the changed man is very peculiar.

And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. Mark 5:15 (ESV)

This was the first time that the people in the town were ever described as being afraid. Mark never said that they were afraid when the demon-possessed man cut himself, screamed or broke chains. Only when they witness the transforming power of Jesus are the described as being afraid.

Even still, that’s not the scariest verse in the Bible.

But Mark 5:17 is.

And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 

These folks never seemed to have a problem with the evil of up to 6,000 demons possessing one man. They never cried out in protest at the fact that those demons wanted to stay in their town once Jesus evicted them from their host. No, but when they encountered the holiness of God, they just couldn’t take it. So they asked Jesus to leave.

It is possible to excuse evil, ignore evil and indulge in evil to such a degree that evil becomes comfortable. Yes, even the most horrific evil. And when that happens, the only thing left to frighten us is the pure holiness of God.

The Gerasenes decided that day to reject the one truly good thing they had ever seen. Six thousand demons were welcomed in their town. The one true God was not. And that’s frightening.

The church is surrounded by evil. We live in a culture that promotes evil, funds evil and even goes so far as to call evil good. God doesn’t keep us here to blend in. Rather, he keeps us here to resist and expose evil.

As Jesus was leaving, the formerly demon-possessed man had an obvious request. He waned to go with Jesus. Wouldn’t you? But Jesus didn’t allow him to. It’s funny. He granted permission to the demons when they asked to go into the pigs but not to this new follower when he apparently wanted to be the 13th disciple. Why?

Jesus had a mission for the man who had just been made new. He wanted the man to tell others about God’s mercy. And no one can tell a story better than the person who it happened to. No one can lead others to marvel at God quite like a man who himself marvels at God.

Mark 5:17 is the most frightening verse in the Bible because it reminds us of how comfortable we can become with evil. It confronts head on our tendency to settle for some of the devil and none of Jesus. It shows us how similar the American church is to the people in that town. We are okay with Jesus from afar. But when he starts to contradict the evil that has grown so dear to us, we kindly ask him to leave.

In a lot of ways, I’m afraid that he has granted that request.

And that’s really scary.

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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.

Why Christians Should Boycott A Beauty And The Beast Boycott

Earlier this week, it was revealed that the soon to be released live action version of Beauty and the Beast would be the first of its kind. The trailblazing has nothing to do with special effects but rather sexuality. The film will feature Disney’s first ever openly gay character, LeFou, played by Josh Gad.

Bill Condon, the director of the film, said in an interview that, “LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston.” Condon went on to say that Gad portrayed LeFou “deliciously” and that there is a “payoff” at the end that he described as, “a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

No doubt, there have been plenty of Disney films in the past, even those marketed toward children, that have insinuated that certain characters were gay. However, the “exclusively gay moment” comment lets us know that the insinuations are no more. This updated version of Beauty and the Beast will leave nothing to speculation.

Yet another shot has been fired in the culture war.

And you can be sure that many Christians and social conservatives will be quick to fire back. Their weapons of choice will be boycotts and hashtags.

But before that happens, there is something that followers of Jesus Christ need to remember.

The culture will not be won by a massive Twitter campaign or #stopgaydisney movement. It will not be won by angry Facebook posts in ALL CAPS demanding that Disney bring back the movies from the good old days, as if those ever existed. The folks at Disney won’t suddenly decide to embrace traditional marriage because a few people vow to never attend their parks again. None of those things will win the culture war.

The culture war has already been won.

That happened when Jesus rose from the grave.

Sure, there are still numerous skirmishes. And as the church navigates its way through those battlefields, it must do so knowing that its victory is secure rather than continually playing the role of victims. Leave that to the disgruntled political junkies.

You’re kidding yourself if you think that a difference will be made in some digital arena with your clever hashtags. The real difference is made in your own home.

That’s where you, I hope, regularly sit down at an actual table for a meal with your kids and explain to them what the Bible says about men, women and sexuality. I get it. It seems a little strange for a father to talk about sexuality with his kids over dinner. It makes so much more sense to leave that up to a P.E. teacher who can tell them everything they need to know by simply using a condom and a banana as props. And we wonder what’s wrong with our kids.

In your kitchen, your kids see that real manhood is demonstrated not by romantic conquests, feelings or trucks but when their dad joyfully and lovingly serves their mother.

It’s in your home, not on a movie screen, where your kid’s worldview of marriage and family should be shaped.

If you think that you’re going to protect your kids from evil by keeping them from seeing a Disney movie, the devil laughs at you. Ban, boycott and hashtag all you want but until you take the time to teach and demonstrate biblical manhood and womanhood before your children on a daily basis, you’re planning your own destruction.

My family will not be seeing the new Beauty and the Beast movie. But we also won’t be taking part in any boycott. I don’t want my kids growing up thinking that Christianity is basically boiled down to being against stuff.

I want them to know that we are for truth, we are for love, we are for obeying God’s word and leaning on God’s grace when we fail. I want them to learn the delicate balance between standing against certain aspects within the culture while simultaneously loving the people consumed by that culture.

Hopefully Christians will see that there aren’t enough hashtags or boycotts in the world to change sick hearts. Hopefully, instead of trying to win a culture war and stick it to Disney, Christians will focus on raising up disciples, starting with the little ones in their own homes.

Hopefully, I’m not asking for too much.

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Lessons For Your Church From The Civil War

It was said to be impenetrable. If history has taught us anything, it’s that things that are said to be impenetrable are usually going down. Good and hard. This was no exception.

Fort Pulaski is located just off of the Georgia coast. It was built in response to the War of 1812, just in case any other countries had any wild and crazy ideas. As the times changed, the fort would be used as a defense from the Union army.

It’s easy to see why someone would think that Fort Pulaski was indestructible. In a way, it looks more like a castle than a fort. It even has a moat around it, as if the Atlantic Ocean weren’t enough of a barrier.

If you don’t know anything about history and you take a tour of Fort Pulaski, you’d think that they were really starting to let the place go. At one point, when you turn a corner and look at one of the massive walls, you see that it’s covered with holes. Big holes. If you look close enough, there’s still a cannonball lodged in one of those holes. It was put there courtesy of the Union army.

That wasn’t supposed to happen. There was no cannon powerful enough to reach the walls of Fort Pulaski. Or so it was thought. But the Union had developed a rifling system that allowed cannons to travel much further than was previously possible. You can imagine the shock when the men inside Fort Pulaski saw their walls begin to tremble.

There was another problem. As the walls started to give way to the constant pounding of Union fire, the residents of Fort Pulaski noticed something. Once the wall finally fell, the next wall to be hit would be the one where all of their gunpowder was stored. If something didn’t happen soon, Fort Pulaski would be the first manned spacecraft to the moon.

So something happened.

Confederate soldiers surrendered Fort Pulaski to the Union army.

Fort Pulaski fell for two reasons: poor planning inside the walls and a mixture of arrogance and ignorance as to what was going on outside of the walls.

Churches work the same way.

Rather than concerning themselves with training up disciples and taking the gospel outside of their walls, many churches are content to merely hide behind those walls. If they were forced to write out an honest mission statement, it would say something like, “We exist to stay out of debt and keep the doors open.”

No one ever asks what the point is of keeping the doors opened and the budget balanced if disciples aren’t being made. Hint: if disciples aren’t being made, there is no purpose in keeping the doors opened and the budget balanced.

I’ve heard people say that a church is a generation away from closing the doors. I disagree. Every church is one Sunday morning away from collapse. All it takes is one week of abandoning the mission and message of Jesus Christ.

When the church allows sin, consumerism or indifference to knock them off of their mission, rather than raising up members who are eager to make more disciples, they settle for making sure that the stockholders (read: tithers) are all happy. Rather than training students to defend their faith, they entertain those students and keep them busy and then wonder why those students can’t seem to navigate their way through the godlessness on their college campuses.

In the 1960s, Fort Pulaski made the full transition from a military base to a park. By the 80s, it had a museum. Instead of defending the coast of Georgia, it sold t-shirts.

Your church can have the same fate. Rather than being a disciple-making factory, it can very quickly turn into a museum where people walk through and talk about the good old days.

All it takes is a little negligence about what’s going on inside the church’s walls and a little apathy about what’s going on outside those walls.

All it takes is one Sunday.

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Good News For People Who Doubt

I wasn’t blessed with the best of nicknames.

Jaybird.

That’s what people called me when I was a kid. I know guys named Cornbread, Turk and Bubba. Those are all solid nicknames. Each one tells you that the guy with the nickname either has a cool story to tell or is not one to be messed with. Not so much for Jaybird. There are no linebackers in the NFL named Jaybird. Well, maybe with the Cleveland Browns but you get my point.

I’m much better off than a guy named Thomas. No one ever calls me Jaybird these days. But Thomas has the misfortune of being called Thomas the Doubter for several hundred years now. Why are we so hard on Thomas? No one ever says Peter the Denier or Paul the Murderer. And there’s certainly more to Thomas than his doubts. Of all the disciples, he seemed to be the one of the ones most concerned with going where Jesus was going (John 11:16; John 14:5).

But we don’t talk to much about those moments. Thomas is better know for his doubt that led him to make a bold, misguided statement but also helped him to see his Master like never before.

Jesus had just risen from the grave and word was getting out. The disciples had locked themselves in a room and, no doubt, were trying to process what the empty tomb meant. And then Jesus walked in (John 20:19-23). By the time he left, all of the disciples were sold on his resurrection. Well, all of the disciples who were there. Judas Iscariot was dead. And Thomas, well, we don’t know where he was. But he wasn’t in that room (John 20:24).

The disciples had to tell Thomas the news. They told him that they had seen Jesus. Not experienced Jesus. Not felt Jesus. They saw him. He talked to them. He showed them his wounds. This was no rumor and it certainly wasn’t a ghost. But Thomas wasn’t impressed. That’s when he made his bold, misguided statement.

“Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” John 20:25 (ESV)

Never.

Jesus took the challenge. But he waited. For eight days he allowed Thomas to marinate in his doubt.

The disciples were inside, back behind the security of locked doors. This time, for whatever reason, Thomas was with them. And Jesus showed up again.

Guess whose name Jesus called out first when he walked in.

He didn’t say the name of  Peter, the Rock. He didn’t ask for John, the Beloved Disciple. He called for Thomas, the Doubter.

The grave could not hold Jesus down. The locked doors could not keep him out. And Thomas’ doubts could not keep him away. Jesus came and met the Doubter where he needed him most – right in the middle of his cynicism and unbelief.

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” John 20:27 (ESV)

Thomas responded by making another bold statement. But this one was anything but misguided.

Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28 (ESV)

Doubt is one of the sacraments of our age. Even in some churches, doubting seems to be a mark of spiritual enlightenment. So we have pastors who doubt the virgin birth, professors of religion who aren’t quite sure if Jesus ever even lived and an entire generation of church goers who are only sure about one thing – that it’s wrong to be sure about anything.

On the other end of the spectrum, there have always been those Christian leaders who have all of the answers. They know the answers to the questions that haven’t been asked yet. Even on issues not addressed in the Bible, they are absolutely certain that they are right and you are wrong – on everything.

And then there’s Thomas. Yes, he had his doubts. But the answers he didn’t even know he was looking for weren’t found in more evidence or a deeper knowledge. They were found in Jesus. That is where we must look. And as we do, we must echo what the father of a sick child said to Jesus. “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

The Christian’s identity is not found in his doubts. It’s found in his Savior. But it is through repentance and moving beyond those doubts that the Christian grows closer to his Savior.

History tells us that Thomas likely went on to India to share the good news of Jesus. It is also likely that he was martyred for his devotion to what he vowed that he would never believe. Thomas marinated in his doubts for eight days. He spent the rest of his life taking them to Jesus and serving him.

We all have our doubts from time to time. Perhaps for you it’s some part of the Bible that you find just too hard to believe. Or maybe you check all of the right boxes when it comes to believing the Bible but it’s the future that makes you doubt. You’re all on board with the virgin birth being real, it’s God’s sovereign and loving control over tomorrow that’s giving you second thoughts.

Either way, remember that Jesus is big enough for your doubts. Don’t cling to them. Cling to him. Right where you need him the most, right where your faith is the weakest is right where he meets you.

Do not disbelieve, but believe.

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That Would Make It All Worthwhile For Me

A while back my son got one of his toys stuck in a tree. Being the resourceful type, I threw his favorite football into the tree to knock the toy down.

The football got stuck too.

I took this as a challenge. Not from my son. From the tree. My son had to see his dad show the tree who’s boss. So I grabbed another football.

That’s about the time my wife came outside with a BB gun. She was going to shoot the toy and the ball down with my son’s air rifle. I didn’t say anything but I didn’t want that to happen. I had to be the hero. The only rifle saving the day would be my left arm.

I won’t tell you how long it took me or how bad I was sweating or how tired I was or how bad my arm was hurting or how goofy I looked. It’s none of your business. But I eventually got the ball and the toy out of the tree. Score one for dad’s rifle arm.

I was the hero.

The end.

Or so I thought.

While I was taking my victory parade into the house, I heard crying. It was my son. And these weren’t tears of joy flowing from his proud eyes because he got to witness the greatness that was his dad’s throwing clinic.

These were tears of sorrow. Deep sorrow.

The ball that I rescued from the clutches of that tree had been hit by a BB. It was losing air. And fast. This was my son’s favorite ball. We never walked out into the backyard without him touching it. And now it seemed to be disappearing right in his hands.

It was time for dad, the resourceful hero, to step into action again.

I told him that I would get him a new ball but that we wouldn’t get rid of the old one. There was an Atlanta Falcons game that weekend – a divisional playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks. I told him that when the Falcons won the game, we’d write the score on the ball, and do it again the next week, and again when they won the Super Bowl.

Just like that, I was the hero again. The now deflated ball had become a trophy. My son’s tears dried. But there was only one problem.

We were building our hopes on the Atlanta Falcons.

The Falcons are my team. With the exception of a few seasons during my middle school years spent admiring the work of Joe Montana, I’ve cheered for the Falcons my whole life. I’d seen enough Falcons games to know better than to pin the hopes of a small child on their ability to win the Super Bowl. I would have been better off promising him a hot air balloon ride to Narnia.

But the promise had been made. There was no going back and there was no saving the day. This one was completely out of dad’s hands. There was the very real possibility that my son’s kids would one day ask him why he has a deflated football that has Seattle 73, Atlanta 6 scribbled on it.

The Falcons went on to win the game against the Seahawks and I wrote the score on the ball. 36 to 20. The next week, even though the kind folks at ESPN didn’t think that they could, our team beat the Packers in the NFC Championship game. With joy, I wrote 44 to 21 on the ball. The Falcons were going to the Super Bowl. I felt like Hannibal from the A-Team. I love it when a plan comes together.

Later that day we learned that the Falcons would be playing the New England Patriots in the big game. The irony of writing their name on my son’s deflated football was not lost on me.

Sunday night, about midway through the second half, my plan started to unravel. The Falcons stopped doing everything that they were doing right for most of the game. They started looking more like the Falcons I grew up with. For some reason, the Patriot’s historical comeback didn’t really surprise me. My teams have been in games like that many times, usually always on the wrong end of the comeback. But I was worried about my son. He was right next to me. How would he take it if the Patriots actually came back and won?

Apparently, pretty well.

He was fast asleep.

As far as he knew, the Falcons were still destroying the Patriots. I was taking it harder than he was.

The next morning, I went into my son’s room to wake him up for school. His first words were exactly what I had expected.

“Who won the game, dad?”

“The Patriots.”

The word Patriots had never been spoken with so little enthusiasm.

He had a puzzled look on his face. He didn’t say a word. He didn’t have to. His face said it all. Right before breakfast, ESPN was on our television. Both of my sons watched in agony as the experts praised the Patriots for valiantly coming back to beat that other team.

My son asked me to change the channel.

My hand was already on the remote to do just that. The hero strikes again.

When my sons left for school I grabbed a marker and wrote the score on the deflated football.

ATL 28

NE 34

OVERTIME

I’m looking at that ball right now. When I pick it up and shake it, I can still hear the BB that started all of this. I don’t know what my son will end up doing with that football. I hope that he keeps it. And whenever he looks at it, I hope that he remembers that things don’t always end the way we want them to end. I really wanted him to be able to look at that ball a few decades from now and remember the time when he and his dad watched the Falcons win the first of their fifteen Super Bowls.

It didn’t work out that way.

I hated seeing the Falcons lose that Super Bowl. I hate that my plan didn’t come together. But maybe one day my son’s kids will ask him why he has the score of Super Bowl LI written on a deflated football and he’ll just smile and say, “Because my dad loves me.”

That would make it all worthwhile for me.

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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.

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Cootie Catcher

My son climbed into the truck and told me to name a color.

I said red.

Then he asked me for a number.

I said eight.

Apparently I gave the right answers because he told me that I was going to be a millionaire.

At school he had made what he called a fortune teller. A generation or two ago it was called a cootie catcher. You’ve probably seen one of these before. It’s made out of a piece of notebook paper and it fits over your hand sort of like a puppet. Written on the outside are numbers and colors that correspond with something about your future.

After I got over the initial thrill of knowing that I would be a millionaire when I grow up, something else amazed me.

Kids today can access a world of information on a phone. If they want to know how many touchdowns Matt Ryan has thrown this year, it’s just a few clicks away. They can watch entire television shows and download albums on their phones. But they still like to play the same paper game their grandparents played way back in another world. Score one for the simpler things.

But simpler things have a way of becoming complex things. In the second grade, you dream about the car you’ll drive and the house you’ll live in. In your thirties, when you get the car and the house, you long for the good old days when those things were just dreams rather than bills to be paid. Sometimes, the life we dream of isn’t as peaceful as we thought it would be when we were holding a cootie catcher in our hand.

Forget about the nice car. Is there a cootie catcher that promises us peace in the future?

Usually, when we hear about someone being at peace, it means that they’re dead. “Billy lived a hard life, especially there at the end, but he’s at peace now.” It doesn’t have to be that way. While we will never know a perfect life on this side of eternity, we can know peace. Peace among the dreams that never came true. Peace among the dreams that did come true but turned out to not to be so dreamy. In the thick of anxiety and fear, the Bible offers us hope.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Psalm 131:2 (ESV)

In the heat of your stress and anxiety, it is possible to know peace. It is possible to silence the unnecessary noise around you and to rest in Jesus like a child in his mother’s lap. David Powlison says, “Most of the noise in our souls is generated by our attempts to control the uncontrollable.” It’s as if we’ve grown to believe that the cootie catcher really works, that we really are in control of our future. We aren’t. Failure to recognize this is the root cause of much of our anxiety. That’s why David wrote, “I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me (Psalm 131:1).

The future is too great for us.

But it’s not too great for the One to whom we belong.

David’s peace was not like the so-called inner peace that people talk about these days. You know, the kind that makes us feel better about ourselves but never really goes beyond ourselves. Real peace is shared peace.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 131:3 (ESV)

We live in a world where most people are being driven crazy by the noise of what they cannot control. It could be that your greatest testimony is living out the peace you have from being content in the God who controls all things.

In the town where I live, there used to be a guy whose job it was to stand out in front of the pizza place and try to get the attention of the people who drove by. Stand isn’t the best word to describe what this guy did. He danced. He danced like it was his goal in life to get people to stop at that place and buy a pizza. I don’t even like the restaurant he worked for but sometimes I would think to myself, “Well, if he feels that strongly about it, maybe I should try a few slices.”

He was the exact opposite of the guy who works for the place that sells Halloween costumes in October and does taxes in March. You know the place and you know this guy. He’s always dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, leaning on a sign that says, “We’ll do your taxes” while texting. That’s it. No dancing. Just texting. I hate to be so judgmental but I don’t want my financial future in that guy’s hands.

You are that guy. Or the pizza guy.

Whatever it is that you put your hope in, that’s what you advertise to a hopeless world.

If your hope is ultimately in your ability to control the future, you have nothing to offer a hopeless world.

But if you are trusting in the Sovereign God who has calmed and quieted your soul, even when everything else in your life is falling apart, the world stops and takes notice.

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)

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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.

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