Happy Monday! What Hasn’t Happened To Me

Every now and then, it’s good to stop and think about the things that you never think about. The things that you take for granted. The things that you think you are entitled to. The blessings that God could take away from you right now if he wanted to. Here are some of those blessings that I have enjoyed, not just over the past few days but, as far as I can tell, pretty much every day of my life.

1. Whether through a letter in the mail, a face to face conversation, a phone call, or an e-mail, I can’t remember ever going a day without a friend or family member telling me that they love me.

2. I’ve never truly been hungry or gone without food. There were times when we had to put water over our cereal but the cereal was still there.

3. Unlike a lot of people, even American citizens, I’ve never been thrown in jail for something that I didn’t do.

4. I’ve never had to be fed through a tube or an IV.

5. I’ve never spent the night in the hospital as a patient. There have been plenty of nights that I’ve done that as a family member but never as a customer.

6. I’ve never had to worry about a rainstorm washing away my house.

All of this could change tomorrow. I could go without hearing the words I love you. I could starve. I could lose my freedom, health and home. As easy as it is to forget this, I don’t deserve those things. God doesn’t owe me.

But he has blessed me.

However his blessings come and go for us, there is at least one thing that we can count on.

God’s people will never know what it’s like to be ignored, abandoned or condemned by him.

Even on a Monday.

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (ESV)

Ten Manly Man Truths That Every Man Should Man Up And Follow

Being a man can be difficult. For some people, the simple fact that you were born as a male automatically makes you a predator. Many men try to fight back against this stereotype by wearing capri pants, drinking everything through a straw and listening to Wilson Philips.

Gentlemen, this is no way for you to live. There is a better way. Behold, I give you Ten Manly Man Truths That Every Man Should Man Up And Follow.

1. When you go someplace to get your haircut it should never take you more than 4.7 seconds to tell the person how you would like your hair to be cut.

Not Manly: “Well, I was looking at the book of hairstyles on your front table and I saw one that looked a little like a fusion between Kenny Loggins and Keith Urban. I’d like something sort of like that but my friends at work say that my face is too long. What do you think? I just don’t want to get something that I’ll regret by the time I go to the Rascal Flats concert tomorrow.”

Manly: “Number two up top, number one on the sides and if you touch the ponytail I’ll kill you.”

2. A gentleman’s club is never frequented by gentlemen.

3. When given the option between watching professional wrestling or the State of the Union Address, a real man will always go with professional wrestling. Either way, you’re watching a show where people are pretending to hate each other only to go out to dinner together with your money when the cameras are off. But, in professional wrestling, at least it’s easier to spot the good guys.

4. Never get your taxes done in a building that was selling Halloween costumes four months earlier.

5. Any man who feels the need to prove that he is a man by attaching something that looks like male genitalia to the back of his truck is, in fact, not a man.

6. A vacuum cleaner is never an acceptable Christmas present for the special lady in your life. Professional wrestling tickets are a much safer bet.

7. Never, under any circumstances, open another man’s grill. There are 40 states in this great country of ours where killing a man for opening your grill while you’re cooking something on it is considered justifiable homicide.

8. When a woman tells you that she is having surgery, never ask her why. Just trust me on this one.

9. Never ask a woman when her baby is due. Never. Even if she’s already in labor.

10. Always open the door for a lady. But you’ll have to be careful on this one. There are some places in our country where a lady will take offense to a man opening the door for her. That’s okay. If you happen to encounter one of these women, as soon as she’s done yelling at you, ask her when her baby is due.

So there you have it, gentlemen. Now you don’t have to navigate your way through the dangerous waters of manhood all alone. Put your straws and Wilson Philips records away. Man up and embrace who you are. Get outside, kill something, throw it on your grill and eat it.

But while you’re grilling, just keep your eye on the fellow in the capri pants.

He’s getting a little too close for comfort to your grill.

Is Your Church Okay With You?

What if, when it’s all said and done, there’s nothing cool about your church? Would that be okay with you?

Would it be okay if people made fun of your church building because it looks like, well, a church building instead of a giant Apple store?

Would it be okay if there were zero celebrities at your church? No Grammy award-winning worship team. No best-selling author for a pastor. No NFL Hall of Famers on the front row.

Would it be okay if, in spite of all of your best efforts, your church never makes it over that 500 people tipping point? Or 200 people tipping point. Or 15 people tipping point.

Would it be okay with you if there were still older people in suits who went to your church?

Would it be okay if your church goes about its mission with little to no fanfare? No conferences hosted there. No seminary halls named after it. No lectures about it.

Would it be okay with you if, when people ask you where you go to church, they look at you like you just started speaking Vulcan when you tell them? Would it be okay with you if visitors didn’t come back to your church because it wasn’t big enough, white enough, black enough, trendy enough, tolerant enough, traditional enough or entertaining enough for their liking? Would it be okay with you if your church wasn’t okay with a lot of other people?

Could you stay at a church if all of the above were true about it? Would you continue to “be fed” there if all of the above were true along with the following?

Would you stay if your church, as allegedly irrelevant as it may be, was still devoted to what the Bible said and living it out together in prayer (Acts 2:42)?

Would you stay if Sunday mornings didn’t involve a light show, a funny preacher or a really good band but just the power of the Holy Spirit on display (Acts 2:43)?

Would your needs still be met at that church if there were really no members who knew a whole lot about starting non-profits but who just really cared for and served their neighbors as best as they knew how (Acts 2:44-45)?

Would you be happy at your supposedly intolerant and closed-minded church if people were repenting of their sins and lives were being changed (Acts 2:46-47)?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a large church where sermons are preached by a very engaging celebrity pastor and songs are sung by a talented group of Grammy award-winning musicians. In fact, that can be a blessing.

But what if that’s a blessing that, for whatever reason, God doesn’t decide to send your way? What if he wants to keep you somewhat small and seemingly irrelevant? What if the best gift that he ever sends your church’s way is the kind of activity, change and wonder that could only be attributed to the Holy Spirit?

Would that be okay with you?

If not, maybe it’s not Jesus or his Church that you’re really in love with after all.

But if so, there will only be one question that matters for you and your church.

Is your church okay with Jesus?

I Wish That President Obama Would Have Given This State Of The Union Address Last Night

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress and my fellow Americans,

I’ll spare you the stories about a hypothetical teacher who spent extra time with her students or a woman who was able to start a business, all because of my policies. I want to get right to the point.

America, you’re on your own.

I know that that doesn’t sound very presidential. It certainly doesn’t sound like something that this president would say. But I’ve had a change of heart. As you know, I’ve changed my mind on important policies before. I’m doing it again.

You are on your own when it comes to going to college. I will not be paying for your first two years. Honestly, I wasn’t going to be paying for it anyway. Your neighbors were. But not anymore. If you really want to go to college, save up for it. Come to grips with the fact that you might have to go to college later in life. Better yet, accept the possibility that you might not go to college at all. A college diploma, while noble, isn’t quite the savior we’ve made it out to be. The work of a welder, truck driver and stay-at-home mother is just as noble. Whatever path you take, I wish the best for you. But, when it comes to getting help from me, you are on your own.

That is why, beginning in July of this year, there will no longer be a United States Department of Education. From now on, the education of our nation’s children will be up to states, private institutions and, most of all, families. You are on your own. Make the most of it.

You are on your own when it comes to taxes. There will be no tax increase for the wealthy, as you might have heard I was planning on proposing. In fact, there will be a tax decrease for the wealthy. And the middle class. That’s because, beginning in January of 2016, there will no longer be an Internal Revenue Service or Federal Reserve.

It has been said that my presidency has been hard on jobs. I suppose that I am proving that true. If you work for the IRS, you have a little less than a year to find a new job. And then you will be on your own. I wish you the best.

The Federal Reserve will be a completely different animal considering the fact that it isn’t even a government agency and it answers to no one. In fact, for far too long, presidents have been answering to the unaccountable bankers who are running the Federal Reserve and controlling your money. That stops now. I may not be able to shut this agency down but I can stop serving to it.

Citizens of America, when you are driving in your car, working on your computers and resting in your home, I want you to know that you are on your own. The government will not be there anymore. We will stop reading your e-mails in the name of liberty. We will stop listening to your phone calls in the name of fighting terrorism. We will stop watching you from above in the name of national security. That is why I am announcing a massive overhaul to the NSA and CIA. Every American citizen should live in the confidence that they are being left alone. For the remainder of my presidency, this will be the case. You are on your own.

Finally, there will be one area of your life where I will not leave you alone. When it comes to protecting your constitutional rights, I will be with you. I realize that I have done my fair share to harm those rights. Many of my colleagues on the right side of the aisle have been just as eager to trample your rights. I guess you could say that for the past several years, the one thing that us politicians in D.C. could agree on is taking away your liberty. While I cannot speak for those on the right, or even my own party, those days are over for me.

I took an oath to protect you from enemies foreign and domestic. I didn’t take an oath to give you cell phones, manage your kid’s school lunches or spy on you.

My fellow Americans, there are people who want you to have less liberty. Some of those people live in far away lands. Some of them are in this room. As they work to chip away at your rights, I want you to know that you are not on your own. You have a president who is working on your behalf. But I can’t do it alone. I need you to take responsibility. If this system is to work, it has to be more about you and your family and neighbors loving each other and working together than it does any sort of bipartisan effort here in D.C.

Let me be clear, when politicians in D.C. get together to do something in a bipartisan manner, it’s usually bad for you. But when regular American citizens come together, without the assistance of government, to accomplish a task, good things happen.

I believe that good things can still happen in the United States of America. But I will need your prayers. And you can count on mine.

God bless you.

And God bless the United States of America.

Child Protective Services

Dannielle and Alexander Meitiv could be forced to hand their children over to the government.

What was their crime?

The two Meitiv children were allowed to walk home, without adult supervision, from the park where they were playing. Their journey was about a mile. Well, it should have been about a mile. It wasn’t. That’s because an allegedly well-meaning neighbor thought that the sight of two kids walking on a sidewalk warranted a call to the police.

So halfway home, the two Meitiv children were stopped by police and given a free ride home where Alexander was questioned and threatened. Later, there was a visit from Child Protective Services. The kind people of CPS continued the show of power by threatening to take the Meitiv children away if Dannielle and Alexander did not agree to never let their children walk home from the park alone again.

Remember, the Meitiv family wasn’t running a crime syndicate. The kids weren’t terrorizing their school. All they did was what most people over the age of 30 did when they were children. They walked home without parents hovering above them, examining their every move to make sure that their kids weren’t the subject of the next Lifetime Original Movie.

This tragic incident is the result of parents who are growing increasingly afraid because of the aforementioned Lifetime Original Movies and a government that is grabbing for more power because, well, that’s what most governments do.

Make no mistake, there are frightening possibilities that await us with each new day. Most every parent is aware of this. But the answer to those frightening possibilities is not a tighter parental clamp. And especially not a tighter government one.

And make no mistake, as a whole, the government isn’t as concerned with protecting children as we are led to believe. If the government really cared about protecting children, it wouldn’t be killing so many of them before they even have a chance to experience being born.

The real issue here is control. I’ll be accused of being a raging, anti-government conspiracy theorist for what I’m about to say. But that’s okay. You’re not really living until you’re called a raging, anti-government conspiracy theorist. So here goes.

The government wants your children.

Sure, they may not be knocking on your door and threatening to take them away. Their approach is usually more subtle. They’re not so concerned with having your child physically present with them. Just having control over the child’s mind will do just fine.

They want to tell your kids that 2+2=5.

They want to tell your kids that parents don’t know what they are doing.

They want to teach your kids about love and so-called safe sex by showing them how to put condoms on bananas.

And if children are brought up with the independent spirit that it takes to walk home from the park alone, their minds will be harder to program.

The government isn’t coming for the Meitiv children because they are victims of bad parenting. The government is coming after them because they aren’t playing the game the right way. You see, if the little Meitiv children would simply stay inside with their video games and government approved children’s educational programming, none of this would have happened.

The biggest threat to a power-hungry government is a family that has gone off the grid, so to speak. A family where kids see authority lovingly displayed in the home is one where the government is not needed. And if there’s one thing that a corrupt and power-hungry government can’t stand, it’s not being needed.

Parents, someone will raise your kids. It can either be you or it can be some combination of the government and the lady across the street with one hand slightly pulling back the curtains and the other hand holding a phone with 911 on speed dial.

Parents, there are no better people on the planet for raising your kids than you. So do it. Stop just being their friend and stop being their 24-hour body guard. And, if you care anything about your children, stop allowing the government to do the job that only you can do.

The best child protective services are the ones that are provided by parents to their own children. It’s just a shame that sometimes it’s the government that we have to protect our children from.

Happy Monday: I Never Got To Meet Martin Luther King Jr.

The world is on fire. Everyone is mad at someone. Riots are all the rage. Tensions are high. Wars are trendy. And it’s Monday.

With all of that, it’s hard to find a reason to be thankful. Unless you stop to take a look at the things you’ll never see on the news.

1. At dinner earlier this week my son said the blessing. He thanked God for Martin Luther King standing up for what’s right. While he was praying, George Strait was playing on our radio. I’m thankful for that small but significant piece of diversity and the conversation it produced.

2. A friend at church is a retired cop from a major American city. When he was on the force he answered to a sergeant who did not like him. My friend is white. His boss was black. Both assumed that the other was a racist. One day my friend waited outside of his boss’ office. He wanted to make things right. His boss finally came in wearing only half of his uniform. His plan that day was to get dressed in his office. Instead, he had to deal with my friend, the man he didn’t like.

“How can I make things right so that we can get along?” my friend asked his sergeant.

“We’re okay,” the sergeant replied. And then he hugged my friend.

My friend was worried what people might think if they walked by and saw him hugging his partially clothed boss.

But those worries were no match for the peace that came with that small reconciliation between the races.

We could use another Martin Luther King Jr. these days. Until someone like him comes along, we can celebrate the seemingly insignificant.

I’ll probably never give a memorable speech from Washington D.C. But, at my kitchen table, I can teach my sons about men who stood up for justice.

I never got to meet Martin Luther King Jr. but I’m glad that I know a former cop who has been so impacted by the gospel that he can’t settle for the same old racial tensions that King stood against.

I’m thankful for Dr. King.

But I’m also thankful for the thousands of others who are seeking to live out his dream – one seemingly insignificant moment at a time.

Happy Monday!

The Unwritten Laws Of The South

The trouble with unwritten laws is that you never know about them until you break one. Until now, that is. Here are a few of the unwritten laws for the southern part of these United States of America.

Section III, Article 2, Paragraphs 3 and 4 – Beverages

All drinks shall be referred to as Coke or, if you’re one who likes to take things to the next level, Coe-Cola. When you are drinking Dr. Pepper and someone asks you what you are drinking, you are to respond by saying, Coke. When you’re sister is already up and standing by the refrigerator and you want a Sunkist, you need to say, “Lurlene, get me a Coe-Cola.” She’ll know what you mean. Trust me.

If you’ve got a craving for a Pepsi, never, under any circumstances, ask for one of those in public while in the south. Again, just trust me on that one.

Section IV, Article 9, Paragraph 6 – Sports

While watching a college or professional sporting event not involving a team that you regularly cheer for, you must always cheer for the team from the south. If neither team is from the south, or even worse, one of them is from Florida, you should cheer for the team that is geographically closest to the south. If the only game on is between a team from Florida and a team from New York City, turn the TV off and go enjoy a nice, cold Coe-Cola with Lurlene and them.

Section IX, Article 13, Paragraphs 1 and 2 – Shopping

If you can’t buy it at a store with a name like Sky City, Hoochie’s Dollar Basket or Da’ Nite Owl, it’s probably not worth buying.

Also, before entering these fine establishments, you must make sure that you are wearing pajamas and your kids aren’t wearing anything. Upon leaving, employees will examine the bottom of your children’s feet. If they do not look like they’ve been working barefoot in a coal mine, they will be immediately shipped up north and forced to watch Syracuse football games while drinking Pepsi.

Section XXXIV, Article 3, Paragraph 8 – Music

Any song written and/or performed after 1990 by someone not named George, Dwight, Willie, Waylon, Cash or Robert Earl is not a country music song.

Section LI, Article 1, Paragraphs 6 – 9 – Pets

Cats were not created to live indoors.

Dogs were not created to have their nails painted or to wear sweaters.

Acceptable names for dogs are ‘Lil Bit, Bear, Herschel Walker and Hank.

Cats are not to be named. Naming a cat could lead to said cat moving indoors which would be a direct violation of Section LI, Article 1, Paragraph 6.

Section LXX, Article 7, Paragraph 185, Church

If you have attended the same church more than three times, you are officially allowed to refer to it as, “my church.” It matters not that you haven’t attended your church in the past 28 years. It’s still your church. This gives you the privilege to show up every few years or so, if you’re so inclined, and vote in controversial business meetings.

Hopefully this will help all of you out of towners as you seek to navigate your way through the unwritten laws of the south. Should you have any questions, there’s always someone at Da’ Nite Owl who is willing to help.

Just ask for Lurlene.

And a Coe-Cola.

Seven Things You Can Know When You Just Don’t Know

We want answers. All of us. The most common word in my house is the word why. In childhood, kids are curious and they want to know how the world works. The why word is their way of learning. In adulthood, we get a better idea of how the world works. But we still want to know why. We want to know how God works.

God never promised to give us all of the answers or details involved in the events of our lives. He did, however, promise other things. Better things. Perhaps Joseph, more than any other person in the Bible, shows us how sinners can navigate their way through the whys of suffering without losing their faith.

Here are seven things you can know when you just don’t know.

1. Bad things will happen to you.

You could get audited. You could get sick. You probably will die. Or, like Joseph, you could get sold into slavery by your jealous brothers.

Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Genesis 37:26-27 (ESV)

A lot of the TV preachers may look like they mean well. Maybe some of them do mean well. But they’re still lying to you when they say that loving Jesus protects you from suffering and tribulations. Joseph suffered. Jesus suffered more than anyone could ever know. And you will suffer too.

But the story doesn’t end there.

2. Your suffering does not leave you beyond the reach of God’s grace.

After being sold by his brothers and ending up in Egypt, Joseph still wasn’t too far gone. And, no matter your trials, neither are you. Your feelings and fears will tell you that God has abandoned you. The Bible paints a different picture. It tells us of a God who blesses his people, even when we’re not exactly where they’d like to be.

The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. Genesis 39:2 (ESV)

So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. Genesis 39:6 (ESV)

3. Your trial is no excuse for sin.

It’s easy to think that your suffering has earned you a sin hall pass of sorts. It hasn’t. The genuineness of our faith is most often seen when that faith is shaken. Anyone can abandon their beliefs in a storm. Only true believers will cling to the truth even when there’s nothing much else to cling to.

Bitterness may come easy. Anger may seem natural. But they are still sins. Your call to holiness doesn’t go on hiatus when you suffer.

And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her. Genesis 39:7-10 (ESV)

4. God loves you and he is with you.

Most people think that their trials are happening because they have done something to make God mad. Christian, you are not under God’s wrath. Discipline? Perhaps. Love? Definitely. But not his wrath. No matter how bad things are for you, God loves you and he is with you.

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:21 (ESV)

5. God is not done with you.

When I first started speaking to youth, I got some great advice from a Doug Fields VHS tape. He said that when you tell stories to students, keep the ones about scoring the game winning touchdown or getting voted most likely to succeed to yourself. Instead, tell about the time when you fell up the stairs at the movie theater. Most people can’t relate to your success stories. Everyone can relate to your pain.

While he was in prison, Joseph was able to glorify God in a way that no free man could.

When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” Genesis 40:6-8 (ESV)

The pain you are experiencing now will give you spiritual street cred later on to help someone experiencing the same trials.

6. God will redeem your trial.

Joseph eventually made it out of jail and, by God’s grace, became the second highest official in the very land where he once lived as a slave and a prisoner. And God used Joseph to help countless numbers of people during a terrible famine in his land. A few of those people were Joseph’s brothers, the very ones who sold him into slavery. Joseph’s response to his brothers is a testimony of trust in God’s sovereign and loving control.

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. Genesis 50:18-21 (ESV)

Bitterness will keep you from seeing this. Only the heart that keeps its trust fixed on God through trials will clearly see God work those trials into good.

7. God keeps his promises.

Years before Joseph, God made a promise to Abraham to make his descendants many. For a time, it looked as though those descendants were in trouble and that God’s promise would not come true. It was more than Joseph’s wisdom or some sort of coincidence that saved God’s people. It was simply God keeping is promise.

And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you up out of this land to the land that he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.” Genesis 50:24 (ESV)

We typically don’t talk much about what God can’t do. There’s not much to talk about there. But one thing that he can’t do is break his promise. That was true in the Old Testament. And it’s true now.

The same God who kept his promise to Abraham is the same God who promised that he would be with you always and see you through until the end.

There is a lot that we don’t know. At no time is that more evident than when we suffer.

Just remember, our objective in life is not to know it all but to trust the One who does.

Heaven Ain’t A Lot Like Dixie

Here in the south, we have this old saying that’s supposed to help you if you should ever find yourself in a situation where you need to pick up a snake.

Yellow and black will kill Jack. Black on yellow will be kind to a fellow.

No wait. That’s wrong. Here’s how it goes.

Yellow and black is a good friendly snake that loves Jack. Black on yellow means don’t walk away or even say hello. 

No that can’t be it either. You’ll figure it out. Good luck and may God have mercy on your soul.

There are other sayings here in the south. Some are spoken while others are quietly believed. But all of these sayings are dangerous. Much more dangerous than any snake bite.

These religious myths have been around for a while. 2000 years ago, a preacher named John addressed them head on. In the Bible Belt, the land that I love and where I live, we need to hear John’s words again so that we won’t believe another old myth that could kill us.

“I am a good person.”

I don’t kill. I don’t cheat on my wife. I pay my taxes. I give money to Lottie Moon. I take my hat off when they sing the national anthem before Monster Jam. I am a good person.

Pharisees thought that they were good too. They paid tithes, not simply off of their income, but even from their spice rack. When’s the last time you tithed your fennel seed? They prayed. They fasted. They were good people. Or so it seemed.

John saw through all of that and into the heart.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3:7-8 (ESV)

As far as morality and even spirituality goes, the Pharisees would put us to shame. And what does that get them? John calls them, “a brood of vipers” and tells them to, “bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”

At first glance, the Pharisees did bear fruit. They tithed their spices, remember? But their alleged fruit bearing wasn’t the result of repentant love of God. It was a means to win the approval of both God and man. These were not good people. They needed a Savior.

The same is true of us. There is no amount of money that we can give away to make us good. Only Christ can do that.

On your own, you are not a good person. But Jesus is. And that is enough for you.

“I come from a Christian family.”

The following verse is not in the Bible.

And Jesus said unto the man, “Verily, you are a sinner but I hear that your grandfather was a pastor. That’s good enough. Enter into Paradise.”

In fact, John says quite the opposite to the religious elite who thought that having Abraham in their family tree was enough to make them right with God.

“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:9 (ESV)

Jesus does not need you. Or your grandfather, the pastor. You both need him. The Pharisees forgot that and we can too. While a Christian family is a beautiful thing, we must remember that salvation is by grace through faith, not by genetics through family ties.

“Joining the church saves me.”

Somewhere in our religious history, we’ve convinced ourselves that walking an aisle and joining a church while continuing to live in rebellion to Christ can save us. But an atheist can walk an aisle and join some churches, even while staying an atheist. Have you ever heard of Ray Stevens? Even a squirrel can walk an aisle.

The mark of a true Christian is not his t-shirts, bumper stickers, voting record, aisle walking or church membership. It is his fruit. At the top of the list of that fruit is love. If you don’t love other people, it doesn’t matter how many churches you have joined, you don’t belong to God (1 John 4:7-8). Sadly, some of the most hateful, racist comments I’ve ever heard have been by church people.

John’s warning to the Pharisees standing by the river Jordan, applies just as much to us today.

Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:10 (ESV)

“I’ve made my peace with God.”

In the Bible Belt, you’ll hear that one a lot just before a funeral. “He’s made his peace with God.” Usually what that means is that the person has finally decided that he likes God and wouldn’t mind moving into his pearly mansion after he dies. No mention of repentance, faith, sin or even Jesus. Just peace with God.

Here’s something better to consider.

Has God made peace with you?

Many people in the south, and I’m sure all over the world, think that they are living in peace with God while continuing to live as his enemies.

Peace with God doesn’t come by a change of mind or behavior. It can only come through Jesus (Romans 5:1). Without repenting and believing in his gospel, there is no peace with God.

John, in his own bold style, was kind enough to give that warning to his critics.

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11 (ESV)

“It’s all going to work out in the end.”

We’ve all had the math teacher who gave us two extra points so that we could pass tenth grade Algebra. Okay, maybe that was just me. But you’ve gotten your free passes. Maybe it was a warning instead of a ticket. Whatever the specifics, you’ve gotten the easy way out before. Surely God wouldn’t be any different, would he?

He is.

Hell wasn’t invented by a sweaty Baptist preacher in a bad suit somewhere back in the 1950s. Jesus talked about it a lot. But before Jesus ministry officially began, John gave his own warning.

“His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:12 (ESV)

People have tried to get around it for centuries but there is no mistaking the facts. Hell is real. We deserve to be there. Jesus came to rescue us from what we deserve. Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

If there’s one thing that Christians in the Bible Belt love, it’s a good sermon on hell. Say something in a sermon about hell being a real place and you’re sure to get a few amens. But here’s the thing. As much as we check all of the right boxes when it comes to hell, we often live as though it were a figment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s imagination.

The greatest threat to the doctrine of hell does not come from the Ivy League skeptics or the hipster, feel-good pastors who don’t think that it’s cool but from Christians who believe rightly but act as though it’s all a lie. If we really believe that hell is real, we will remember that for our friends and family who do not know Jesus, it will not all work out in the end.

When I was a kid, I heard Hank Williams Jr. sing, “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go. If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I just as soon stay home.”

For many, heaven is our idea of paradise, whatever that may be. But remember, Adam and Eve’s idea of paradise is what got us all into this fallen world. Thankfully, heaven is much more than our idea of perfection. It is God’s idea of perfection.

I love living in the south. But there’s a better home awaiting. And none of us will get there because we joined a church, were good people, made peace with God on our own terms or had a grandfather that was a pastor.

Jesus is our only hope.

Anything else is just another myth.

Homosexuality, Religious Liberty And Being On The Wrong Side Of History

“And I support the right of people to believe what they do and say what they wish — in their pews, homes and hearts.”

Those words were written in an op-ed by Frank Bruni in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times. Bruni was writing to say that homosexuality is no threat at all to a person’s religious liberty – just as long as that person doesn’t want to enjoy that liberty out in public. Hence the, “pews, homes and hearts” line. In short, Bruni would like to be gay whenever and however he wants while Christians with a different point of view keep their opinions in their pews, homes and hearts. I’m no constitutional scholar but that doesn’t sound very much like liberty to me.

Imagine if a Christian wrote a book saying that gays should only practice their homosexuality in their pews, hearts and homes. Never mind that. Imagine what would happen if a Christian simply wrote a book saying that homosexuality was a sin. Oh yeah, you don’t have to imagine that. All you have to do is read the news. A Christian did write a book saying that homosexuality is a sin. And the mayor of Atlanta fired him. 

Somehow I think that former city of Atlanta fire chief Kelvin Cochran would take issue with Frank Bruni’s claim that religious liberty is not under attack.

And an old preacher named John would laugh at Mr. Bruni’s suggestion that one’s faith should only be a private matter.

Much like Chief Cochran, John found himself on, “the wrong side of history” as the progressives like to say. Herod, the ruler at the time, had taken his brother’s wife and made her his own (Mark 6:14-29). John committed the unforgivable crime of saying that it was wrong. A lot of people who are wrong do not like being told that they are wrong. It was true 2000 years ago and it is true today. So John was thrown into jail for being, “on the wrong side of history.” Isn’t it a shame that he didn’t get to enjoy the American privileges of freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Well, actually that American fire chief didn’t get to enjoy those privileges either so never mind.

The story doesn’t end with John in jail.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” That proved true in this case. Herod’s new wife, Herodias, held a grudge against this intolerant pastor for daring to say that something was wrong. And she waited for her opportunity to act on her grudge. That opportunity would come at one of Herod’s banquets.

Herodias’ daughter danced for Herod and the other leading men under his rule. Don’t think of this as your daughter’s dance recital. Well, unless your name is Billy Ray Cyrus and your daughter’s dance recital is at the Grammy’s and it involves licking hammers. That’s more in line with the show that Herod and his leading men enjoyed.

And boy did they enjoy it.

So much so that Herod promised to give the young girl up to half of his kingdom. She went to her mother for advice on the best way to cash in on Herod’s offer. The answer was simple.

John’s head on a platter.

This grieved Herod. He made a foolish vow and it would make him look weak if he didn’t follow through. But he liked John. He liked visiting him in prison to hear what the preacher on the wrong side of history had to say. More than that, Herod feared John.

Herod wasn’t afraid because John had an experienced legal team. It wasn’t because John represented a huge voting block that could cause Herod trouble when the November primaries came around. It was because John was a righteous and holy man.

Christians, we must remember that it is possible to win arguments in ways that are not righteous or holy. We must be willing to lose if winning means sacrificing our righteousness and holiness. Even if losing means having our head on a platter.

Herod kept his promise. Herodias got her wish. John lost his head.

Sometimes I hear Christians talking about this account like it is a blemish on the Christian faith. As if John would still be with us today if he had only kept his mouth shut and been more contextualized. That’s because too many Christians are more concerned with being liked than they are being righteous or holy.

One of many lessons we can learn from John is that when we do God’s will, we should expect opposition. And we don’t have to go out picking fights like the Westboro fools. Simply submit to the lordship of Christ and follow his example, not just in your heart, home and pew, but in the public square and you’re sure to find yourself on, “the wrong side of history.”

Remember, life isn’t a contest where he who finishes with his head attached to his body and the full approval of the LGBT community wins.

But life is a race.

And there is a finish line.

Some of us will reach that line with scars and open wounds because of our allegiance to Christ. Others will get there penniless because they cared more about the Way, the Truth and the Life than they did the mayor, their job and being liked.

And that’s okay.

For those on, “the wrong side of history” because of failure to keep their faith to themselves, there is One seated at the right hand of the Father who has saved us a place at his table once we reach the finish line.

“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness while you stretch out your hand to heal, ands signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Acts 4:29-30 (ESV)