Jesus And The Hysterical Historians

I love history.

And I hate it.

A few weeks ago, I took my family to Stone Mountain. We made the mile or so hike up the mountain, ate dinner on the grass in front of the mountain, watched the laser show where some kid named Johnny defeated the Devil in a fiddle contest, and complained about traffic on our way home.

We follow that same routine every year.

And every year I give my kids the same speech.

If you’ve never been to Stone Mountain, it’s hard to miss. It’s a giant chunk of granite in Atlanta with a carving of leaders of the Confederacy on it. Every year, my kids ask about the men engraved on that mountain.

Here’s a paraphrase of what I usually say.

“All you need to know about those men and any other person you see memorialized in an engraving or statue is that they aren’t God.”

It would do us good to hear that simple speech a few times a day. Maybe then we wouldn’t be so prone to worship men and identify with woefully imperfect movements.

I love history because I like knowing how we got to where we are. It’s fascinating.

I hate history because I don’t really like hearing about how we got to where we are. It’s often brutal.

I love history because I like learning about regular men and women who did amazing things. It’s inspiring.

I hate history because I’ve grown tired of those regular men and women being treated as gods. It’s hysterical.

What I am about to say is going to sound like something a preacher would say. Forgive me.

The more I study historical figures and movements, the more I am convinced that Jesus is enough. That goes double for contemporary figures and movements.

Dig deep enough into the life of any human being and you will find a mess. A real mess. So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether or not we need to remove certain statues and engravings. Rather, we should ask ourselves why we put them up in the first place. And when we’re done with that line of questioning, we should wonder why we choose to identify with them. If we’re honest, the answer has more to do with idolatry than legacy or heritage.

I was born and raised in a southern state that I love but I’m no apologist for slavery.

I’ve been a Christian for most of my life and I am the product of a conservative church where the Bible was taught faithfully. Now I am the pastor of a conservative church where I try to preach the Bible faithfully. But I don’t consider myself an Evangelical. Today, that term has more to do with a voting bloc than it does the body of Christ so no thanks.

I’m a proponent of an extremely limited government. But I just don’t have the stomach to call myself a Libertarian and certainly not a Republican. And when I come across someone who wants universal healthcare, I prefer not to look at them as an enemy. I’d rather view them as a human being I happen to disagree with but who has great worth because they have been created in the image of God. Sometimes my heart wants to go another direction but I’m a work in progress.

My skin is white. Well, that’s what we call it but it looks nothing like the pages in the book next to me as I write this. Either way, that’s not where I find my worth. I have no interest in the Richard Spencer’s of the world who want to use the power of the government to supposedly restore our European heritage. My two sons have Filipino blood running through their veins and I’m proud of it. My great grandmother’s blood was all Cherokee. If anyone wants to talk about preserving heritage it should have been her. But that doesn’t preach well to the crowd that wants to restore this country’s “European heritage.”

Hang on a minute, I’m about to say something else that sounds preachy.

The only cleansing I care about is the kind that comes from the blood of Jesus Christ. Every other human being who made a historic stand against something, even the great ones, to some degree became what they fought against. Through either compromise or a moral compass that never was really set to begin with, even our best heroes are very unworthy of our granite carvings, statues and worship. Not so with Jesus, he touched the untouchable and remained clean. He stood against the great Accuser and remained perfectly holy.

The more I study history, the more my love hate relationship with it grows.

I hate it for how dirty it is.

But I love it for how it serves to highlight the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all other men and movements.

I’ve never gotten a call from a pollster. But if I ever do and they ask me if I’m a Caucasian, evangelical, southern, Libertarian who likes to visit Stone Mountain once a year, at the risk of sounding too preachy, I’ll just tell them that I’m an imperfect follower of the only perfect man who ever lived.

Any other label would just be hysterical.

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The Ten Best Books That I Read In 2015

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I had a good reading year in 2015. Here, in no particular order, are my ten favorites.

Lion of Liberty by Harlow Unger

Patrick Henry is definitely the most underrated of the founding fathers. This book will help you to appreciate the man, flaws and all, who helped to build our nation. It also shows you that it didn’t take long after the revolution before the very people who fought against the throne wanted to replace it with something eerily similar. Patrick Henry did his best to keep that from happening and we should all be grateful. The United States could really use a Patrick Henry these days but if he were running for president today, he’d probably be polling around 3 percent.

“As this government stands,” Patrick Henry thundered, “I despise and abhor it … I speak as one poor individual  but when I speak, I speak the language of thousands. If I am asked what is to be done when a people feel themselves intolerably oppressed, my answer is … ‘overturn the government!'”

The Appeal by John Grisham

I started reading this book just as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was gaining traction. The similarities were troubling.

 

“Coley would make a beautiful candidate – loud, outrageous, colorful, able to say anything with no concern about the fallout. An anti-politician the press would follow like ants.”

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve never read a Stephen King book before. Unlike his usual work, this one is simply meant to help you to become a better writer. Whether that’s what you want or not, you’ll still find On Writing interesting.

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words, because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”

The Martian by Andy Weir

Weir knows his science. At least I think he does. How would I know? This book reads like he does. The Martian gets pretty technical but it is a very interesting concept and the story really picks up at the end.

“Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.” 

Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

I read this book while preparing to preach on Jesus calling his twelve disciples. MacAruthur did in this book what many authors try to do but fail. He gave a lot of information in a readable, efficient manner. If you’d like to learn more about the disciples as the real men that they were, I can’t think of a better book for you to read.

“In other words, he knew all their faults before he chose them.”

True Courage by Steve Farrar

This easy to read book uses the life of Daniel to encourage Christian men to live with conviction in a culture that is hostile to their faith.

“God abandoned the nation, but God never abandoned Daniel. God never abandons His people, even in times of great distress and tyranny.”

Depression by Ed Welch

I read this book for a counseling session that I was leading. If you have a friend who is struggling with depression and you don’t know how to help him, it would do both of you a lot of good to read through this book together.

“Therefore, depression, regardless of the causes, is a time to answer the deepest and most important of all questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?”

The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo

There’s a pretty big difference between the Lincoln you grew up learning about and the real Lincoln. This is a fascinating book.

“Between 1800 and 1860, dozens of countries, including the entire British Empire, ended slavery peacefully; only in the United States was a war involved.” 

How To Survive the Most Critical Five Seconds of Your Life by Tim Larkin

This is an interesting book on self-defense. Hopefully, you’ll never need it. But if you ever find yourself in a fight or flight situation, you’ll benefit from this book much more than you would by simply relying on what you saw in the first three Rocky movies.

“Once you decide to act, act immediately.”

Through My Windows by Soup The Chemist

I’m probably the only guy I know who read this book. It’s written by one of the forefathers of Christian hip hop and it gives a really intriguing backstage look at life before Lecrae.

“That experience planted a seed in me, causing me to think heavily in my teenage years about how this white man had given his time to us bad black kids every Sunday morning.”

Unless I just can’t control myself I won’t be writing for the rest of the year. Thank you very much for reading my pastoral ramblings. I appreciate you very much and I sincerely hope that you’re Christmas is merry and your new year is happy.

Grace and Peace!

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What Richard Sherman Can Teach Us About Our Double Standards

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I’m guilty of a double standard. Well, more than one. A lot. I apply double standards all of the time. But before you judge me, slow down. You’re guilty of the same thing.

On Sunday night, along with millions of other football fans, I watched in disbelief as Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman proclaimed his greatness in an on-field interview just a few minutes after making the game saving play that sent his team to the Super Bowl.

I couldn’t believe what I was watching. I think I said something to myself about Sherman dishonoring the game or showing poor sportsmanship. And then I went to bed. I woke up the next morning thinking about Richard Sherman.

What if he played for my favorite NFL team, the Falcons?

Would I have felt the same way?

No. I would have said something about his passion for the game. So there it was right in front of me. At the heart level, I didn’t have a problem with what Richard Sherman said. He just happened to play for the wrong team.

My favorite fighter is Nick Diaz. In a 15-minute fight Nick Diaz will spend somewhere around 12-minutes telling his opponent the same thing that Richard Sherman said. When the fight is over, he’ll tell his opponent’s wife and mother. But Diaz is my guy so it’s okay.

And the same goes for Reggie Miller. He was the greatest trash talker in NBA history. But I liked him. And so I never said anything about him ruining the game. It was all just gamesmanship.

Like I said, I’m not alone. You have your double standards too. Everyone does. Our society is full of double standards.

Take text messages for example.

The kid on the news who sends out a text while driving and gets into a wreck is being “reckless” and “irresponsible.” When you do it, it’s because you’re busy.

Sometimes our double standards are revealed on matters of free speech.

Like those who rushed to defend Richard Sherman, saying that “at least he spoke from the heart and didn’t give the boring, standard athlete answers” but failed to apply the same measure of grace to a duck hunter from Louisiana.

Perhaps most painfully, we see double standards in matters of race.

Consider your favorite dead historical figure who happens to share the same skin color as you. When he did and said something stupid, or even immoral, it’s because he was doing what had to be done in order to see justice prevail. But what about the man of a different race who crossed the line back in the day? Oh, he’s a terrorist.

A black kid with long hair and baggy pants is “a thug.” A white kid with long hair and the silhouette of some woman on the mud flaps of his truck is just being country.

When five black kids jump a white kid at school, it’s because the school lacked the proper funding needed to provide adequate leadership for those five youths. When five white kids jump a black kid, it’s a hate crime. Correct me if I’m wrong on this one, but if one (or five) people, regardless of race, religion or sexual preference, attack another individual, isn’t it always a hate crime? Aren’t all violent crimes fueled by hate? What exactly does a loving violent crime look like?

To his credit, Richard Sherman apologized for his comments. That means that we should let it go. After all, we all say and do stupid things. A closer look reveals that there is more to the story than just some athlete drawing attention to himself. Sure, that was part of it. But there was more. Sherman and Michael Crabtree, the receiver he shut down to help his team get the win, have a history with each other.

And maybe that’s how we should look at every story we see on the news and every new person that we meet. There’s more to their story than we can gather at first sight. But that would require taking the time to get to know people who are different from us. It also requires taking the time to get to know ourselves and our own tendencies towards double standards.

But who’s got time for that when it’s so much easier to just slap a label one someone?

Even if that label doesn’t really fit.