The Decision Maker

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

How should we respond to this?

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

Here it is.

We need to stop thinking about the president so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Southern Accents And Jesus

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I’ve lived in the south my whole life. Well, except for the few months that I lived in Louisville, Kentucky where they give you a funny look if you order sweet tea at a restaurant. While the south is far from perfect, there’s a lot I like about it. One of the things I like most about the south is the way we talk. We have a funny accent and we know it. And we don’t care. On top of that, we even go so far as to make up our own words or give our own meaning to established words. Take, for example, wack-em.

Wack-em means something completely different in Brooklyn, New York than it does in Macon, Georgia. If you hear the wack-em phrase in Brooklyn, someone is about to be murdered by a man named Fat Tony and thrown in the trunk of a Lincoln Continental. But if you hear wack-em in the south, it’s because someone has been nice to you.

You: “Thank you for refilling my glass of sweet tea.”

Southerner: “You wack-em.”

The lady waiting your table isn’t telling you to go kill someone. She’s saying, “You’re welcome.” The moral of the story is that if you’re ever at the Cracker Barrel in Macon, Georgia and you have a waiter from Brooklyn named Fat Tony, be careful. Things could get confusing.

There’s another moral too.

Your accent reveals where you’re from. In the same way, the words you use and how you use them often reveal who you worship. Your words are far more powerful and revealing than you think they are.

James puts it like this when describing the tongue.

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:9-12 (ESV)

Christian, if you are constantly tearing others down with your words, if you feel the need to always have the last word in a debate or disagreement or if you use verbal nuclear weapons when a scalpel will do, you are not at all acting like the One you claim to worship.

Proverbs is sort of like the James of the Old Testament. Take a look at the words used in that book to describe the kind of speech that is pleasing to God. You’ll find words and phrases like gentle, wise, knowledge and tree of life. If you move forward to the New Testament, you’ll see those same words used to describe Jesus, the One who is supposed to be the object of our worship.

He is gentle to the broken (Matthew 11:29).

His wisdom is undeniable (Matthew 13:54).

His knowledge is infinite (Colossians 1:16-17).

He is the one who removes the barrier between his people and the tree of life (Genesis 3:22; Revelation 2:7).

When we carry the name of Christ but speak like the world speaks, we misrepresent where we are from. That goes deeper than simply not using certain four letter words. You can live 80 years without ever saying a “bad word” and still leave behind you the wreckage of broken hearts and crushed souls that will never be the same because of your speech.

As Christians, we must speak with the accent of heaven. Yes, there will be times when we have to disagree with others. There will be times when we have to speak with courage, boldness and firmness, just like Jesus did. But even in those times, we must love, just like Jesus did.

Your accent lets the world know where you come from. Your speech goes a long way in telling the world where you are going.

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I Am A Hypocrite

A true hypocrite is one who sees the hypocrisy in others but never in himself.

For years, accusations of hypocrisy have been directed toward the church. People say, “I’m not going to church because it’s full of hypocrites.” And it most certainly is. There are churches with pastors who preach one thing and do the opposite. There are even churches that have taken their hypocrisy to such levels that they would be doing society and the Kingdom of Christ a favor by shutting down. In fact, no church, no matter how good, is a hypocrite-free zone.

But is that different than any other area of society?

Sports fans yell at a TV telling their favorite player to run faster while they lay on the couch knowing that it would cost them a full five minutes and possibly a heart attack to get up and run to the refrigerator and back.

Media outlets talk a big game about feminism while at the same time producing and promoting art that treats women as nothing more than sex objects.

Politicians give us elaborate, impassioned speeches informing us that guns are bad and we are bad if we want them. All the while, they are surrounded by security guards with guns.

And, of course, if you were to walk into a Wal-Mart at this very moment you would hear a woman screaming. And why would she be screaming? She would be screaming at her small child to, you guessed it, stop screaming.

So the church doesn’t have the market cornered on hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is everywhere. Even in the church. And as the pastor of a church, the hypocrites are exactly who I want coming.

Guess where one of the dirtiest places in your restroom is? It’s probably not where you think. You know that really expensive soap dispenser you bought at the mall? The one that shoots out soap smelling like a meadow. The part where people put their hands to push the soap out is one of the dirties places in your entire house.

That’s odd, isn’t it?

The place with the most germs is the place where dirty people come to get clean.

To be clear, simply going to church doesn’t make anyone clean. But it is in church, at least a good one, where we learn about the depth of our impurity. That’s the real reason why some people don’t like coming to church. They’d rather go on thinking that they’re better than they really are. That’s the very definition of hypocrisy.

A good church doesn’t just remind us of how depraved we are. It also shows us how loving Jesus is. Nor does a good church allow us to settle in our depravity and place our identity in it all in the name of love. It comes along side us, bears our burdens and helps us to keep step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25 and 6:1-3).

I am a hypocrite.

I’m especially reminded of that whenever I preach a sermon about God’s holiness of Jesus’ love.

I am a hypocrite.

But I know it.

And a few times every week, I love being with other people who are well aware of their own hypocrisy.

Together, we lean hard on Jesus and worship him for saving people like us who aren’t good enough to save ourselves.

I am a hypocrite.

But I’m not content to stay that way. I can’t think of a better context than the community of believers otherwise known as the Church to do the hard work of kicking my habit.

I am a hypocrite.

What about you?

But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)

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Walking Billboards

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“You’re a walking billboard for what you believe in.”

Turk Holt is one of my mentors and he told me that several years ago. Back then, I don’t know that I really understood what he meant. Now I do.

It’s one thing to say that you believe in something. You can even put a bumper sticker on your car broadcasting what you believe. But it all tends to get lost in the clutter and busyness of our lives. Tons of people say tons of things about what they believe in and bumper stickers are everywhere. Words, whether written or spoken, have a way of going unnoticed.

But there’s one thing that’s harder to ignore.

Life.

If you really want to know what someone believes, watch how they live their life. That’s because Turk was right. Every human being is a walking billboard for what they believe in.

When you allow worry to consume you, you are telling everyone in your environment that we are all on our own and victims of chance. Sure, you may say that God is in control but in reality, you are preaching a gospel where no one is in charge and God has forgotten about us.

When you drive around town with your church tag or bumper sticker on your car, you can be certain that people are paying more attention to the advertisement seated behind the steering wheel than they are the one on the back bumper. When you constantly fight for power and having things your way, when you complain and tear down others and when you gossip, your bumper sticker is telling everyone, “If you come to my church, you’ll regret it.”

If you claim Christ but your life is characterized by continual sin with no repentance or struggle to kill that sin, you are telling the world that none of it really matters to God. Like that Algebra class that you barely passed in high school, everything will eventually work our in your favor in the end.

I am a pastor. A lot of people at my church just call me preacher. I think that’s probably because preaching is the most important part of my job. But really, I’m no different from you. Like it or not, you are a preacher too. And every sermon you preach is written on that billboard otherwise known as your life.

Almost every week in the days leading up to my sermon, my wife asks me the same question. It’s a question that every Christian, not just every pastor, should answer after careful self-evaluation.

“So what are you preaching on?”

 

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

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Hypocrites!

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I’m staying out of the Confederate flag debate.

But, I must admit, it’s kind of hard to with news about it being all over the Internet, television and radio. TV shows have been taken off of the air because of it. New laws have been passed because of it. The Atlanta chapter of the NAACP is talking about sandblasting Lee, Davis and Jackson off of Stone Mountain. The president has even weighed in, saying that the confederate flag belongs in a museum, not on a pole outside of a government building in South Carolina.

All of this in response to the racist who killed nine blacks during a church meeting.

Earlier this week we learned that Planned Parenthood is not only killing babies, we’ve known that for years, but that they are selling their body parts and performing the abortions in such a way as to keep the desired body parts in tact. No one wants a damaged liver, you know.

What has been the response to that?

From many Christians, it has been what you might expect. Outrage. Righteous indignation. Anger. Disgust.

But what about the response from the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP? Have they weighed in on the fact that babies, many of whom are black, are being murdered and sold to the highest bidder? Are they asking for Planned Parenthood to be sandblasted from the United States budget?

And what about President Obama? Has he said anything about this? Has he shown any disgust at the woman slurping wine while talking about selling the organs of infants as if she was an auto parts dealer?

Crickets chirping.

Tumbleweed.

Nothing.

Here’s the painful reality. Most Americans don’t care about justice. Yes, even the ones who talk a lot about it. What they really care about is what the media and the social engineers behind the media tell them to care about.

So they’ll wear a bracelet for this cause.

And they’ll sign an online petition for that cause.

And they’ll walk from California to Maine to raise money for some other cause.

Just so long as the cause is socially acceptable. That’s why a lot of churches are devoted to ensuring that the coffee out in the lobby is fair trade while remaining silent about the babies being killed down the street. Sadly, in the eyes of the elites currently ruling this country from both sides of the political aisle, putting a stop to the murder of babies and the selling of their body parts is not an acceptable cause.

As a pastor, this is the part where I’m supposed to say that this country is at a crossroads and that it’s time for the church to speak up so that we can win our nation back. I’m not going to do that.

The crossroads was passed a long time ago.

But it is time for the church to speak up.

In his excellent book on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxes tells the story  of prisoners who were loaded on trains headed for concentration camps. At some point along the way, the train always passed a church building. Sometimes the train passed while the church was meeting. Everyone in the church building knew what the train was for, where it was headed and who was in it. So what did they do? They sang their hymns louder to cover the sound of the train and the screams of the passengers on it in hopes that it would make them forget about the reality that was in the shadow of their steeple. They did nothing to help. They just sang louder.

Our culture is the same way today.

We sing loud, pretty songs about justice, freedom and love.

All so that we can pretend that the real crisis, the federally funded one right outside of our door, isn’t happening.

Well, it is.

History, and more importantly God, will remember us for our response to this crisis. Not for our bracelets. Not for our rhetoric. But for our actions (James 2:14-26).

So far, our nation really is on the wrong side of history.

Even worse, it is on the wrong side of God’s wrath.

Before we start patting ourselves on the back for the images we sandblast off of mountains and the TV shows we pull from the air, we should consider how we respond to the torture of the least among us.

Sadly, our leaders are no different from the woman in that undercover video.

Slurping wine.

Eating nice food.

Making a lot of money.

All at the expense of tiny, involuntary organ donors they call fetuses.

So the next time you hear the president say something about justice, tune him out. Tune him out until he calls Planned Parenthood what it is. A government funded homicide syndicate. Tune him out until he stops making you pay for it all. The next time you hear the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP talk about change, just keep on moving. Keep moving until you hear them tell Planned Parenthood, “Not in our city.”

Anything less is hypocrisy in its truest form.

And trust me on this.

You don’t want any part of a so-called justice or hope or change that views babies as commodities rather than individuals created in the image of God.

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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.